Report of January meeting

The beauty of the natural world and the threat to its survival owing to climate change – the dilemmas of an alpinist poet

Our invited speaker on 20 January was Terry Gifford from the Research Centre for Environmental Humanities at Bath Spa University. As well as an academic, Terry is an alpinist and rockclimber. He is also writes poems which reflect his love of mountains and his concern for the environment.

We were shown some images, beginning with the rare phenomenon of the Brocken Spectre and another of a retreating glacier. Thus a contrast was drawn between the beauty of the natural world and the threat to its survival owing to climate change. Terry highlighted an essay written by William Ruskin published in 1884 in which he warns of the ‘Storm Cloud’ of creeping industrialism and its impact on the natural world, illustrating that environmental concern is nothing new.

Our speaker read a poem he had written in 1987 in the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the resulting contaminated rain which fell on many pars of Europe. He went on to emphasise that we need policy change by national governments as well as individual actions and pointed to the occurrence of ‘cognitive dissonance’ amongst many of us: that we sometimes support two contradictory views; for example, we might be in favour of wind turbines but object to them being erected in parts of the country which we value for their beauty.

We were shown a shocking map of the British Isles following predicted sea level rise in future years: Britain reduced to a number of isolated islands and much of the country submerged, in particular much of eastern England, the south-east coast and land bordering the Bristol Channel. Indeed, there is already managed retreat in low-lying parts of Somerset and other areas of England. We need to consider the implications of rising sea levels for agriculture and our transport infrastructure.

Terry Gifford delivered a sobering message but did not leave the meeting without hope of working together to do what is possible locally and by lobbying those in authority. And we enjoyed his poems!