Daydreaming About Being Green: If not You, Who?
Ken is my neighbour, fellow Staffie owner and, since he caught me delivering Green Party newsletters, he’s also become a sort of political sparring partner.
The reason I’m writing this is because, even though I’m fairly sure that I’m fairly right and he’s completely, totally, utterly and often offensively wrong, right now I’m rubbish at arguing in real life, so this is a way for me to get out all those well researched arguments and wonderful witty comebacks I come up with in the hours after one our bouts.
Until recently I’d only ever had a handful of political debates and most of those were with my dad about why my brothers did less washing up than I did.
And no, I’m not brave enough to share this particular draft with Ken – he’s built like a brick shithouse and he knows where I live. This is just me getting it out of my system.
As sparring partners go, the pair of us are quite evenly matched given that we’re:
both in our 50s;
both went to comprehensive school;
both equally determined the other is talking bollocks.
Neither of us knows much else about the other’s background and I suspect we’re both as guilty as the other for filling in the blanks. This way we can each put the other into convenient little pigeonholes, one marked “clueless effing champagne socialist,” the other marked “unwitting victim of the divide and rule conspiracy of the right-wing press”.
Ken and his Staffie, Dolly, are both barrel shaped and nearly always seem to be slowly lumbering past my front door whenever I open it. “The left is dead!” is a fairly standard greeting. Or “ Hangings too good for some of them!” Or, “Look at this bloody weather! There’s no such thing as global warming!”
Ken thinks I’m “a posh bird”, and though, depending on the argument we’re having, he changes his mind about how I became “a posh bird”, he thinks I should vote posh like him.
“What is someone like you with your posh house and posh clothes doing hanging out with a bunch of scum bag loony-leftie soap dodgers? They’re all the same! Your lot want to drag us back to the dark ages. If you’re so worried about all them homeless/ all them swarming migrants/ all them knocked up teenage chavs you should have ‘em in your house. Here, I like that Iain Duncan Smith bloke, - he’s going to drug test all them scroungers so I don’t have to pay for their heroin no more. And how come ALL them food bank users have got fags and Sky TV? They’re all the same! You’ve been eating too much of that vegetarian muck, it’s made your head funny. You want to get yourself a nice bit of British roast beef then you’d see that there’s nothing wrong with nuclear power stations.”
I’m hit by a tide of this crap whenever Ken sees me. It’s like he’s stuffed his face with headlines from The Sun and Daily Express and can’t wait to chuck them up all over me.
I sometimes wonder if he’s actually real and not a CGI generated wind-up, sent to wander round this Green and pleasant bit of Brighton by:
a) God/ fate/ some irritating deity with a sick sense of humour to test my new found beliefs
b) Some twisted tosser at Tory HQ who thinks he can demoralise and depress Green Party types like me into topping ourselves in our own homemade humus.
Ken’s rants leave me feeling feeble and, to a certain extent awestruck – awestruck that someone could express so many unRadio 4 like opinions so quickly without dying from shame or lack of oxygen. This from a man who normally turns beetroot after walking fifty yards.
How the hell do I explain the Carbon Tracker Initiative predictions to Ken? I can’t even get one well researched word in edgeways, let alone a rigorously tested, peer reviewed argument that scientifically proves that tossers like the ones he voted for are going to cook our grandchildren.
Can I just explain that the Carbon Tracker Initiative’s numbers are the main reason I’m writing this and not watching telly. They are the reason that I (a usually shy, don’t-talk-to-strangers-because-they-might-be-mean-to-you type) have started embarrassing my children by campaigning in the street and making people talk to me about climate change.
For years I’ve wafted like an undecided dandelion seed left and right across the political centre ground, blown by stronger, supposedly better informed opinions than my own. And then, in 2014, I came across these numbers in my daughter’s New Scientist.
Here are the numbers (and please check them, and bear in mind that they have been accepted as realistic by UN, the IMF, the World Bank, the IPCC, NASA, 97% of the world’s climatologists and just about every esteemed scientific organisation).
2ºC: A rise of more than 2ºC in global temperature will provoke catastrophic climate change
565 gigatons: releasing more than 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by 2050 will push us above 2ºC
2,795 gigatons: This is the amount of carbon dioxide that, according to their stockholdings and business plans, the fossil fuel industry is unapologetically planning to release before 2050.
That’s as quickly and concisely as I can explain it in writing. Simply put, the long-term business plans of the wealthiest, most powerful industries on earth are not compatible with the long-term survival of huge swathes of the human race.
The fossil fuel industry has known about this since the 1980s and has spent billions successfully distracting us and playing it down. It sounds almost James Bond baddy unbelievable – especially when I try to say it out loud during any sort of stressful debate situation.
“You’re off your nut,” was Ken’s response to this, after I’d dared him to let me say a whole sentence without being interrupted by his UKIP Tourette’s. “Those bloody tree huggers you hang out with are just looking for an excuse to put up windmills and my taxes to pay for yoghurt knitting courses for them benefit scroungers. They’re all the same. Haven’t you read the papers? There’s no future in renewable energy. It doesn’t work. We want more oil, not less. More oil and less immigrants I say.”
This ‘debate’ is even more stressful than usual because it’s taking place in our local Co-op and there are the hearts and minds of other shoppers to be won.
I force myself to breathe and manage to bleat out, “But, but, but Ken, more oil will cause more immigrants because places like Africa won’t be fit to live in….”
But, of course, I don’t get to explain the weight of science behind Prince Charles’ assertion that global warming was a factor in the Syrian civil war. And even if I did, the Sun has already told Ken that this is “Heir-brained,” and that our future king has fallen in with ‘vacant conspiracy theorists like Charlotte Church.”
Nor do I get to tell Ken how heat waves have killed thousands in India and Pakistan this year, or that the heat index in Iran reached 164 degrees. Or that California’s nearly run dry, or that there’s a whopping great glacier melting in Greenland that could raise sea levels by half a metre all on its own….
I’m just not as clever as Ken, because I can’t spew out reason, compassion and scientific theory with the same aplomb as he can selfish, racist, pig ignorant, right-wing bollocks.
“There’s so, so, so, much evidence,” I stammer. “ If you’ll just let me explain…”
“Here, I do know what I’m talking about,” Ken shouts over me. “My other half works for EDF, you know.” And he puffs up his chest as if this equates to a Nobel Prize for atmospheric chemistry and then, while I’m gasping in disbelief, he gets to sing the praises of one of Europe’s biggest polluters and apologists for nuclear energy. I might as well have provided him with a soapbox and megaphone. “You can’t save the world with a bag of organic carrots and a couple of solar panels! EDF said you can’t. Let’s get fracking!!”
“But Ken, Ken, Ken!” I’m so incensed, that I’m jumping up and down shouting, “EDF are wankers!”
I really shouldn’t try this debating in public lark until I’ve learnt to be angry and articulate at the same time. A middle-aged women shouting ‘wankers’ in a busy supermarket probably isn’t going to increase Green Party membership and, since the manager’s just appeared, I think it’s better for the future of life on earth if I concede this bout to Ken.
I trudge home without any shopping feeling as though I’ve personally brought eco-armageddon closer. Typically, all the brilliant things I could have said start arriving in head and I start reimagining the scene with other customers rushing to support me. The manager tells Ken a heart-warming, mind-changing family history that beautifully illustrates why everything I say is right and everything Ken says is wrong.
And then a lively discussion takes place where facts like the Green Party are brilliant are aired, and how Amber Rudd shouldn’t be Energy Secretary because her brother is a lobbyist for oil and gas clients.
Other things that come to light include millionaire and corporate funding of the Tory Party, the sneaking privatisation of the NHS, the decimation of workers rights, the abolition of human rights, tax cuts for the rich, benefit cuts for the poor, and the slashing of funding for home-generated renewable energy whilst subsidising Saudi fossil fuels and Chinese nuclear power stations that are morally indefensible on so, so, so many levels... I could go on and on and on.
This eventually ends in Ken conceding victory and buying me a bottle of organic, locally produced sparkling wine (and no, it’s not the same thing as socialist Champagne). And then everyone joins Greenpeace and starts planning direct action.
By the time I’ve got home my daydreams have cheered me up a bit. Maybe I should just shut-the-fuck-up but I honestly can’t, knowing what I know now. I owe it to my future grandchildren to keep publically humiliating myself in the vain hope that my arguing muscles will get stronger.
If you’re worried that my front line efforts are counter-productive, then please, please, please come and take over from me. I’m much better suited to a supportive role, so I’ll be happy to provide you with research, pack lunches, tea, cake etc. This bit is a shameless appeal for Green Party recruits but as they say,“ If not you who?” and the answer is a very inept ‘me’.
And maybe I should just give up on Ken’s vote and give into the urge to call him ‘a racist, sexist, classist, homophobic, xenophobic, mean-spirited old bastard,” but it would probably come out wrong. And anyway I just can’t bear to let him carry on belching out Rupert Murdoch’s propaganda anymore – Ken is a human being after all and that stuff is planet-killingly toxic.
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