The world is a shocking place and lately many of us have used social media to express our horror, fear and distress at the U.S. election result. Among my friends real and online I have seen different reactions, ranging from hopelessness through to determination but also distance – because some choose to survive the trauma by walking away and into woods, finding healing in silence and sunlight and the smiles of people they love and trust. I found myself posting about keeping faith with the light, about love being stronger than hate and death, which prompted comments from those who’d like to believe I’m right but are struggling to do so. My answer was that when it comes to belief in a better world I have no choice. That’s one belief that for me must underpin life, regardless of anything that happens in that world around us. My faith in goodness is a survival strategy; personally I can’t function without it. So while embracing it may be seen as positivity, it’s not really an expression of my core personality, which is prone at times to deep sadness. Instead it’s a conscious choice – but also an emotional necessity. Is my belief a conviction? Well, yes and no. I acknowledge the possibility that my optimism is deluded. But I will live it with total conviction, because giving up on peace, on a kinder, wiser, fairer and more sustainable way to share this planet, would be suicidal not just for me but for the species. If we surrender that belief in change for good, then we trash all hope, all joy and all the many ways we can try to make it real, to justify it – by loving, working for justice and taking care of the earth and its creatures.
I’m painfully aware that convictions – religious and ideological, or simply prejudiced – have led to war, division and injustice. My own youthful evangelical Christian faith has mutated into a hope that there’s a God who loves us, but more fundamentally a (Quakerly) commitment to finding the God, the light, the love or the best, in everyone. This is challenging, of course, at a time when news is made by individuals and groups loudly blaming, excluding and vilifying others. But directing at them any hate, blame or rage of my own would only fan the inferno. I have an atheist friend who says that because human nature is selfish and aggressive, there will always be war and conflict. I also have a Christian friend who wonders whether we are getting what we deserve because we have fallen so far short of what God means us to be. And I can well understand, when I look at the news, why they might both have so little faith in humanity, but I refuse to accept their assessment. I could even offer evidence to challenge it, because in sixty years I have experienced so much goodness. In my own orbit – comprising family and friends, the children I taught and their parents as well as my colleagues, acquaintances and neighbours, campaigning and faith groups, artists, musicians and writers, publishers and the alopecia community – I have met with 95% kindness, understanding, honesty, manners and social responsibility. I don’t expect to rub shoulders with angels but honestly, I’m grateful that my world has a few of those in it too. I’m aware that as validation of my position on homo sapiens, this is less than scientific, but in more ways than one this life I’ve lived supports it. And both those friends I mentioned are part of that evidence!
In my sixtieth birthday blog I did identify a few beliefs about being human together. Most demanding, urgent and generally colossal of all of them is my belief in climate change – as a reality and as a consequence of our actions, which must therefore change. Now. In the last couple of decades I’ve seen scientific consensus build, and – extraordinarily – the nations of the world unite in Paris to commit to addressing climate crisis. I’m no scientist; I prefer stories. My brother Dave, the Carbon Coach, is an engineer who knows and breathes the science. My Leslie has read more detail than I can handle. But even if the two men I love most, and my dad before them, were unconvinced by a 97% consensus among climate scientists, I’d tend to bow to the experts’ knowledge and understanding, their painstaking and emotionally devastating analysis, all of it subject to peer review and all of it constantly monitored in the light of new data. It’s not that I have any wish whatever to believe they’re right, because it’s terrifying, and sometimes believing it makes it hard to speak or move. If I could be disabused of this particular, overwhelming belief, I’d be overjoyed beyond any words I could muster. But in the absence of any greater personal expertise than that represented by the global scientific community, I feel obliged to respect their findings. To do otherwise would be arrogant, anti-education and most crucially of all, a risk of wildly reckless proportions.
Either I’m right and the carbon and graph makes a crisis of our making, or my belief is unfounded because the science is mistaken, Trump and UKIP are the voices of truth, and the future of the species is safe whatever we do. But either way, what difference can it possibly make? Believing requires action, both individual and political, of a kind that can only advance peace and stability, health and wellbeing. No more pollution or environmental destruction, no more wars for oil or exploitation of indigenous peoples, and an end to greedy, throwaway consumerism. #ArmsToRenewables is one of my favourite hashtags, along with #WeAreOne. It all connects. I believe in it, as a goal, as a better world, as a mantra and reason to get out of bed. Even if it’s unattainable, because human beings really are doomed to kill each other and destroy our home, we have to try. And if I’m wrong, and it was all for nothing…? Then our shared mistake will have done us nothing but good.
So I believe we have to avert climate chaos. No choice. As an author, I’ll throw in just one more of my convictions. I believe in stories. They help us to understand ourselves, others whose experience is different from ours and our shared humanity, developing empathy and educating the ego – or teaching us love. Trump reportedly claims he hasn’t read any fiction since he was eleven. I rest my case.