Taking the Long View: Climate change and knitting

In the summer, Alan Rusbridger is stepping down after 20 years of editing the Guardian. In advance, he tried to anticipate whether he would have any regrets… only one: “that we had not done justice to this huge, overshadowing, overwhelming issue of how climate change will probably, within the lifetime of our children, cause untold havoc and stress to our species.”

Changes to the climate rarely make it to the front page or the home page. They are happening, but they are happening too slowly for the fast-paced news cycle or the time-poor reader. And many of the changes are not yet news, but exist as predictions, scenarios and probabilities: “There may be untold catastrophes, famines, floods, droughts, wars, migrations and sufferings just around the corner. But that is futurology, not news, so it is not going to force itself on any front page any time soon.”

Which is why the Guardian is taking the long view: putting climate, “the biggest story in the world”, on its front page every Friday; and campaigning to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

It is a timely campaign. This year is vital, as governments are meeting in Paris in December, and hopefully they will come to a ground-breaking agreement on the climate. They need our support and encouragement.

During Lent – 18th February to 4th April – the Church of England in the South West is running a Carbon Fast. Instead of giving up chocolate, it is 40 days to reflect on how we affect our planet and consider what we can do to reduce our carbon footprint. Roughly concurrently, from 6th March to 19th April in Bristol Cathedral, I am exhibiting “A Stitch in Time”, 3D knitted representations of a series of greenhouse gases that are implicated in climate change.

CO2Human activity has caused the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to increase from 287 parts per million before the Industrial Revolution to 400 parts per million today. But carbon dioxide is just one of many greenhouse gases contributing to climate change. How much each gas contributes – its Global Warming Potential – depends on its structure, its emissions and concentration in the atmosphere, and how long-lasting it is. For example, the concentration of nitrous oxide is much lower, but its lifetime in the atmosphere is 121 years, and it has a Global Warming Potential nearly 300 times as much as carbon dioxide.

Reducing our emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases substantially, as we urgently need to, still requires doing something countercultural. Knitting also requires being countercultural. The making of “A Stitch in Time” required presence in the moment and attentiveness; there are no short cuts to knitting. At times, it became a contemplative practice, each stitch a mantra. At other times, I found myself mulling over the issue. The slowness in the making led me into a deeper care and concern for the planet, and attention to how the audience might understand the issue and take the long view.