In Dr Seuss’s parable, it take all of Whoville to make enough noise to save their planet. How much will it take to save ours?
theguardian.com, Wednesday 17 September 2014 16.43 BST
Photograph: c. 20th Century Fox / Everett / Rex Features
All of Dr Seuss’s children’s books – or, at least, the best ones – are sly, radical humanitarian and environmental parables. That’s why, for example, The Lorax was banned in some Pacific Northwest districts where logging was the chief economy.
Or there’s Horton Hears a Who: if you weren’t a child (or reading to a child) recently, it’s about an elephant with acute hearing who hears a cry from a dust speck. He comes to realize the dust speck is a planet in need of protection, and does his best for it.
Of course, all the other creatures mock – and then threaten – Horton for raising an alarm over something they can’t see. (Dissent is an easy way to get yourself ostracized or worse, as any feminist receiving online death threats can remind you.) And though Seuss was reportedly inspired by the situation in post-war Japan when he wrote the book, but its parable is flexible enough for our time.
You could call the scientists and the climate activists of our present moment our Hortons. They heard the cry a long time ago, and they’ve been trying to get the rest of the world to listen. They’ve had to endure attacks, mockery, and lip service … but mostly just obliviousness to what they’re saying and what it demands of us.
Recent polling data suggests most of us do want to see things change. “Two in three Americans (66%) support the Congress and president passing laws to increase energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy as a way to reduce America’s dependence on fossil fuels,” reports the US Climate Action Network. But I hear firsthand from people who aren’t particularly informed and still tell me that they are avoiding thinking about climate because it’s too late.
It is nearly too late, because we’ve know about climate change for 25 years, but the most informed scientists think that we do have a chance and some choices, if we make them now.
To listen to such scientists is an amazing and sometimes terrifying thing: they fully comprehend what systemic collapse means and where we are in that process. They – and others who pay attention to the data – see how terrible the possibilities are, but they also see the possibilities for averting the worst.
Seuss’s Horton was alone. Climate activists in the United States are a minority, but there are vast numbers of people across the world who know how serious the situation is, who are facing it and who are listening and asking for action. Some of them will be with us when the biggest climate march in history takes place on Sunday in New York City – starting on the southern edge one of the nation’s largest urban green spaces, Central Park, running around Times Square and then moving west to the Hudson River – to demand that the UN get serious with this attempt to hammer out a climate change treaty at its summit next week.
A whole lot more people are going to come together to demand that our political leaders do something about climate than have done so before. In a symbolic action, at 12:58pm local time, they will observe a collective couple of minutes of silence dedicated to the past. Wherever you are on Sunday, you can join us in observing that silence and remembering the millions displaced last year by the kinds of floods and storms that climate change augments, or the residents of island nations whose homes are simply disappearing under the waves; the small shellfish whose shells are dissolving or the species that have died out altogether; the elderly and inform who have died in our longer, hotter heatwaves or the people who died in New York’s Hurricane Sandy not quite two years ago.
At 1pm local time, we will face the future, and demand that our leaders face the music. The marchers will make two minutes of noise, and every pot-banger, church-bell-ringer, hornblower and drummer on earth is invited to join in. Churches are invited to ring their bells; synagogues to blow their shofars; mosques to use their loudspeakers; secular humanists to get their brass bands on. Get your own pots and pans, or your trumpets and whistles.
We needed someone to ring the alarm all these decades of inaction. On Sunday don’t wait to hear it from someone else: make some noise yourself. It’s time to start making the future we hope for instead of waiting for the one we fear.
I wish that I could write a pat ending for the story of how we saved the earth, but that is, so to speak, all up in the air right now.
But at the end of Horton Hears a Who, the small people of Whoville decide to make a huge roar so that everyone else could hear them: they all roar and bang and blast, but it takes a boy named Jojo (playing with his yoyo) to add his yapping voice to the roar for them to become audible.
This is our planet: our little blue sphere in the Orion Spur of the Milky Way Galaxy, with the beautifully elaborate systems of birds and insects and weather and flowering plants all working together – or that used to work together, and which are now falling apart. And it’s your voice that’s needed, so raise it on Sunday. Join the roar, so that everyone who wasn’t listening finally has to hear.
• This article was updated on 17 September 2014 to reflect that the the New York City Police Department only granted the People’s Climate March permission to march to Sixth Avenue, and not all the way to the United Nations building on First Avenue.