There’s a point in the film, Woman At War where the heroine, a formidable Icelandic environmental warrior, Halla, is bombarded by the adverse public opinions that her economic terrorism generates. It’s visceral and hurtful and managed by government spin but it does neatly counterpoint the dilemma in the current climate change debate here in the UK: the Extinction Rebellion’s peaceful disruptions and pressure on politicians from a chorus of voices demanding a swifter set of actions to try and address the impacts being wrought on our planet.
On the one hand, we are asked to admire Halla’s single-minded determination to arrest the industrial growth in Iceland’s gorgeous bleak wilderness, to save the planet from more despoliation. On the other, there are the challenges faced by elected politicians concerned about anything that limits or ends jobs craved by their voters and the resultant prosperity in the now. It’s pitting those whose concerns are the end of the world against those whose focus is on the end of next week.
I will hold my hand up and say I am fully supportive of those who want to do something to change our current path. I am fully involved in doing more. And I’ve already written here how delighted I am to see so many youngsters protesting, as once I did, albeit on different subjects, to try and change the pace of the debate. To me political engagement is fundamental to the health of any democracy.
That said, I do not buy the narrative that says it is too late, nor that we must act so radically to change the ways in which we live that if we do not we are inevitably doomed. Over my lifetime many things have changed to make the planet a better place alongside the very many that imperil it. But once we identify a problem the history of mankind shows we find solutions. We are ingenious as well as duplicitous. We will ‘get away’ with what we can but, come the hour, we will act in all our best interests. History can be a guide but it can delude; it is up to each of us to decide which.
Of course those who’d have us pull down the ways we live will list the many egregious examples of how things have been dealt horrendous blows. Plastic oceans for one. But I read of solutions being put into action. The process won’t be smooth and there will continue to be plenty of scope for the negative siren voices. But, as I was encouraged once in a different context, I tend to the ‘don’t get mad, get even’ view.
In practice, no country is about to pull itself apart for the next generation. But it will work toward that goal when the consequences of current behaviours are made clear. I will see, if I live to be 100 as I currently plan (don’t tell the kids) the end of petrol cars, fossil fuel power stations, plastic oceans, gas heating in houses. In the way my parents saw smogs end in British cities, lead in petrol, cfcs destroying the ozone layer, ddt polluting crops. Or my grandparents saw the end of cities swamped with horse manure by the advent of the car. We lurch unevenly to a better world; I want to continue to lurch.
I may be wrong, I often am. No one knows. And meanwhile I will make my house as passive as I can. Solar panels and grey water capture. Reduce to a trickle the meat I eat, get rid of cars, reduce to near zero plastic packaging… as many initiatives as I can. But if I change something I want to know what’s replacing it and some mythical return to an agrarian economy is not it. I believe that living an organic life is the way forward and that goes for societal changes as much as it does my potatoes.
I seem to have moved away from my film review. Woman at War is splendid if you can cope with subtitles. There’s something of the Greek tragedy about it, with the background music provided by a trio that follows Halla around, joined occasionally by a Ukrainian choral group. If that feels Pythonseque, then the story line is perfectly pitched and the acting a delight. When Halla is fighting the evil powers of capitalism, she’s like a female Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible mode only with fewer gadgets and more interesting knitwear.
I heartily recommend the film, and the twist at the end is so believable and yet so surprising that it left me smiling as I left the screening.
And one day, maybe I’ll be left smiling at how we tackle all those huge issues that confront us. Until then, I’ll fight for them, but from inside this imperfect tent that is British society. I applaud Extinction Rebellion. Keep Rebelling. It’s a message that deserves airing. And the good fight will be won, if not in the ways you want or when you want it. Just make sure you remain rebellious, young and old. After all Extinction Apathy is merely a self fulfilling prophecy.