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New Humanist | Spring 2020
Keeping our heads in a time of crisis
Over the last two years, there has been a historic shift in public attitudes to climate change. In the summer of 2018, Greta Thunberg sat outside the Swedish parliament every school day for three weeks to protest the lack of government action. In September 2019, just over a year later, 6 million people around the world joined protests calling for climate action. After decades of doubt, and spurious arguments that persisted in spite of scientific consensus, climate change is finally a mainstream issue. This can only be a good thing. But we are now faced with a new set of questions: what comes next? How can we get there? Are we, in fact, capable of finding solutions in the time that we have?
Our cover theme this issue delves into some of these questions, with a selection of pieces that explore more rational, more nuanced ways of thinking and talking about environmental disaster. On page 30, Jonathan Rée asks whether our everyday intellectual resources are equal to the task of comprehending the present crisis, and explores the problems that imminent global catastrophe presents to the political imagination. On page 22, environmental campaigner Will McCallum examines these big questions from a more practical standpoint, asking how we might strike the right balance between treating the issue with the radical urgency required, whilst not allowing the debate to become so polarised that it stifles all progress. The economist Ann Pettifor (page 6) makes the case for one political-economic approach – namely, the Green New Deal. Although the public reckoning is new, the climate disaster goes back a long way; as Alice Bell writes on page 34, we now know that the Arctic started warming as early as the 1830s. Her brief history of CO2 demonstrates not only our society’s reliance on this gas, but also the missed warnings that have brought us to this point.
Elsewhere in this issue, on page 38 Richard Scorer examines falling vaccination rates in the UK, unpicking fact from fiction on the fraught question of mandatory MMR jabs, and the influence of misinformation spread on social media. His report demonstrates the importance of clear-eyed, rational thinking, when temperatures are high – something that is all too often lacking from contemporary debate. l Samira Shackle Yana