A few lines from Madagascar, where I went to visit a friend who works for climate change adaptation and where, coherently, we got stuck in a massive cyclone.
I had never before been in a cyclone and did not know that they go on for days, waves meters high, wind and rain beating down relentlessly. Luckily, we were on a small island in the north, only witnessing the tail end of the storm, the eye of which was in the east of the country. Its force was enough keep me awake at night though, wondering whether the bamboo structures of the bungalows would give away. Locals said they had never seen anything like it in that part of the country. Trees had fallen, houses were swept away, rice fields flooded with salt water, streets had turned into rivers. Later we found out that 20 people had died.
In the days that followed life slowly returned to normal and with it the island gently transformed back into paradise. As the sun slowly reappeared, nature offered its majestic abundance- lush vegetation inhabited by colourful birds, flowers and other animals of all kinds, gigantic trees and endless beauty as far as the eyes could reach.
One morning I swam in our little bay, encircled by mangroves and palm trees and suddenly a water turtle swam past me. I encountered this peaceful creature on three other occasions that morning, as we were both happily splashing around in the water, under the rising sun.
I will never forget these days, filled by sounds, smells, encounters and bountiful beauty that was at our display. And yet I also left this place with a sense of sadness, because of what I had witnessed and the heightened awareness that the days of this paradise are counted. Cyclones multiply annually, both in terms of intensity as well as magnitude. The coral reef, on which this majestic turtle was feeding, is dying, as sea temperatures have risen.
Our grandchildren, the future generations, will probably never swim in the sea to witness a sea turtle on its path, because at this rate the mass extinction of all living species that is under way will be almost complete.
I sincerely hope that the fear I felt in the nights of the cyclone remains in my bones, because I want it to keep me awake when I return to my busy life in sheltered Europe. Like everyone I work a lot, get tired and then there simply is no more time for that “environmental stuff”. But exactly that stuff consists in you, me, the inhabitants of that island, those who have passed away, as well as the turtles. It is the illusion of a disconnect that causes havoc. And yet back home environmental concerns are reduced to harrowing news which are existential mostly elsewhere in the world (by the way, this cyclone didn’t make it into the international media). I often lazily glance at the reports of the next annual intergovernmental environmental conference (are we at United Nations COP 22, 23?…I’ve lost count!), et voila.
I have now decided to fly less, localise my holidays. I will also work my way towards the Zero Waste movement and for instance stop using plastic soap containers (which too often land in the ocean) when a soap bar works just as well. Then there is a campaign to stop another 125 ancient trees from being cut down in the park the Duden/Forest in Brussels, which I will support. Because my actions, small and insignificant as they seem, matter to the inhabitants of that island, the turtle and all life. Because the truth is that there is no disconnect. All life to come is already here with us.