Police have arrested 280 people in London at the start of two weeks of protests by environmental campaigners.
Extinction Rebellion activists are protesting in cities around the world, including Berlin, Amsterdam and Sydney.
Organisers have blockaded key sites in central London, in addition to demonstrating outside government departments.
Some have glued and chained themselves to roads and vehicles, while others were planning to camp overnight.
They’re not facing extinction. They’re just worried about a world that might be slightly hotter than it used to be, and with sea levels slightly higher. And they’re worried about something that may never happen.
Back in my day, 50 or 60 years ago, we worried about nuclear war, and people marched on the streets in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. We worried about things like the Soviet Tsar Bomba, which really would bring the complete extinction of Britain.
I grew up in post-war Britain in the immediate aftermath of the catastrophes of WW1 and WW2. I expected WW3 to start any day. I thought that I would probably die in a ditch somewhere in France or north Africa, a soldier clutching a rifle.
When I was 15 or so, I bought a book called Survival. It taught people how to survive in the outdoor, natural world with bows and arrows, and how to start fires with wooden sticks. I remember nothing of it now, except How To Roast Hedgehogs (bury them under a layer of mud, and light a fire on top of them).
After a while I ceased to worry about WW3, and instead started worrying about the Population Bomb, Peak Oil, Resource Depletion, Acid Rain, and the Ozone Hole. And then when that wore off I started worrying about Stock Market Crashes and Economic Downwaves. Now, more exotically, I worry (very slightly) about Asteroid Impacts and Ice Ages. But, above all, I’ve gradually realised, of all these various anxieties, that It Probably Won’t Happen.
I’m fairly typical of my post-war Boomer generation. We were all expecting the worst. Hence the gloomy lamenting blues music of the era. And hence also my childhood private army of toy soldiers, who were forever dying in ditches, clutching rifles.
The odd thing about it is that this profound pessimism still endures, even in little girls like Greta Thunberg. Perhaps that’s because she’s Swedish, and the further north you go in Europe, the more pessimistic people get, most likely because of the cold, sunless winters. The happiest countries in Europe are the southern ones like Greece and Spain, where it’s sunny all the time, and the people are sunny too.
And if you’re a natural Swedish pessimist, you can always find something to be pessimistic about. The world is full of catastrophes waiting to happen.
It seems it wasn’t always like this. Back in about 1900 there seem to been a lot of optimists around, dreaming of building utopian new societies. They thought a new world was just round the corner, just a step away. People like Lenin and Trotsky must have been supremely optimistic if they really thought that they could create a wonderful new society, a heaven on earth. But of course these idealistic, optimistic revolutionaries never manage to construct heaven: they always end up creating hell.
I was never any sort of optimistic revolutionary. I never dreamed of creating a utopian, smoke-free new society. That world was (and is) always going to be another dystopia. I simply wanted to survive. And in fact I survived very well. I never actually had to roast a hedgehog. I never carried a rifle. I count myself a lucky man. I never wanted to build a better world, but instead just hoped to preserve the imperfect one we already had. I never had the urge to tear down the existing world and build a new one from scratch. I never had plans for everyone.
Perhaps it’s human nature to imagine the worst that might happen, and also to imagine the best that might happen. But all too often that means inhabiting an imaginary world populated with imaginary people. Extinction Rebellion activists are terrified of completely imaginary climate change. A lot of Americans are terrified of a completely imaginary president Donald Trump. And a lot of Brits are terrified of a completely imaginary Brexit. And so on.
It probably won’t happen.