There’s No Planet B

11th September 2021 |


If you read my book Jupiter’s Travels you might remember that as I was riding south through Africa in 1974 I became disheartened about the effect the human race was having on the environment. I compared us to a cancerous growth. I knew nothing then about climate change – I was concerned about our effect on wild life and the environment in general. That was almost fifty years ago.

Two years later, in 1976, coming down from Ootacamund, in southern India, I met a younger German also on a bike. His name was Hans Bohle. He had been a volunteer working to help Indians grow better vegetables. He told me the hilarious story of how successful they had been– they had been able to grow cabbages three, four, five times the normal size. But nobody wanted to buy cabbages that size. They had to be thrown away. It was a commentary on misguided efforts to impose foreign standards.

Although much younger than me he was already on the way to becoming an important scientist studying global human vulnerability to food and water shortage, climate change and so on. He became a Professor and the Chair of the geography department of Heidelberg University but he died too young in 2014. We stayed in touch all those years. Like all such scientists he met frequently with his peers at conferences across the globe. About ten years ago I asked him how long he and his colleagues had known for sure that climate change was a threat, and he said they’d known for fifteen years, at least. That’s twenty-five years ago.

So like many others, thousands, maybe millions, I have been living with this knowledge for a long time now. I have always wanted to do something about it. I have hoped that my books would in some way help to pass on the message, but clearly that was not enough. Now we are at a point where something MUST happen, and I ask myself what must I do. At least a million – maybe more – have read my books. How many of them feel as I do? Is there something I could do to bring our combined sense of urgency to bear.

Very soon, in Glasgow, national leaders will meet, either to save the planet or to trash it. What are the odds? Not great.

A little while back we had the heart-warming story of Captain Tom who, at the age of a ninety-nine walked around his garden a 100 times to raise money for NHS workers. His success was astonishing.

What could a 90-year–old biker do to the same effect? Any ideas are welcome.