‘Very overwhelming and scary’: How it feels to suddenly wake up to the climate emergency
Kate Ng meets the people who have become increasingly aware of the impact of climate change following extreme weather events and rising pollution levels
For Brenda Gabriel, 39, from London, the tipping point in her climate consciousness was the devastating bushfires that ravaged large swathes of Australia from September 2019 to March 2020. By the time the last fire was extinguished, an estimated 18.6 million hectares (186,000 square kilometres) of land had been razed, with more than 5,900 buildings and homes destroyed, three billion animals harmed, and 34 people dead.
“I remember being so frustrated watching those fires on the television, particularly because the indigenous people had warned the government that it would happen,” Gabriel told The Independent.
Gabriel had already individually been prompted to move towards a crisis mindset by a 2018 BBC documentary, which examined the history of throwaway culture and the environmentally damaging results that vast amounts of rubbish eroding into the ground and sea produces. “There were also all these photos of plastic rubbish being sent to countries across the ocean, and it made me so angry and disheartened.
“Here I am, washing out plastic bottles and containers and trusting that they will be recycled and turned into something wonderful, but instead we’re making it someone else’s problem. It feels really unfair,” she added. Like many others, Gabriel long played her part but was now starting to see how that fit within the jigsaw of the once-in-a-lifetime disaster facing the entire planet.
If there is a meme that could encompass the feeling of living in the midst of the current climate crisis, it would be the cartoon dog sat in a burning room, its blank smile betrayed by its wide-eyed terror, with the caption: “This is fine”.
Watching the world (literally) burn with wildfires raging to the east in Greece, Italy, and Turkey, and west in California and Canada. Soaring temperatures and dry conditions in many regions have led to some of the worst fires in nearly a decade. While Britain spends August coping with its own extreme weather: torrential rain led to flash flooding in London in recent weeks, with scientists warning that flooding will become more common as the climate crisis deepens.