Note from a dying planet: don’t just do something, panic!

As the world attended the royal funeral and the Hong Kong police moved forward in the fight against subversive harmonica music, one comment caught my attention. The author wondered why the media was paying so much attention to the death of Queen Elizabeth II and so little to the planet’s pending death, which was announced at around the same time.

Well, there was a hint of republicanism to that – the author was Australian – and I’m not sure if the expired Queen coverage was too much. If you’re planning on having a king or queen – which I certainly accept is optional and perhaps not a good idea – you may also recognize an outstanding performance in the role.

Photo: Lea Mok / HKFP.

The funeral may have seemed a little over the top too, but it was just a vestige of the ceremonies that hereditary monarchs used to bolster their authority when they really had any.

The Habsburg emperors, for example, had very elaborate funeral rites because they were buried in three different Viennese churches: the body in the crypt of the Capuchin church on the new market square, the heart in the Augustinian church next to the Hofburg palace, and the bowels in containers. of copper under St. Stephen’s Cathedral, where macabre visitors can still see them.

So I don’t blame the dear lady for her parade. The point on the planet, however, is positive.

It seems that we are approaching, without signs of serious slowdown, to various points where the current climate problems – floods, fires, droughts – will be joined by much more serious manifestations of planetary indisposition.

Overnight, for example, the Greenland ice sheet could slide heavily from the top of Greenland into the North Atlantic, producing an instant and drastic reduction in the amount of land available. Good news for some, bad news for others. Residents of Tsim Sha Tsui apartments on the first floor will be able to enter their Uber gondolas directly from their windows. The shops below will be submerged.

This kind of thing should take up a lot of media space and it’s worth asking why it isn’t.

Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral procession passes through Horse Guards in London following her funeral at Westminster Abbey. Photo: Lauren Hurley / no. 10 Downing Street, via Flickr.

Clearly part of the problem is how the news world works. Thoughtful reporters have long known that there is a bias in favor of stories that fit “news treatment”, which meant in the old days they could be boiled down to 12 crisp paragraphs and now means they’ll do the kind of splash on the internet. usually reserved for eye-catching cat videos.

It’s a commonplace nowadays that the news consumer is a fickle creature, who if not firmly grasped by the first five seconds of your report / stream / video will wander elsewhere in search of more excitement. But it has always been like that. The disproportionate attention paid to the headline and first paragraph of the print report was motivated by the fear that the reader who had not been caught by it might swim away.

In search of things that work when presented in this breathless way, the information world prefers events to processes, single events to developing ones, named individuals – preferably already known to our consumers – over abstract crowds like “humanity” or “the future”.

Greta Thunberg in the EU Parliament. Photo file: EU government.

Climate change was not put on most people’s mind maps by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – a voice that has been screaming in the wilderness for decades – but by Greta Thunberg. Yet most of us are still sitting paralyzed: rabbits in the headlights of an impending catastrophe.

Of course we make changes. We will play with thermostats, activate the “Eco” option that most cars seem to offer nowadays, experiment with meat without meat and fish without fish, recycle what can be recycled and reuse what can be reused .. and then we destroy our carbon savings by flying to Europe.

But I think the key to public apathy is that the danger is too great for individual efforts, as moving as they may be for those who make them. If scientists find that onions are bad, we can give up onions and hope for a longer, healthier life. Giving up beef because it is climatically catastrophic seems like an empty gesture: the cow industry is a behemoth that will go on regardless of what a single consumer does.

Saving the planet, in short, is a collective problem that requires collective action. So the important question we have to ask ourselves is: what is Hong Kong doing as a territory with some control over its environmental impact to reduce it?

Archive photo: Jennifer Creery / HKFP.

And the short answer, alas, is not much, or at least not much, proportional to the magnitude of the threat, which could in a decade or two make Hong Kong uninhabitable, at least in the summer, even if most of it hasn’t been submerged. .

Climate change did not appear prominently in the CEO’s election campaign, and he doesn’t seem to have had much in mind since then. The Legislative Council appears to be drifting towards a larger plastic bag tax. We will be charged for waste collection, but this is due more to the shortage of landfills than the desire to reduce waste.

Hong Kong Electric has had a toy windmill in its building in Wan Chai for years and seems to have concluded from experience that Hong Kong wind is unsuitable for power generation.

Every year or two we get another story about an electric bus that a bus company is experimenting with. Somehow these buses all go … and they go. Electric taxi? Do not hold your breath.

Or rather, hold your breath: the air pollution was so bad last week that on some days Ma On Shan was not seen at Fotan.

Our priorities don’t seem to fit the circumstances. What is required, I stress, is a variation on panic. “Security” is all very well. But if your home is on fire, the danger of burglary shouldn’t be your first concern.


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