We are in living in the Anthropocene, the geological period in which human beings are influencing climate development. Soon a simple thing like stepping outside for a breath of fresh air could be a thing of the past, writes Farid Tabarki.
Total environmental meltdown is the uneasy subject of the film Snowpiercer. It ends with two children breathing fresh air for the first time. About time too – the audience is kept gasping for two hours.
The film is based on a French comic book called Le Transperceneige in which man has finally, completely and irrevocably wrecked the climate. A rich businessman who sees what’s coming has built a luxurious train as a shelter against a grim outside world. The people on the train are subject to a class system as rigid and chilling as the icy environment that surrounds them.
The film combines a bit of Al Gore, a pinch of Old Testament and some Thomas Piketty, the French economist who wrote about how our society is getting more unequal every day. But my unease at watching the film isn’t caused by the inequality, awful though it is. It’s the sight of that frozen, lifeless planet, the freedom to move reduced to nothing no matter how fast the train goes.
In an unequal world there will always be those who climb the ladder – in India a humble tea-seller became prime minister, to name one example among many. But if the climate no longer allows us to live on earth, we are stuck. We could go to Mars I suppose but it is ‘without form, and void’.
Before we entered what we call the Anthropocene we lived in the Holocene. The Netherlands is a result of what happened during that time. Ten thousand years ago things looked a little different. The Betuwe was a tundra and then marsh land – and we reaped the benefits. A coastal area was formed with lovely dunes. We drained the marshes and turned them into arable land. So far, so good, but we have also exhausted most of the natural gas supply.
And that is not good news. Our climate is changing and the question is whether we can do something about it by jumping from the moving train. But if we don’t we will have no natural resources left and the economy will nose-dive. Parts of the planet will become uninhabitable. To hope that you can still get a seat on a perpetually moving train, even in the paupers’ carriage, would be foolish.
Thomas Friedman put it like this in the New York Times recently: ‘What containment was for our parents’ generation — their strategy to fight for freedom against the biggest threat of their day — resiliency will be for our generation against the multiple threats of our day: climate change, petro-dictatorship and destruction of our environment and biodiversity.
We need to do something: the earth depends on it. People, businesses and governments should worry more about the future. That is good for the next generation but also for the present one: don’t think you’ll escape unscathed. According to the Asset Owner Disclosure Project some 55% of pension portfolios will be affected by climate change.
What are we going to invest in and what are we no longer going to invest in? Are we with the Norwegians who, with an oil piggy bank of €600bn, are contemplating withdrawing from companies which are not climate proof? In the Netherlands the Rabobank has made a start but the pension funds are lagging behind. Impact on climate should be a determining factor in any investment portfolio. It will help the earth’s resiliency.
You don’t think it will happen in your lifetime? I do. I don’t believe in a train that moves in perpetuity and which doesn’t let in fresh air, no matter how powerful Joon-ho Bong’s film is. But you and I will have to make it happen. I wish you a pleasant journey.
Farid Tabarki is a trendwatcher, public speaker, panel moderator and founder of Studio Zeitgeist in Amsterdam.
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