“In many of our major cities, breathing the air is lethal.’’
We’ve all heard about climate change.
But have we been listening?
Last week the people at Climate Reality Project reminded us that it’s ten years since Al Gore released his film An Inconvenient Truth, bringing the subject of climate change to global awareness. As a result, the topic is hardly ever – or never – out of the headlines, or off the airwaves and television screens.
So we might all feel smugly righteous that we are aware of and concerned about the dangers. Congratulate ourselves that “something” is being done to save the planet from imminent catastrophe.
I harboured similar hopes when the novel I published about the pollution of the oceans leading to a decline in the oxygen levels was lauded by the Washington Post, no less, as “a landmark in the emerging field of eco-fiction”.
That was over 30 years ago. As the title of the book tells you, The Last Gasp deals with a denuded atmosphere caused by reckless and unchecked industrial growth. In the novel, mankind is slowly but surely poisoning itself as the rain forests are killed off, life-sustaining oxygen becomes scarce, and the human race finds itself living as if on a mountain 15,000 feet high, literally gasping for breath.
Back then, in 1983, this scenario might have been seen as science fiction or even far-fetched fantasy. What is it today?
Coinciding with the anniversary of Al Gore’s documentary, two weeks ago the World Health Organisation (WHO) released a report from more than 30,000 cities showing that global air pollution has risen by 8 per cent in the last five years. Pollutants are five to to ten times above safe recommended levels. Poor air quality affects more than 80 per cent of all urban dwellers worldwide. In many of our major cities, breathing the air is lethal.
Air pollution is now Number 1, the biggest killer in the world — more than malaria and HIV/Aids — causing over three million deaths a year through strokes, heart disease, lung cancer and chronic respiratory conditions such as asthma.
It is against this sombre and depressing backdrop that a new and revised version of The Last Gasp has recently been published. And while the book has been updated (it opens in 2016) the science underpinning the story and driving the plot is unchanged. Drawing on the parallels between the two versions thirty years apart, reviewer Andy Hedgecock in the Morning Star made the salient point that the author “seems less like a prophet of ecological apocalypse and more like a chronicler of imminent chaos.”
Are we ever going to learn from our past mistakes and wanton self-destructive behaviour, I wonder? Einstein once said that the definition of insanity (or was it stupidity?) is to keep on doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Well, we know what we’ve done in the past has led to — we see it all around us. Do we keep on doing it and expect a different result? Or do we grow up at last and stop being so stupid?