The other day I was glumly wading through the increasingly bizarre and fetid swamp that's Twitter, under a fantastical sky full of chemtrails and UFOs. It's an increasing challenge to my sanity, so I'm now only an occasional and silent observer of this lunatic world. No more for me the pointless arguments with the misanthropic about how to cut a hedge or whether we should be reintroducing Pterodactyls.
Anyway, it seems the more climate related disasters the corrupt-elite-paedophile-mainstream-media reports on, the the more the hashtag #Climatescam trends. It's pretty weird - but then I guess on Elon's planet X nothing should surprise me.
One of the most familiar type of #climatescam posts runs along the lines of:
Global warming? What a joke. Just look at the weather here this summer - it's wet and freezing! Open your eyes, sheeple! #climatescam #conspiracy #justweather
It struck me this kind of thing is very typical of the problems we have talking to people about biodiversity loss as well. The equivalent would be:
Biodiversity loss? What a joke. It's just a con! Just look at the bees/butterflies/etc here this summer.
This isn't just a Planet X thing; some media outlets have been peddling this kind of narrative over the years too (although recently even The Daily Mail has apparently moved from denial to a kind of grudging acceptance of what's going on).
The first common factor at work here is the change in people's understanding of what constitutes "normal" - what's been called "shifting baseline syndrome". "Normal" numbers of butterflies for my mum and dad walking through a field in the 50s would mean clouds of them. For me, my understanding of "normal" numbers would be very different. For the grandchildren, "normal" would mean just two or three. That these huge changes happen over generations make it very difficult for people to see the bigger picture. In the case of the weather in the UK in July, for example, while it was colder than the recent average it was warmer than the average July from 1961-1990. Which explains the hours shivering on a Devon beach as a child. This July also came hard on the heels of the warmest June since 1884, incidentally.
Our collective lived experience keeps changing as people keep dying, so we're constantly prone to under-estimating the extent of biodiversity loss or climate change. We forget what "normal" was. There have been some great campaigns recently focusing on things like insects on windscreens to try to get this point across. When I was a kid on those marathon drives to Paignton I remember stopping for my mum to clean the windscreen because there were so many. Sharing that experience is a great way of ramming home the point about the collapse in invertebrate numbers. We can relate to a dirty windscreen much better than a number.
Not only does our lived experience keep changing, but it's also very specific and often unrepresentative of the bigger picture. This doesn't just relate to variation in the weather. If I didn't know better I might think bee populations are doing really well. We have lots more here than 10 years ago, but not because national or regional populations are bouncing back - because we've worked hard to help them by establishing bee friendly habitat. Try as we might though, we can't just pull up a metaphorical drawbridge. "Our" bees aren't immune to what's going on in the wider world. They're screwed if it's too hot to fly or the plants they rely on start to disappear.
It's clearly nonsense, too, to think that their numbers over a few years constitute a long term trend. Butterfly numbers in the UK go up and down year on year, depending on local conditions and weather. Some species - Red Admirals in 2023 - will do well in some years.* Today's stupidly short news cycle means we're always far too keen to jump to conclusions based on the short term.
These issues are all too easily exploited by the counter-science brigade. I wonder what motivates them? Why are they in denial? I think there's an element of fear about this. It's so much easier to believe biodiversity loss and climate change are some sort of mad conspiracy and don't in fact exist at all. It's beyond weird that for some people what we're faced with is so much less real than those chemtrails and UFOs.
To some degree we're all guilty of putting our fingers in our ears, screwing our eyes tight shut and yelling La La La when we're confronted by the enormity of what's going on. It's natural or perhaps even essential for our mental health. What we can't do is deny it.
*Thank goodness, incidentally, that this summer was nothing like last year. Droughts are terrible for butterflies.