Trilogy

I came across this poem I wrote many years ago, and thought it seemed quite appropriate to our current situation with Covid-19. It’s not exactly cheery, but the third part is, hopefully, uplifting.

ISOLATION/LONELINESS/SOLITUDE (a trilogy).

ISOLATION.

Outcast.
Constantly trying to connect,
With eyes that look past.

A taunted leper.
Forced to ring a bell,
Not to attract, oh no,
To repel.

Held back with poles.
Lest I be touched
And contaminate,
Purer souls.

LONELINESS.

Rescuing fingertips
Just out of reach.
As your feet feel the ledge,
Crumbling beneath.

Forever falling through space.
The constant apprehension of impact,
Without its blessed release.

SOLITUDE.

Silver blue reflection fingers,
Smooth out creases
In a moonlit lake.

A crisp fresh wilderness dawn,
Pierced by the song
Of one small bird.

The gentlest collision with self.
Finding, at last,
Love at first sight.

19-04-92. 7am.

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Warning….if you’re looking for an uplifting read, then this one isn’t for you. Just give it a miss.

I am not in the best of places right now. Like everyone else, I guess, this whole thing just gets to me. Early on I went through the Dunkirk spirit bit of the lockdown. That all for one, one for all thing that gripped the whole country. And that was fine for awhile, but now it’s starting to wear a bit thin, and I’m noticing that many are beginning to be quicker to anger or at least irritability.

I guess that’s the normal way of these things. When people’s lives are turned upside down there is bound to be a reaction. I just feel I’m surrounded by a quietly simmering rage…with a smile on the surface of it. Everybody is pretending to be okay…really.

My personal issue is that a few years ago I took the decision to pull myself out of the rut that I felt I was stuck in. I had moved to another part of the country, leaving behind all of the contacts and social outlets I had. I don’t make new relationships easily. So for quite awhile I became isolated and shutdown. I had to make a conscious effort to build a new social network. It took me several years to build it, but slowly and surely I got there. My weekly diary began to fill up to the point where it became difficult to fit everything in. As a result, my general mood lifted. I realised that I needed other people, (that is, people other than my immediate family) and the activities that go with those relationships.

Then came lockdown, and everything that I’d worked hard to build up was suddenly knocked down. Okay, things are slowly beginning to open up again, but it’s not the same. Meeting up with people while having to be mindful of staying clear of them, holding conversations while wearing masks, cleaning everything down after it’s been handled. No one considers that to be even close to normal life.

I don’t want to sound self pitying, but I feel I’m drifting into an institutionalised state of being. It’s getting harder to motivate myself into doing anything. I’m sure many people feel the same way. Even this blog post is the first one I’ve done in weeks.

I’m sure I’ll climb out of this at some point; something will shift, hopefully. It usually does.

Lockdown (or, I love you dearly……but)

Well there’s a thing. Those who know me are aware that a lot of my time working as a client, in my counselling, has been spent trying to recover from a deeply ingrained sense of isolation. It seems that I now have that in common with many others.

However, while many are literally stuck home alone, I am locked down with my wife, my stepson and his four year old daughter. This is an entirely new learning curve for all of us. I can’t speak for the other three, (although I’m quite good at observation so maybe more of them later), but I can try to lay down what I’m going through at the moment.

I lived on my own for quite a few years, and being a practical person I managed very well. But the one thing I found myself craving was human contact. Curiously, it wasn’t a need for physical contact. No, it was a need to be in the middle of a crowd. They didn’t need to be people I knew. I just needed the comfort of people milling around me going about their daily business. There was a time when I would walk regularly from my home into the city centre. Not because I had anything to shop for but just because I knew it would be a hive of activity. I would sit for ages in a cafe nursing a tea or coffee and just soak up what was going on around me. Believe me, if there is such a thing as forest bathing, then there’s also such a thing as crowd bathing.

Fast forward to today and lockdown Britain. What a contrast, empty streets, empty shops, cafes closed. Even when people do go out there is no hustle bustle, just a purposeful focused trip to the supermarket, grab what’s needed and straight back home. Most people are friendly enough, but a polite nod and a smile from a couple of metres away is all we allow each other. Then it’s move on quickly to the next item on the list. We’re all learning to be afraid of each other. It’s a bit like some bizarre form of Russian Roulette; is this the shopping trip when I catch the Covid 19 bullet?

I’m not sure how much longer this voluntary distancing from others of our species can be maintained; before it begins to badly affect people’s mental stability. That we are a social species is written into our DNA. Yes we have our hermits, but they are quite rare, and the sanity of many of them is questionable. Even our closest relatives, the great apes, monkeys and lemurs, live in clans or troupes. To take one individual out of their group causes that individual great distress. They don’t just need to be around each other either. They have a strong drive to touch, hug and groom each other. All of this activity reinforces their sense of security and belonging.

We’re really not much different from them. We might like to think of ourselves as independent and self sufficient and we strive towards that apparent ideal. At our core though, we need other people. So what about people who are locked down and isolating together, so to speak. Well, talk to any two people who have been living together as married partners for any length of time and I’m willing to bet that, as much as they still (hopefully) love each other, they have learned of certain aspects of each other’s personality and behaviour that they cannot stand.

There’s a good reason that married couples urge their offspring not to rush into marriage. Experience has taught them that the first flush of romance, that being in love stage, eventually mellows down. Then the real time consuming bit of getting to know each other begins. Hopefully, much of this is positive. But with the best will in the world, no two people can be everything to each other. As the quote goes, “you are never one, you are always two”.

We know that, if we’ve been with our partners for any length of time, that there are areas where even angels fear to tread. We’ve learned that we just don’t go there. That this person is never going to see things our way. That they are never going to see how irritating that little habit or mannerism is, that they just don’t appear to even notice in themselves. So we adapt and learn to accommodate each other’s peculiarities.

We are all individuals, and we all want and need different things. No two people can be everything to each other. So we all need to find the fulfilment of some of our needs outside of our familial group. And let’s get this straight right now, I’m not talking about anything carnal here; that’s for another writing. No, I’m talking about the things that we have learned over time that our nearest and dearest just don’t get about us. But we know that outside of this small familial circle are other people who do get us. This group of people are going to be more important than ever during lockdown.

Pandemic

If anyone had used the phrase, “mean streets of Market Bosworth” twelve months ago, Billy would have laughed in their face. This was just a sleepy old market town wasn’t it, nothing ever happened here. Oh, but how quickly things changed when that bug kicked in. So here he was defying the curfew, shuffling down back entries and trying to avoid the street lights; he was thankful there were very few of them now. He was heading to meet a dealer. Not his usual one, as he’d been taken out by a rival gang. By all accounts this new guy drove a hard bargain. Billy stepped out onto Shenton Lane, scanning up and down as he did so. Police weren’t too much of a worry, he usually fobbed them off with some sob story about his grandma being ill with the bug. No, it was the vigilante groups that were of more concern to him. More often they were made up of local gang members, and they wouldn’t take kindly to him meeting up with a rival dealer.

He slipped into the shadow of the local cemetery entrance, and there he was. A short stocky bloke who looked like he could take care of himself. Although Billy knew he wouldn’t be on his own. No, not too far away there would be a couple of heavies hidden in the shadows. These two would be checking up and down the road for police or vigilantes, but also to be on hand in case of ‘difficult’ customers.

From a respectable distance – nobody got close anymore – Billy introduced himself. The guy said nothing, but stepped over and popped the boot on his black BMW. Yes, billy thought to himself, these guys were doing pretty well out of this dark market. The trick for them was staying alive long enough to enjoy their ill gotten wealth. Cautiously billy peered over into the boot, and his heart skipped a beat. There, nestling in a sports bag, was what he had come for. He moved a little closer, oh my, he thought. Now, he knew enough to know that some of this stuff was coloured. Just a little trick to attract the punters. However, there was no trace of dye here. He looked a little closer, and there they were. The tell tale criss cross markings. These were the real McCoy. For a split second he entertained the notion of grabbing the bag and legging it, but he knew the minders would be on him in a heartbeat.

So he opened up with an offer and the haggling started. Billy was banking on the fact of this being such quality stuff, that the dealer would want to shift it quickly. He would not want to get caught with a boot full of this. He managed to get him down 50% from his starting price and handed over fifteen quid. Then he slipped his prize into the plain shopping bag he hoped would be enough of a disguise and set off for home. Secretly he hated himself for this. He should be stronger willed for god’s sake. He’d tried to go cold turkey, but the inevitable abdominal cramps just proved too much.

Safely indoors, he opened his bag and peered into its depths. He caught his breath. Oh, what bliss, what ecstasy he was going to experience, for there almost glowing in the half light at the bottom of the bag, were two pure white, quilted, luxury, toilet rolls.

Nature or Nurture

My previous blog post, Schism, got me thinking about human behaviour. You know, just for a change. In particular how we tend to use blanket terminology to describe behaviour that often we don’t fully comprehend in people. In particular the term, “human nature”. It got me thinking about what exactly is natural within a human? How much of our behaviour is written into our genetic code, and how much is written in through our life’s learning through experience? Strictly speaking, can that learning through experience really be considered natural, or should it be considered as something else such as the nurturing or shaping of personality via external factors?

I got to thinking about babies, and how pretty well researched their behaviour is; even pre birth. We’ve learned a lot about how they develop and of how that development can be affected, both positively and negatively. We’ve learned how important the first few years of life can be for the development of mind and personality.

When I first began to consider the method of personal development I wanted to do, way back in the late 1960s, I decided to look into where it had come from. Information was harder to come by back then, (now we just Google it!) and it was even harder to verify it’s sources.

One thing that cropped up a lot was something of an urban legend that circulated through the groups and classes. A story of how someone was asked to take in and look after a person who had had some sort of a breakdown. A breakdown that had resulted in them being quite shut down and uncommunicative. As they had taken them into their home, they were able to observe their behaviour close up. One of the first things they noticed was that they could burst into tears quite randomly for apparently no reason that anyone could fathom. Over time though, they also noticed that the tearfulness episodes became fewer and further apart and that their general demeanour and behaviour seemed to improve.

This person eventually got to the point where they were well enough that they were able to leave and get on with their life. The people who looked after them became curious about what was going on here. Was what they had witnessed some sort of healing process for the individual? Could this be replicated in some way; so that they could learn more about it? A decision was made to do further research, using themselves as guinea pigs. Eventually, over a number of years, enough observational data was collected for them to arrive at some conclusions about the true difference between nature and nurture in humans.

A key conclusion was that the innate nature of people, the one they were born with, was pretty good. That individuals were cooperative, creative, intelligent, loving and caring. These traits were assumed to be written into human DNA. Where things went wrong, it was concluded, was in the nurture side of human development; particularly after birth. Now the word nurture is something of a loaded one. It’s meaning is expressed as something positive. But if it is used as an expression of assisting development, then it’s useful to keep in mind that some aspects of development can also have a negative affect.

The theory put forward was, that although the innate nature of people was deemed to be fundamentally good, that nature was vulnerable to damage post birth. Put simply, we can be hurt. We can not only be hurt physically, but also emotionally and psychologically. These hurts can be installed by accident or by some form of social contagion. The good news was, that just as our body can heal physically, we also had the ability to heal emotionally and psychologically. Given the opportunity, this healing process would happen spontaneously. The outward sign of this healing was the release of painful feelings; what we observe as crying (for grief), raging (for anger) and shaking or trembling (for fear).

So it seems to me that schism in human groups, in this theoretical model, has little to do with the true nature of humans; since that loving cooperative stuff in our DNA would cancel it out. Solutions for better communication and understanding would be found. Schism must arise from the damage laid in over individual life spans. Damage that distorts and blocks rational thinking and preventing the individual from seeing the options for cooperation at their disposal.

Now this raises another question for me. Which is, how come the two groups mentioned in my previous blog post on Schism, who each had the same skill base for resolving conflict, did not apply that skill base to resolving their differences? I’m wondering if each group shares a common blind spot that prevents them from seeing not only where their own thinking is blocked, but where the other group may be struggling also.

Birth

My mother once told me that I didn’t want to be born. Which I thought was a curious thing to come out with. I’ve always assumed that she meant I was a prolonged labour for her. Considering she’d had five children before me I’m guessing that the process of giving birth is supposed to be quicker and more straightforward. But then, I’m Male, so what do I know.

But that statement, “you didn’t want to be born,” got me thinking. What if that was actually the case? After all, being a foetus is a pretty cushy number when you think about it. Inside the womb it’s warm, safe and very cosy. Sustenance comes automatically as and when required. Nothing is demanded of you at all. There’s time to think and dream. Why would you want to leave?

It has been said, that a foetus is effectively a parasite; with the mother being the host. It may well be an active parasite, in the sense that it can take over it’s host in order to be sure that it’s own needs are met; affecting it’s hosts behaviour and to some extent controlling the behaviour of the host to ensure its own needs are catered for. You may think that eating lumps of charcoal or jar after jar of peanut butter is an odd thing to do, but maybe baby knows best.

At around the time that my mother came out with her little revelation. I was not in a very good place. So I was fishing for any snippets of information about what was going on in my early years. I was also thinking and writing a lot about my situation at the time of her statement. Given the dark place my head was in it probably wasn’t the best time to begin to speculate, about how I may have experienced my own entrance into the world. But that’s what I did, and I tried to document what the experience of a less than perfect birth might be from the point of view of the baby being born. I think it was a valiant attempt, given that a baby doesn’t possess the language needed to describe its experience of what’s happening.

Of course I have no way of knowing what a baby is feeling or thinking at the time of birth. It may well be that there is some form of natural anaesthesia that kicks in at the time; shielding the infant from distress and pain. So I think that the writing needs to be taken with a largish pinch of salt. It was written in one go, just getting down the thoughts as they came into my head. Reading it now, I find it more than a little embarrassing. However, I’ll leave the reader to make up their own mind about it.

TRANSITION. (13th June 1991)

Claws buried in a body no bigger than a newborn lamb.

Crushing muscle and bone,

Compressing head into chest.

Twisting neck muscles, not yet strong enough to shake the head in protest.

A mind not yet formed enough to know what head shaking means.

A being composed of flesh and feelings and needs.

Thrown into space from it’s liquid sleeping place.

Where it had lain cushioned and supported in warmth and soft light.

The only sensations, safety and nurturance.

Every need catered for automatically by it’s miniature universe.

New sensations, suddenly not safe.

As the universe collapses, crushing flesh, pressing down.

New inexplicable feelings and no knowledge or intellect to make sense of them.

Imminent death?

Sudden recognition of something other than current state.

Fast becoming previous state.

Survive!…Go back!…Hang on!

But no…

First learnings of powerlessness, as crushing forces destroy

The trust of a safe place.

Now coldness and blinding white light, noise.

An alien void, huge, incomprehensible.

And a new sense of beings other than self.

As creature grips flesh with claws, tearing from a safe place.

New learnings of powerlessness, terror and pain.

Schism

Way back in the 1960s there was a flowering of alternatives to the norms of life at that time. In general, the whole of that decade saw a number of revolutionary shifts in society. It seemed to be de rigueur to challenge and turn upside down pretty well anything that had been standard social practice. There were experiments with different lifestyles, religious practices, work patterns and pretty much anything else.

One of the revolutions that was of particular interest to me, was the mental health revolution. Much of the standard treatment within the health service was being challenged. There was a proliferation of different therapeutic models that were presented as being more workable than the treatments offered at that time. Treatments like medication and electro convulsive therapy were considered to be brutal, outdated and ultimately unworkable.

Instead, people began setting up therapeutic communities, encounter groups, primal scream workshops and meditation classes. Some of these ideas and practices came over from America while others came from the Far East. As an impressionable and rather introverted teenager who had been diagnosed as suffering from depression and anxiety and had also become rather disillusioned with my treatment, I began to research some of these alternatives.

I eventually settled on one particular model. I think I was attracted to it at the time because it appeared to be very egalitarian. It didn’t appear to rely on an expert or trained professional. Pretty well anyone could pick up what seemed to be fairly basic skills and put them into practice. The core relationship was a peer one. That is, there was no patient and professional sitting opposite each other. Just two people who had mutually agreed to share time with each other. Put simply, the time was divided equally with one person giving attention, while the other talked and explored their thoughts and feelings for half that time. Then they swapped roles for the other half.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but there was a fair amount of disagreement between the leadership in America and the leadership in the UK. At my grass roots level, I was simply keen to get the theory and skills firmly integrated into my life. So I went along to workshops and met the other beginners in the area. I duly did as I was instructed and set up sessions with the other people in the group and gradually built up the hours of experience required by everyone in order to become fully integrated into the network.

I only became aware of the schism that had come out of the initial disagreements between the American and UK leaders some years down the line. It seems that for some time I had been attending groups from both factions, and very likely had been working with individuals who had been taught in these different groups. At that time in my life I was very quiet and introverted and, I’m guessing here, people didn’t notice that I was moving between the two networks. Now I’m also guessing that quite a few people in those early days were doing the same thing, because the look and feel of the groups was very similar.

The schism, it seems, was more to do with the organisational and structural differences between the UK and the US. The American network was seen as having very much a top down autocratic structure. Whereas, in the UK, a more Laissez faire and democratic structure seemed to be the preferred model.

Sadly, and to me somewhat counter productively, this schism deepened overtime. To the degree that there are now two distinct networks each using a similar methodology. It has gotten to the point that the two networks no longer communicate or have anything to do with each other. Within my own geographical area I have learned that there are people from both factions. That there are individuals, probably not too far away from me, that I’m not permitted to work with because they’re part of the “other” network. I find this exasperating. It seems to mirror the political, religious and cultural divisions that exist throughout humanity.

The other thing that happens within these two factions, and again this is something that is mirrored by all sorts of other groups throughout the world, is that a fair amount of misinformation is put out by each group about the other. Which to me just seems to perpetuate the idea that somehow the “other” is heretical. All of this behaviour is also a complete contradiction of the core fundamental belief of each faction, that all humans are completely good, cooperative, caring, loving individuals who are striving to be the best person they possibly can be. Also, that all that is required of each individual to achieve their full potential is to use the basic skills of the counselling; that is, getting together to share time and give each other full, respectful and non judgemental attention. Go figure, people.

Autobiography

Tick…..tick………….tick. Hear that? They’re the moments of a life slipping by. Points in time when options are available. Then comes a decision and then an action. We’ve done this all our lives. Each one a Butterfly wing beat not just in our lives, but in the life of the entire universe.

Even before we are born these decisions and actions are taken as cells are given instructions by our DNA. Very little is as random as we might think. There is a life behind the life that we outwardly live. Even as we sleep our brain doesn’t stop. It continues to make decisions which in turn lead to actions.

And all actions lead to consequences, which in turn lead to more decisions. It’s a kind of feedback loop of life. We stumble from first steps to running then skipping and then, provided we get the decision/action/consequences loop right, we may even dance.

And so our journey of life continues, with this process running constantly; it’s enough to make you dizzy isn’t it. But hang on, that’s not all there is to it. We have to interact with every other living thing around us. That’s where the fun really starts. Like balls on a snooker table all these individual decisions, actions and consequences begin to canon off of each other.

So how does anyone or anything manage to control any of this; when there are so many variables in the game? I guess the answer is, we don’t. At least not to any major degree. I think we like to kid ourselves that we are somehow in control of our own piece of the pattern of our life. And of course to some degree we are; via our own decisions and actions. Hopefully, these will lead to our desired outcomes.

This is the story of everybody’s life. The risks the challenges the pitfalls and the joys. All crammed into one space of time so small as to be virtually non existent. But oh, what we get to cram into that tiny time slot. We get to think, we get to feel. We get to realise that decision is a wondrous power. We get to choose a course of action based on that decision. A concept that is as terrifying as it is amazing.

Pause to consider, that the same process of decision, action, consequences that created Adolf Hitler; also created Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin, Marie Curie and even Greta Thunberg. They also created the person who empties your bins, or fixes your car, or chose to donate the kidney that saved the life of your daughter.

So this is the story of every life. A life that drifts by and then stops as suddenly as it started. Only for our physical matter to be broken down into its constituent atoms to be used again by the universe. Perhaps to create more life. Who knows, the decision’s not ours to make at that point.

Tick……tick………tick…..

Remembering Mum

For some reason I don’t seem to have many, if any, clear memories of my Mum from very early on in my life. Some people claim they can remember being nursed by their mother. They can take themselves right back to the warmth of her embrace, remember her voice and even the smell of her. I don’t seem to have any such memories. I have vague early memories of being handled; possibly during routine medical checks. Even these aren’t very clear. I think that the earliest memories I have are from when I was 4 or 5 years old. I think she was only hands on in a practical sense, that’s to say I was fed, watered and changed, and I vaguely remember potty training. But apart from that I don’t remember being read to or played with or being taught nursery rhymes. She just seemed to be this distant figure, hovering around the perimeter of my infancy.

Later on I had a sense of a little more connection with her; as she picked up my interests and did the best she could to nurture them. She would buy me books on natural history or some form of educational toy. While this fed my intellect and curiosity the one thing that was still missing was any sense of closeness and emotional connection.

I’m guessing that her own childhood didn’t help. From what she told me in later life, it seemed lacking in warmth. From her account it was a fairly strict household, of which she was the only child. She was taught piano and went to dance classes, but I think she mustn’t have persevered with either of these disciplines as I never witnessed her engage in them.

To a large extent, I think she was pretty much a victim to the social trends and expectations of women at that time. At 17 years of age, she had all her teeth replaced with false teeth; something I understand was seen as desirable at the time. Although she may have mentioned that she had quite bad gum disease. I guess even that was probably down to lack of education about dental hygiene and low expectations of life generally. I don’t think her parents were wealthy. He was a coal miner and I think my grandmother was a seamstress. She married young and had four daughters and a son before divorcing her husband on the grounds of his infidelity. Although it seems a little inadequate to refer to it as infidelity, as it was with his sister who turned up one day and announced that she was pregnant and that he was the father.

So Mum found herself without a partner, with all the stigma that must have gone with that, and 5 children dependent on her. There being no social services at that time, she fell back on her parents and what she referred to as, “money from the parish” in order to survive. I don’t know when she met my Dad or in what circumstances, but I do know that they married in a hurry as the wedding was only a couple of months before I was born.

I’ve often wondered where my sense of anxiety and panic, particularly when under stress, comes from. I’ve realised that it always seems to be at its most intense around individuals that I’ve become emotionally attached to. I now think that the roots of this distress lie in the weeks and months after my birth.

At that time attitudes to raising infants and children were very different. It was fairly common practice to tuck a baby into it’s cot or pram and leave it for long periods in isolation; often ignoring any protests it might make. As a child I used to hear adults use statements like, “oh, leave her, she’ll cry herself to sleep”, or, “don’t pick him up, you’ll spoil him”. Even when feeding it wasn’t unusual to simply prop a baby up with a bottle and leave it to it.

I’m thinking that at some point I was in some distress and no one responded to it. I think as an infant I feared for my survival. I was in a position where I couldn’t resolve a situation myself because I didn’t have the intellect or physical ability to do so. These seem to be the key elements in present time in any situation where I feel something is required of me that I feel I can’t possibly deliver. To individuals around me, a solution appears obvious. To me, however, the degree of fear and panic I’m experiencing causes me to freeze into immobility; both in my head and physically. I should state that this condition generally overtakes me in a situation of person to person conflict. In most other, even emergency situations I’m usually pretty level headed.

Apparently, having a row or argument is considered a healthy part of any relationship. After a fair amount of tit for tat shouting and stomping about, the air is cleared, the dust settles and the couple or family group return to normal and, theoretically at least, the root of the argument is resolved. I’ve never been able to understand this. The mere thought of it scares the bejeesus out of me. In fact, any such situation I have been involved in, I have come out of feeling in some way damaged.

I’ve speculated that I may have witnessed or been within earshot of arguments between my parents, but I can’t recall anything more distressing than minor spats between them. Disagreements that usually ended with my mother throwing her hands up in exasperated acquiescence. On the opposite end of this emotional spectrum I also don’t recall any acts or gestures of affection between them.

Looking back I realise that my mother’s general demeanour was depressed and down trodden. What social life she had was very limited and narrow. Her evenings were spent knitting while watching tv. This monotony broken by weekly trips to bingo. In my teens I made small attempts to rescue her from this by booking trips to see a play or contemporary dance. In the hope that she might feel encouraged to continue and break out of what seemed to me to be a very unsatisfying existence.

Something I’ve inherited from her is her dark sense of humour. She would burst out laughing at the most macabre things. One thing I definitely didn’t inherit was her taste for X rated horror, both in literature and cinema. It was her favourite treat for herself; to buy the latest Steven King novel or take herself off to see the latest Hammer Horror film. She used to say to me, “if you can’t laugh at it, don’t watch it”. Which I’ve always taken as good sound advice.

Climate change

There’s something of a debate at the moment, as to whether climate change is man made or not. These debates can become quite heated, with one camp berating the other for being climate change deniers, while the other insists that it’s all part of a natural planetary process that is nothing to do with humans and therefore nothing to worry about.

I have a slightly different take on the matter in that I agree that it is not man made and that it is part of the natural processes of our planet. However, I believe that one important fact gets missed out of the equation by both camps. That is, that humans are just another species on this planet and therefore we are part of its, so called, natural processes. To me, there is no denying that our activities are contributing to driving our climate in a particular direction.

Throughout the history of the Earth the atmosphere has been composed of a complex soup of different elements. This mixture initially was probably created by the geological forces of the embryonic planet and likely varied considerably in its content over millennia. Depending on the levels of certain chemicals in this mix, the atmosphere has been supportive of or lethal to life. It’s possible that life may have had many false starts as the atmosphere swung between these two states. Once life got a definitive foot hold though, it grew to be a serious contributor to the atmosphere. Over millions of years, micro organisms pumped out trillions of tons of a variety of different elements in different concentrations. So that, at different times in the Earth’s history there were higher levels of Oxygen or Carbon Dioxide or Methane or other elements. All of these differing mixtures contributed to steering the climate in a variety of directions. Sometimes hot and dry, sometimes cold and wet. Of course, other factors contributed to driving the climate; volcanic and solar activity being just two. Gradually though, life became a significant player in the creation of the atmosphere and climate of the earth.

We’ve learned that the concentration of specific gases in our atmosphere can have a marked effect on life. For example, high concentrations of Oxygen have supported large bodied animals. The fossil records show us this in the form of Dragonflies with wingspans of 60 centimetres, that lived millions of years ago when the levels of atmospheric Oxygen were much higher than they are now. There have been periods of time when the planet was arid and dry due to higher levels of Carbon Dioxide or Methane.

Throughout most of Earth’s history there has been a notable absence of one particular species. In the absence of this species the climate, driven by a variety of factors including other living organisms, has waxed and waned and done it’s thing. In general these changes have been slow to happen. The exception to this pattern being occasional cataclysmic events such as an asteroid impacting the planet.

Just a few million years ago our species evolved from a group of primates. Natural selection endowed our species with a brain structure that enabled us to step outside of our ecological niche. Now, every living thing has evolved to exploit a particular niche in the ecosystem. So for example, some birds have evolved to catch prey in flight, whereas others have evolved to catch their food in water; yet others will feed at ground level. They are all birds, but each type has evolved and adapted to exploit a particular slot or niche in the ecosystem. A Swallow can no more dive for minnows than a Kingfisher can snatch insects in flight.

We however, slowly at first but then accelerating, began to buck that trend. Driven by the same instincts as every other living organism to find as much food as possible and produce as many babies as possible, we began to move into the niches of other species. We began to claim the resources of these other species as our own. This didn’t happen overnight though. For a long time we existed like many other animals. We moved around with the seasons gathering whatever foods had ripened enough to make them edible. Meat eating was probably limited to eating carrion or stealing from predators. Those same predators were also partly responsible for controlling our populations; disease, starvation, cataclysm and war against others in competition for food also played a part in keeping populations low. While these factors were in play the need to produce as many babies as possible remained a necessity. So for thousands of years we occupied the same ecological niche as the many grazing and foraging animals that we shared the planet with.

For many millennia there weren’t vast populations of any medium or large sized animals. There have been big herds of grazing animals that have existed in their millions, but as far as we know not many species have grown much beyond those numbers. Populations in the billions or trillions were reserved for the very much smaller creatures on the planet; most of which formed the bottom of the food chain for the larger animals above them. All of these animals never moved outside of their ecological niche. This system worked pretty well for keeping some form of status quo that enabled life on the planet to persist.

Our species alone, naturally selected for a different kind of brain function to other species. It gave us the ability to manipulate first non-living matter, (stone, bone, wood) in such ways that gave us a survival advantage over other species. As we progressed, we also learned to manipulate living matter, via actively hunting other animals for food and materials and ultimately learning to create favourable conditions for particular food plants to grow and flourish. In this way we were able to expand our niches so that we could not only catch Minnows, but also snatch insects from the air. We were able to do all this without altering our breeding strategy.

In 1900 our population numbered a little over 1.5 Billion souls worldwide. In just over 100 years that figure has risen to around 7 Billion. To my knowledge, and I always stand to be corrected, no other animal of our size has ever existed in those numbers. In particular, no other animal has ever existed that manipulates the environment in the complex and complicated ways that we do. As a species we are embarked on a vast unintentional experiment with the life sustaining processes of this planet. Largely because, although we were endowed with the technical abilities to shape the environment to suit our needs. We have yet to really challenge the fundamental drives and instincts of our early primate existence; the drives and instincts of every living thing to gain as much resource as possible and produce as many offspring as possible.

I like to think that in recent history we have begun to turn our intelligence away from simply using it as a tool of competition. That we might have grown weary of simply using it as an aid to becoming as resource wealthy as possible in order to increase our numbers as much as possible. That we can get to the point of realising, that allowing our early primate instincts to drive our thinking is not really benefiting us or the rest of life on this planet. I like to think this is happening, albeit slowly.