Building a fire in Glasgow

Ángel Marroquín

In the story Build a Fire, Jack London tells the story of a man who, contrary to the locals’ warnings, takes the risk of walking to a nearby town to visit friends in the Yukon region of Canada’s boreal forest. It is Winter, and the temperature is extremely low, and even the dog that accompanies him walks reluctantly after him. The man has reached half the distance by the afternoon and decides to stop and light a fire to dry off and eat something. As protection, he thinks, he sets to light a fire under a tree. While doing this, the man moves some branches, and, caused by the fire’s heat, the snow resting in the branches falls, extinguishing the fire. The story ends with the man freezing to death while the terrified dog continues, alone, on his way to town in the middle of a snowstorm.

The story’s tension is, in fact, the man’s error when making the fire under a tree laden with snow. The consequence of that mistake is the one that finally ends his life. But on the other hand, the extreme climate makes the man’s error take a more significant proportion and become fatal. Nature ends up taking its revenge. There are no second chances in this game.

Isn’t this situation similar to the one we find ourselves concerning the current climate crisis? Aren’t we also lighting a fire under a tree when we cannot agree on regulations to stop greenhouse gas emissions and stop the excessive profits and lobby of the big oil companies? Or when we cannot protect the nature that sustains us or when we are unable to stop the madly consumerist lifestyle?

The last COP 26 in Glasgow turns out to be symptomatic in this regard. Hence, for instance, the absence of representatives from the most polluting countries on the planet: China, Russia, Brazil and Saudi Arabia. Or the extent to which rich countries have failed to provide economic assistance to poor countries that do not have major responsibility for the historical production of emissions but are currently going through a crisis that they did not help create but must pay. Moreover, the extent to which governments are failing to involve civil society in discussions and proposals. In fact, the COP 26 blue room hosted more representatives of large multinational companies than activists, indigenous and young people. At the same time, we saw Australia refusing to commit to Methane reduction, while the UK’s involvement was nothing more than a compilation of phrases and what Greta Thunberg called “Blah, blah, blah”.

To this must be added an endless set of bombastic declarations: the end of deforestation by 2030, a plan to coordinate the introduction of clean energy, the commitment to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2020, the agreement to end coal plants between 2030 and 2040 or India’s announcement of net zero for the year 2070.

Some think that the results of the COP26 are on the right track and trust that the cooperation between the multiple actors and interests at stake will be strengthened. But, for me, what happened in Glasgow is like that fire that the man lit under the tree in London’s story: sooner or later, nature will end up taking its revenge against humanity, taking advantage of their mistake, their daring and stupidity. Who knows, maybe the man in the story was thinking about that when he felt a warm numbness creeping up from his legs and wanted to sleep while the dog walked away, looking ahead in the snow.

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