• Emerging Voices

Updated: Aug 25

During the lockdown, even ageing was suspended. Everything stopped. No visits to doctors, dentists. No worries that my pains were heart related or that night terrors were symptoms of mental imbalance. We were swaddled in paused time. And now it’s over, I feel less safe, sadder, older and not much wiser.

I’m grieving the world I lost – tube rides all over London; careless changing at Kings Cross; sitting in Brick and Olive Cafe for hours, surrounded by the unemployed and the old; hopping on the bus to Ally Pally, thinking of nothing but walking in the park; meeting up for tea and sharing a single cake; getting away for the week to Scotland; planning a trip to California to see longtime friends and meet a new baby. Opening the front door and not backing up five metres. Walking the streets without moving onto the road as someone approaches. Joking with the greengrocer and letting our breath go where it will.

In fact, some of this has resumed. But the old ease is gone, replaced by a wariness of the stranger in the cafe, the cyclist on the path, the laughter of the server without a mask. I go about the world, but it’s smaller now. Everything feels like it might be tainted by the Covid germ. Recently I went with friends to the Tate Museum. We wore masks in an under-peopled gallery. We observed signs cautioning us not to stand too close. Our coffee in the cafe was subdued, the masks around our necks tattered amulets. This is our new normal, and I shall no doubt get used to it. But it’s a slow taking-in.

The first week after lockdown, I was thrown off-base, not sure where to go and what to do. The government threw open many doors. But who in their right mind trusts today’s feckless, corrupt governments? We’re in a time when everything is broken, fragmented into unrecognizable pieces.

It will be many years before another period of stability. And that stability will not look like it did before the pandemic. That prelapsarian time held some cohesion. I could count on dying in my bed of some familiar disease, say of the heart. That may still be the case. But a microscopic thing may invade me, taking my breath in a way I never expected. It maddens me that even my fantasies of how I’d depart this planet are called into question now. Is nothing certain?

Of course nothing is certain. Never was. Everything shifts, moving toward final dissolution. I’m not optimistic by temperament, and certainly am not going to start trying for a calm acceptance now. No, I’m one of those ‘do not go gentle into that good night’ people. I have a finely honed sense of outrage, based partly on an arrogance about my own intelligence. Like others who share my stew of characteristics, the struggle is to channel this energy into something useful. That battle goes on. At the moment, the bad guys are winning. I’m irritable, negative, pissed off.

Perhaps this is, after all, a good time to be old. Perhaps I’ll avoid experiencing the full-blown horrors of climate catastrophe. Possibly the social justice protests this time will make fundamental changes. I push myself to find the positive, and I often do. The other side of my arrogance is a belief in my efficacy in making a difference with others. It’s of some comfort.

But the vial of bitterness is never far away, the rage at life’s unfairness. I try not to lift it to my lips, but sometimes it insists I drink. And then I have to remember: there are still conversations to have, sentences to write, children to nurture. And sometimes, there will be the sense that this life is not just full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.


Rose Levinson, August 2020


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  • Emerging Voices

Updated: Aug 26

What Everyone Should Know About NDCs

Sydney Charles has been active in climate campaigning for over ten years. She’s devastated that, whilst so much is known about solutions, so little is done by the powers-that-be. Indeed she is horrified. Even as the world needs to recover from the ongoing breakdown of the global system, many governments are awarding vast sums to polluting industries. Sydney is active in North London, arranging local events, working with community energy groups, and continually lobbying and protesting for carbon reductions at the national level. She also tracks the all important UN negotiations. Sydney tries to balance the continuous struggle between supporting positive actions and battling the malevolent forces of media and billionaires. Her passion for a Green New Deal has been overtaken by a passion for a green recovery from the pandemic – our only chance.

Her twitter handle is @sydcharles

Almost five years ago in Paris, in December 2015, 192 countries agreed to produce a Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) pledging to bring down their Greenhouse Gas emissions. These ‘Paris Pledges’ can be found here – in the little known archive on the little known UN web site.

The Paris Agreement makes clear that pledges might not be sufficient to limit global temperature increases to 1.5°C. (footnote 1)

Frequent heat waves, fires, hurricanes, flooding, glaciers melting and cold ‘in the wrong places’ are signs we ignore at our peril. Most alarmingly, they are happening right now as we approach just 1°C increase in carbon emissions. We can no longer expect to live in the ‘green and pleasant land’ of our youth. But the looming global catastrophe could be minimised and delayed if every government was pressured into pledging to do much more, much sooner.

Panic and fear would appropriately ensue among billions if global citizens took in the fact that the aggregate of all the pledged emission reductions ‘bakes in’ emission increases leading to global warming of around 4°C, rather than the aim of only 1.5 °C. This will make vast areas of Earth uninhabitable.

The Paris Agreement required every Government to submit a new pledge by 2020. That is NOW. They were to include greenhouse gas reduction strategies through 2050. But already that may be too late. Many governments clearly have no intention of making more ambitious pledges. Indeed, many are not attempting to honour the pledges they have already made. footnote 2

Activists in every country, and the diaspora of every country, need to know what their climate abatement pledge contains and to pressure their government into submitting an update pledging maximum action in minimum time.

Increasingly, the public is developing a sense of anxiety about Climate Breakdown and Ecological Damage. But most citizens have a ‘non-existing level of knowledge’ about what actions their government has pledged that might pull us back from the brink. Most don’t know their government is pledging the minimum, whilst continuing to add to greenhouse gases. This inexorably warms the world, which disrupts weather patterns, which causes death and destruction.

As Greta Thunberg stated, “Public opinion is what runs the free world, and the public opinion necessary is today non-existing, the level of knowledge is too low.” (Time.com July 2020)

How to ensure that your government pledge maximises emission reduction and maximises sequestration:

  • First find the pledge for your country here and get all your contacts to find theirs

  • Second analyse the pledges with people who understand the country and the causes of climate change

  • Third publicise how inadequate the pledges are and the inevitable dangers to the country and the world

  • Fourth lobby and protest – either from within or from outside the country

It is in the interest of fossil fuel companies to control the message which gets accepted in governments. They insist that controlling green gas emissions is ‘not urgent’ and ‘would cost too much’. The huge benefits of improved air quality, more comfortable homes, better access to power for the disadvantaged, less conflict over oil are messages that get lost, distorted, buried under corporate hype.

Until the message gets through to every global citizen and to every politician on the urgency for public, ambitious climate abatement pledges, we will continue on the inexorable path of increasing climate damage. Life on earth will be impossible in at least some regions, and the planet we rely on will no longer be hospitable to our continuing presence.

Check out your government’s commitment to reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions!

John Kerry signed the Paris Agreement for the USA with his granddaughter in April 2016. The US is now on track to cancel that agreement.

(footnote 1)

Paris Agreement on aim and shortfall (p2)

Emphasizing with serious concern the urgent need to address the significant gap between the aggregate effect of Parties’ mitigation pledges in terms of global annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 and aggregate emission pathways consistent with holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above preindustrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above preindustrial levels.

(footnote 2)

Climate Action Tracker July 2020


We welcome your reactions and thoughts to any and all postings. Please email us at editors@emergingvoices.co.uk or respond via our social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

  • Emerging Voices

Updated: Aug 26

Lives on the River: Rachel Jacobs

We’ve moved our narrowboat from our lockdown spot on Tottenham Marshes after a dramatic series of events. First, the government decided to ease the lockdown – despite the UK having the second highest virus death rate in the world. Then the Canal and River Trust told us we could no longer stay in place. So we have returned to moving every two weeks, up and down the river, finding moorings where we can.

I’m beginning to really love this river. To love a place you need a level of intimacy with it. To understand something of its essence. I love this river despite its deterioration. Overgrown algae, rubbish, endless plastic, a bubbling mix of toxins, detergent, sewage and oil slicks. Yet it’s full of life, the algae teeming with fish and eels. New swans are born, cygnets with their patient sometimes violent parents. Ducklings waddle, facing risk of murder by the prowling fox I met the other night. Blackberries prepare to fruit. Grasses, meadow life, marshland, families of old trees with their fungi and lichen friends greet the days.

Whilst we were in place in Tottenham, we found a corner of the marshes my partner and I called the ‘magic circle.’ Daily we went there to look at the sky, meditate, picnic, exercise.

Our magic circle was recently destroyed. A murder investigation connected a burnt-out moped on the edge of our woodland to a shooting. The destruction spread to our place on the marshes. Police vans, tents, portaloos, divers, drones arrived, searching the waters for the gun. Our boats were used as anchors, holding the ropes for divers scouring the silt below. Then the cutting started, decimating bushes and plants. The nesting birds, butterflies, bees moved on. They didn't find the gun, just a lot of hidden rubbish.

We moved on, and moored in Springfield Park, Stamford Hill.

One day we walked from Stamford Hill, close to my Jewish roots in London, to the Olympic Park in Stratford. A journey down Cazenove Road to Stoke Newington takes us to where my mum, aunt, grandparents, their cousins and my great grandmothers lived before, during and after the Second World War. Then they were moved out of what was considered the East London slums to one of the shiny new post-war council estates in Essex. I suppose this is the closest to roots on this English island as I'm going to find. A sense of place, moving on, thriving is very much on my mind at this moment as I reflect on the Black Lives Matter protests and the virus.

My great grandparents arrived here illegally on a boat, escaping a cholera epidemic that killed one of my great grandfathers and fleeing pogroms that violently chased Jews from their homes. My family, as well as my partner’s family who came from Chile in the 1970s, all ended up here, close to these marshes and this river. They were seeking a safe place, trying to find ways to thrive--nutritionally, politically, metaphorically, spiritually, emotionally, communally. I seek the same things.

As we walked from where our roots and boat are, the river became increasingly closed in. We moved onto the tributary river behind the marshes, turned now into flats, stables, roads and football pitches. No longer meadows and woodlands. The tributary has some appearance of 'wild-ness', but damage is visible everywhere. The algae thickens, plastic is embedded in the mud and silt at the river's bottom. Still there is beauty, a twisting turning water flow, with lilies, reeds and willows and giant invading hogweeds, all squashed between the roads and industries of London. A miracle in the metropolis. Along the river families emerge from lockdown to sunbathe, barbeque and party. We stopped to salsa with a party of South Americans. My partner reminisced about his Chilean childhood summers. We celebrated the mixed-up aliveness of London.

The river keeps changing. The incredible landscaping feat of the Olympic Park has a different type of beauty, more in keeping with urban life. Regimented, serene, colour-coded, the water flows wide, straightened, rippling yet dull. No lightning-struck willows, huge nettles, hemlocks and hogweeds with hand-burning stems.

We reached the park, the stadium and Anish Kapoor's iconic roller coaster. The river split and split again, making it hard to follow the flow of water, locks, closed cafes, building developments and cement. We tried to find somewhere to eat and ended up at an epitome of consumerism and capitalism – a burger place in Westfield Shopping Centre. I had a mushroom burger and my partner 'treated' himself to a beef burger.

Walking, we spoke of damage, faith and medicine. Much of my research, the public workshops I run and the artworks I make, consider how we can be positive in the face of environmental and climate change. I am not using the words emergency, catastrophe or crisis. My research, which incorporates environmental psychology, shows that these words, a narrative of apocalypse, can encourage despair. We desperately need the urgency of 'emergency', just as the world has (partly) responded to the pandemic. But despair is where damage is done. Despair turns us into zombies. Despair is not where life is.

To have faith in our future, to envision any positive continuity, not the future we fear, we need trust alongside urgency. We need to trust that no matter how much we turn the river into a 'navigation', straighten it, add locks to manage the flow of water and the beings living in the water, throw rubbish into it – the water will still try to do what water does. Flow towards the sea. Evaporate. Rain. Keep being in the water cycle.

The water in the river is never the same water.

The problem is that our destruction has reached the water cycle. We experience an increase in droughts, storms and floods at unseen levels. Yet if we leave water alone, if we learn how to protect and be with it and not dominate it, water will be what water is. The same with plants, birds, fish. The same with mammals and humans. Despite the damage, despite burgers at Westfields, a return of cars to the roads and even higher levels of pollution and CO2 emissions--water will still try to do what water does. We started to see this when we stopped some of the travel and consumption during lockdown. Some humans and non-humans could freely return to what they do when they are not adapting, mutating, hiding and dying from destructive ways.

I don't believe it’s enough to acknowledge this just so we feel better. There are too many points of no return. We are discovering that atmosphere and weather systems can severely malfunction. Ice, soil, the whole of Earth's life supporting systems, can go awry. Yet even with our mutated, damaged world, surely we need to trust that the cure for the damage is also in our hands.

We can create vaccines and sustainability plans. We can re-landscape industrial land, change the politicians, the regulations. We can root out corruptions, reform the police and legal system. All this we desperately must do. But there is another type of healing we need: finding ways to nurture life. When natural life is thriving, we will thrive. Where we see no life (Westfield and a burger place, pollution in a river, the top of a sacred mountain removed for mining) life won't thrive. Despair comes. We turn into zombies. We seek to dominate, believing the myths about winning through infinite growth and consumption, technological determinism, extraction and progress. We create nothing but death. We experience nothing but despair and indifference.

The fundamental question for all of us: how do we sustain our massive populations, our health, our food, our economies, our communities, families, identities so that life can thrive? We are not yet answering this question.

We returned to the tributary river on Hackney Marshes. Hundreds of people were in the water and on the banks in the heatwave, the river smelling of sewage and rubbish from the incinerator upstream and human waste, fecal, food and plastic deposited after our emergence from lockdown. Pissing in the woods is a different experience now from the beginning of lockdown. Gone is the romantic dream of nature saving us. The atmosphere was shocking, joyful, electric. Terrifying.

Back at our magic circle, we discovered the police had cut it down. Razed it to the ground. Gone are the ribbons tied to the dog rose bush with dates and names on them. The brambles arranged in a circle. The beautiful pink roses and blackberries coming into flower. The birds soaring, singing and settling. I felt despair. Sadness at the spreading damage in the lives of everyone, for the birds, bees and butterflies who had even less place to roam and make a home, the fruits and flowers that would not grow there this summer.

Yet something remains in this place that was once a magic circle, now dead brambles and dust. Something ineffable is still here, a tingle of something in my bones, a memory of regrowth. Something bubbling up from below, something shining from above. The dog rose was left with one flower.


Rachel Jacobs is a Consulting Editor to Emerging Voices. She writes on climate issues and the role of the artist in addressing them


We welcome your reactions and thoughts to any and all postings. Please email us at editors@emergingvoices.co.uk or respond via our social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

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