In September 2002, days after Tony Blair put over Britain's spurious case for war against Iraq, somewhere between 150,000 and 400,000 people marched in protest through the streets of London. Over the coming months across the world demonstrations of similar sizes protested against a war that offended a wide range of members of the public. As we know, the US and UK dived into war regardless, dragging other nations behind them and the ratings of Blair and Bush eventually suffered a terminal decline.
In 2009, hundreds of thousands of people took part in The Wave in London, a march to show a desire to move towards a sustainable economy. It was a tremendously good-natured affair, a living expression of contemporary environmentalism's enforced social agenda of being hopeful and not giving in to negativity. It was a protest of sorts - a positive "We're ready for change" kind of protest. It wasn't direct action protest and it wasn't angry.
But why not? Why are so many people happy to rage about a war that cost hundreds of thousands of local civilian lives in order to secure future oil supply but aren't happy to rage about the war on the earth that has the potential to cost billions of lives over the centuries?
The question comes to my mind as my daughter, Zafra, grows. Now 18 months old, I pray she will live to a happy old age. Yet as I consider this I also consider the words of an elderly congregant of mine - "I'm glad I won't be alive to see the things that you'll see." She understood. The environmental legacy that we pass onto the next generation becomes more and morelikely to become horrific with each day of inaction. If Zafra lives to see the end of the century, I shudder to consider what she might see and that makes me angry.
I look at the failure of the COP talks that essentially locks us into a minimum of 2 degrees of global heating, with the potential of much more, especially considering the possibility of runaway feedback effects, and I think, "You are potentially harming my child. You are potentially exposing her to horrors and hardship that you could have prevented."
Perhaps one of the differences between the war in Iraq and anthropogenic climate change is that we - the average civilians - didn't cause any of the deaths in Iraq whereas while we continue as excessive consumers, we are at least partly responsible for anthropogenic climate change. Putting pressure on government is important but focussing all criticism on government is misplaced. Some of the anger should be aimed towards ourselves for our own hypocrisy.
But there is a place for angry challenge. Not shop-smashing challenge (if for no other reason that to repair violent damage uses yet more precious global resources), not rioting, but actually unifying as a mass of people and saying to the political parties, "Unless you take this much more seriously than you currently do, you will not win the next election." Putting environment before the economy should be a political win, not a loss, and the reason that it isn't is because of us, the voting public and our inability to expressanger.
We limit ourselves, but hardly. We say "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" but what we really do is "reduce costs, buy cheaper reused products and recycle, recycle, recycle" as though recycling alone will somehow avoid dangerous climate change. We limit ourselves but only as a meagre contribution. "Is this the fast that I have chosen?" says Isaiah (58:5). In other words, this is it? That's pathetic! Isaiah is angry at the tokenism of the masses and the leadership who influence them.
Maybe it's time to reignite some of that anger, that passion, and say, "We will not tolerate this. We must all do better. No ifs, buts or maybes. No more excuses." Well-focussed anger, dissatisfaction at the status quo, is surely what we need to kick-start the dramatic changes that our society needs. Let's generate that anger and focus it properly.... and soon.