For years I was hearing an increasing murmur and rumours about some kind of problem with the ship. Finally I decided to take a closer look, went up to deck, leaned out and looked down, and…. oh sh*t…. this ship is sinking! It’s tilting, some cabins are already flooded, with people frantically crowding the hallways and staircases trying to get to higher deck. It’s happening slowly, very slowly. In fact, the ship won’t be completely sunk during my lifetime probably. But my kids, and grandkids…. Darn!
So what’s going on here? I start roaming around, talking to people.
Lisa – scientist
Lisa is a scientist on board who’s been studying this for decades. Lisa and her colleagues saw this years ago and have been shouting about the problem ever since, but despite all hard evidence she’s been mostly ignored, passed off as a paranoid fearmonger. Although now with the actual water coming in people are starting to listen more to her.
I ask Lisa “Why is it sinking, and how can we stop it?”. She points out a bunch of people drilling holes, water pouring in. I stare in shock – “What, so WE are causing the problem?”. “Yeah” she says, with a resigned look.
“Why are we drilling holes?” I ask.
“They are used to produce electricity on board, and fuel for the vehicles on the ship”. And then she has some kind of technical explanation for how that works.
“And that’s sinking the ship?”
“So they should stop!”
“Why don’t they?”
“Because it’s their job. They get paid to do it.”
“Because our society has come to depend on the energy and fuel produced by the process. You and I are in fact paying for it, directly when we use electricity and fuel our vehicles, and indirectly through the ship tax which helps subsidize the drilling industry.”
“Isn’t there another way?”
“Yes there is. Solar panels. Wind turbines. Nuclear power. And more.”
“So why do we keep drilling holes then?”
“Old habit. Unions. Politics. Ignorance. Profit. Inertia. Plus, even if they stop drilling, the ship might sink anyway.” she sighed.
“Because there’s a delayed effect. Even if we completely stop drilling holes today, the ship will keep sinking for a few decades. And as water levels rise, the ship tilts to the side which increases flooding even more. And that’s just one of many vicious cycles going on. The more it sinks, the faster it sinks.”
“So we are screwed no matter what?”
“Well, if we keep drilling we are DEFINITELY screwed. If we stop drilling, most of the ship will probably still sink, but it happens over decades so maybe we can keep it from sinking entirely. It’ll be crowded and chaotic on board, but we can maybe maintain some semblance of civilization. But since the damage is pretty randomly distributed, the unlucky might start warring with the lucky, and the ship might get blown up in that process…”
“OK, stop, stop, I’ve heard enough. I get it. No matter what, we gotta stop that drilling!”
Amari – engineer
Amari is an engineer, he knows about the problem and runs a team that is working on all kinds of inventions to tackle the problem. Pumps to remove water. Alternative energy sources. Electric vehicles. Some kind of swarm of drones that fly around over the ship to stabilize it, despite the holes. An automatic hole repair bot. A “non-leaking-hole drill” that somehow makes one-way holes that don’t let water in.
“Is any of this going to work?” I ask him.
“Well, some of the things, like the pump here, will slow down the sinking.”
“But is it going to solve the problem?”
“No. For that we need a miracle.”
“So it’s impossible?”
“No, I didn’t say that. We’ve done miracles before. Industrial Revolution. Penicillin. Landing on the moon. The Internet.”
“So you mean one of your inventions might end up being the miracle that saves us from sinking?”
“Yeah. Odds are pretty low, but heck we gotta keep trying right?”
Susan – learner
Susan is sitting on deck reading a book. After a brief chat about the weather, I can’t help myself.
“Susan, lean out and look down there.”
She looks out.
“Wait, what is that? Looks like the boat is leaking?”
“Yeah, it’s sinking, cuz we’re drilling holes.”
“WHAT? Tell me more!”
I show her the evidence.
“We need to DO something”.
And she joins me as we wander around the ship, trying to figure out what to do.
Sara & Jack – refugees
Sara and Jack are drenched, stressed, and angry. They just came up from lower deck, having to elbow their way through crowds of wet people.
“We can’t live down there any more. We need a new cabin!”
“How’s that going?”
“Horrible! We keep being pushed back down again by people in the upper decks. They say they can’t fit any more refugees, they’re even building gates to cage us in! So now we’re camping out in this hall right here, and it’s getting darned crowded!”
“That sounds really bad!”
“It’s worse! Our food and fresh water stores down there were destroyed in the process, so people are starving. Some are talking about getting a gang together to attack the upper deck! I’d get out of the way!”.
I quickly move on.
Viktor – denier
Viktor is on deck, in a sun chair having a drink. He seems very calm and relaxed. I tell him about the problem. He smiles and shakes his head.
“Oh that water leak thing rumor? No It’s just bogus. The ship is perfectly fine. See? No leak here.” He gestures at the other lounging passengers.
“But the boat IS sinking, the evidence is overwhelming!”
I show him photos of the holes, I offer to take him down the lower decks, I give him Lisa’s report.
“No, it’s a conspiracy, man. Lisa cries “wolf!” so she can get more funding. Amari wants to sell his expensive machines and inventions. So they need to make up this silly story about the sinking ship. Don’t believe a word of it.”
I meet another passenger lounging in the sun.
Tahir – denier
“Yeah, I know the boat is sinking” says Tahir, while receiving his massage.
“So shouldn’t we DO something?”
“No point” he says. “The sinking is a natural process. Ships go up and down, there’s nothing we can do about it. We’ll lose a few of the lower cabins for a while, then the ship will come up again after a few decades, who knows. The scientists like to pretend they know stuff, but it’s all just nature and random variation.”
“But look at this report” I say, waving a bunch of papers in his face. “97% of all scientists on board this ship agree that the sinking is caused by us, by the drilling!”
“Bah, I don’t read boring research papers. Those people can use data and statistics to prove anything.”
Irina – nihilist
In the bar I talk to Irina. She’s drunk.
“So Irina, did you know that”… I begin.
“Yes, yes, the boat is sinking. Whatever. Who cares.”
“The ship is sinking and we’re all going to die. But guess what, we’re all going to die anyway, we’ll get old and sick and die. That’s just life. In fact, I’ll probably die of something else before the ship sinks. Now, go away and let me drink.”
I go out to deck again, and find ….
Samish – zen guy
Samish is sitting peacefully on a mat on deck, facing the sunset, sipping tea with a smile on his face.
“Hi” he says, “how are you? You look a bit stressed.”
“Well, I just learned that this ship is sinking! Did you know that?”
“Yes, of course. It’s kind of obvious.”
“So how can you be so calm and peaceful?”
“Well, it’s all about perspective. Everything we know and love will disappear someday. Like this tea here. Tastes wonderful! It’ll run out, of course, but instead of fretting about that I’m just taking care to enjoy every sip. Now, have a seat and enjoy this beautiful sunset with me.“
I sit down and struggle between feeling admiration, envy, or frustration at his passive accepting stance. I also realize that he and Irina are both similar and different. They both share the “we’re all gonna die someday anyway” attitude. But Samish uses that to as a reason to enjoy the present, while Irina uses it as an excuse to get hammered and not give a damn. Samish is enjoying life and spreading happiness, while Irina seems more like a depressed cynic. Glass half full vs half empty. Samish looks at me. I decide to shut off the voice in my head and just watch the sunset for a while. Hmmm, it really is nice actually! Didn’t even notice it before. I breath deep and relax.
Later on I learn that Samish is actually on Amari’s team, the engineer, researching new technologies. So he’s found a nice balance between actually helping out, while still taking the time to enjoy life. He radiates positive energy, which helps people like me cope.
I decide to visit to the drillers.
Kai – driller
I shouted over the noise of drilling:
“Kai, please stop drilling holes! The ship is sinking”
“Well, that may or may not be true. But either way I don’t have a choice. Gotta feed my family. Guy like me ain’t gonna find another job so easily.!”
I give up after a few minutes of arguing. Instead I find his manager.
Smith – drill entreprenuer
“So you run a drilling company here on the ship?
“Yes. I’m a busy man with hundreds of employees, so be quick.”
“Please stop drilling holes! The ship is sinking!”
“Get out of here.”
“But you’re on this ship! And your family too! YOU ARE MAKING THE WHOLE SHIP SINK!”
He calls on the guards to “escort” me out. In fact, the guard seems hired especially to keep pesky inquisitive people like me away from the manager.
Later on I learn that he has bought the entire top deck of the ship, and insulated it against flooding. Hmmmmm.
Chad – survivalist
In the evening I see a sneaky-looking guy carrying a bunch of tools and canned food through a hallway.
“What are you doing?”
“Ssscchhhh! You don’t see me.”
“What’s that? Food rations? Tools? And uh…. Ammo?! What are you doing?”
He realizes that I’ll keep bugging him until he explains.
“Dude, the ship is sinking!” he whispers and looks around.
“Yeah, I know. So what are you doing?”
“I’m preparing my safehouse!”
“Yeah, I got an armed bunker in a storage section near top deck. Well hidden. Booby trapped. Got supplies there so I can survive for months on a completely flooded ship!”
“But… shouldn’t we stop the drilling instead? I mean, are you just gonna sit there in your safehouse while the rest drown and starve?”
“Things are going to hell anyway, and I’m sure as hell not gonna be the first to go!”
“You think the others are just gonna stand idly by while you lock yourself in with crucial supplies?”
“That’s why I’m bringing the guns.”
I shiver and move on.
Chang – busy guy
Chang is a stressed, busy man. He works in the restaurant. We exchange a few words while he is gathering up dishes.
“Did you know the ship is sinking?” I say.
“Uh, listen, I don’t really have time to talk OK?”
Every time I pass by, I attempt to talk to him about it, but he is always busy and just not in a frame of mind to discuss anything outside of this current work.
Wendy – wondering
Later on at the gym I bump into Wendy. I mention the problem with the ship.
“Yeah”, she says, “I know, and I’m really worried about it. I’d love to do something, but i don’t know what! I feel helpless.”
“We need to stop drilling holes” I say.
“So how do we get people to stop?”
“Well, that’s what I’m trying to find out.”
“OK, if you figure something out let me know how I can help!”
In fact, I meet quite a lot of people that share Wendy’s sentiment. Know about the problem, want to help, not sure how.
Pablo – freaking out
I see a guy running around in circles tearing his hair out.
“Hi, what’s your name?”
“WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE”
“Oh, so you heard about the problem. Well,…”
“WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE WE’RE ALL GONNA…”
“Uh, relax, panicking doesn’t help at all. Instead let’s talk about what we can d…”
“WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE WE’RE ALL GONNA…”
I move on.
Dave – helping out
Dave is always on the move, seems like a man with a purpose. At one point I manage to grab him for a few words.
“Hi Dave, what are you up to?”
“Well, the ship is sinking.”
“Yeah, I’ve noticed.”
“I’m not an expert. But I know there are lots of smart people doing good stuff, at least TRYING to solve the problem. Or slow it down. Or reduce the damage. People like Lisa and Amari. So I visit them every day, ask what they need, and help out in whatever way I can.”
“Wow, sounds great”
“There’s also a bunch of people who want to help, but don’t know what to do. So I try to learn what they can do, and spread the word. Not sure if it’s helping, but at least it feels good to do something. And it sure beats sitting around worrying.”
“Yes, I’ve met a bunch of people that want to help! For example that lady over there, Wendy.”
“Great, I’ll go talk to her now! By the way, I made a short video summarizing the whole issue, can you help spread it?”
Whew, maybe I actually did something useful.
Jenny – aid worker
Jenny and her team are heroes and saviours, working very hard bailing water, carrying supplies to refugees, and sealing off flooded sections of the ship. Basically doing whatever they can to reduce the misery of the people affected by the flooding. She looks exhausted.
“Hi Jenny, what are you doing? Can I help?”
“Great, take this bucket and bail this corridor” she says and hurries on by.
I help out for a while until I’m exhausted, and retire back down to my hut. Feels good to help, but also a bit futile, as new water keeps coming in.
Who are you? Who do you want to become?
Dear reader. Thanks for reading to the end. Yes, this article is a metaphor for climate change. The sinking ship is the planet’s ability to sustain humanity. The drilling of holes in the ship is a metaphor for burning fossil fuels and causing global warming. Flooding is a metaphor for all the consequences (draughts, starvation, storms, heat, and… yes, flooding).
Who are you in this story? Who would you like to become? Who would you like to help?
For more info see my animated video “Friendly Guide to Climate Change” and our site everytoncounts.org.
To become carbon neutral (a good starting point) check out my service GoClimateNeutral.org.
And hey, why not go sign the Carbon Manifesto while you’re at it 🙂
5 responses on “The Ship – who will you be?”
You might consider renaming “busybody” — in English, it doesn’t mean “someone who is busy all the time”. Instead, it means “someone who is always meddling in another person’s business”.
Perhaps “workaholic” is a more accurate word?
Thanks, will change it!
Is this how we tell our children,
Like the Ark from Noa.
Henrik, like this challenging blog. But maybe you might want to considr dropping the nuclear fuel as a viable alternative. We need to get away from that and quickly. Also, remember that the electric cars are not very environmentally friendly unless they are powered by renewable energy. Keep up the good work,
Consider adding some arguments (there are none) for why nuclear fuel would be bad. Kurtzgesagt’s recent youtube video made it seem not all that bad.