The sun was shining as my friend Christian and I walked past the Houses of Parliament having just snuck past the dozens of police on Westminster Bridge, on the lookout for Extinction Rebellion protesters.
For the past few days in London I had felt more alive than ever, I’d never experienced such unity among such a diverse group of people: young, old, retired, professionals, students, hippies.
The same sound was ringing in the hearts of all these people, produced by a combination of the reality of scientific alarm, the grief that collectively we may have destroyed our children’s future, and the mad hope that we might yet be able to turn the ship around and fix it.
I checked my phone to see how the media were reporting the disruption. BBC headlines: Brexit, Brexit, Brexit. Only a few pages down a small article on the London-wide protest ban. It seemed completely crazy when the country should be taking radical climate action, rather than concentrating on the Brexit stalemate.
There was a time when Brexit was one of my biggest concerns. I remember waking up on the morning of the referendum result in 2016 and feeling like I had entered a nightmare. My wife is Polish, we had met in Poland and have two young children. And I had numerous friends in similar positions. Not only were my wife and children now in a seemingly hostile country towards foreigners, but the country had decided to leave the most environmentally progressive organisation of nations on the planet, the EU.
That night, after getting back from London and despite being tired from camping in an uncomfortable tent, I lay awake in bed. I started to dream of a Britain that led the world in climate action, that was head and shoulders above even the EU in terms of CO2 reduction. A country that bound itself to audacious emissions targets, that turned its engineering prowess away from machines and factories that compound the problem, towards machines and factories that fix the problem, and where headlines read ‘climate crisis’ not ‘Brexit crisis’.
The environment should be at the heart of any deal negotiations, and news that its protection is threatened by the proposed Brexit terms and possible future trade deals is deeply worrying.
We must think of ways to transform this mess into a miracle. If we are going to have a Brexit, let’s have a super-eco-Brexit where environmental protections and climate action are the priority: we remain aligned to, or even exceed, the EU’s stringent environmental regulations, and we become known as global leaders in fighting the climate crisis.
After my experience in London, and in this divided world, I’m beginning to wonder if the big problem of the climate emergency is also potentially the big solution, in its power to bring people together under a common concern.
On whatever side of politics we sit, whatever side of the Brexit debate, or whatever side of any division in society, let us see if an awakened call to urgent environmental action can unite us. As has been said many times, nothing unites like a common enemy.