“He who controls the past, controls the future. He who controls the present, controls the past.”
From 1984, by George Orwell
It has been a week of climate related news. The annual report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated that we must act now, or the future of our planet, and our very existence, will suffer devastating effects towards the end of this century. This was a gloomy way to start the week, and it didn’t get much brighter. Obviously governments, campaigners, activists and environmentalists around the globe reacted to the report. Mostly in a proactive and passionate way, encouraging us all to be more engaged with this global issue for the sake of our future and the future of generations to come. But one man (whose name I need not mention) continued to play his part providing incoherent, ignorant, rambling contradictions to the science behind the causes and effects of climate change. When so many people across the globe have acknowledged that our planet is heading for multiple catastrophic disasters due to the effects of rising CO2 levels, caused directly by human actions, this begs the question as to why one man chooses to stand alone.
What’s worrying is that he isn’t alone. His belief, being a skeptic towards global warming, is unfortunately one perspective held by many. A large number of these people, who choose to mistrust the findings of scientists and researchers from around the world, often hold positions of authority and influence. What we are left with is a world embroiled in the age-old battle of fact versus opinion, of evidence versus belief, and the modern battle of environmentalism versus capitalism.
With both sides locking horns, the argument seems stagnant. Academic or scientific reports are fighting eccentric, untrustworthy politicians, which in turn produces episodes of “fake news” counteracted by satirical piss-takes. Conversation seems non-existent. When somebody speaks, nobody listens. When nobody listens what develops, is a world of constant noise.
I certainly don’t have the answers to these problems. But, like many, I do have questions. Could the solution to understanding the future of this planet lie within reading and trusting predictions of the present, from writers and scientists of the past? If we could highlight these changes visually, using historical photographs combined with text, would the issue be made more accessible to a majority population, rather than those of scientific or political interest to the subject? Yes, you could argue that photography isn’t a representation of facts, and that repurposing a photograph to use as evidence is a manipulation of truth, a form of propaganda even, for the benefit of climate science. But with so much clear, visual data at our finger tips, surely we should be trying every method possible in order to grasp the enormity and immediacy of this issue. Current extreme weather conditions are a direct result of human actions from the past. In short, according to the latest IPCC report, the consequences of our current actions will only become visible by the end of this century. Hence the need to act now, before it is too late. As Andreas Malm describes it:
“We cannot be in the heat of the moment, only in the heat of this ongoing past. Insofar as extreme weather has shaped basal warming, it is the legacy of what people have done - indeed, the air is heavy with time” - (Malm, 2016)
This week’s image was found in a flea-market, amongst stacks of other crumpled photographs. Fisons, a horticultural chemicals company, was one of the first companies to develop chemical fertilisers in the UK, to gain high crop yields, to feed a growing population. A gradual build-up of wealth meant it soon became a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index. It was sold to Rhône-Poulenc (a French chemical and pharmaceutical company) in 1995. In 1997, Rhône-Poulenc, was to blame for one of the worst environmental accidents in Sweden's history. Rhône-Poulenc supplied Rhoca-Gil for the building of the Hallandsas tunnel. The chemical leaked into the artesian water, causing great damage to cattle, surrounding nature and workers at the construction site. Rhône-Poulenc was criticised for not pointing out the risks of using the sealant, which contained acrylamide and is considered to be carcinogenic.