A couple of years ago I promoted myself from national to international treasure for finally getting rid of my fossil-powered, emission-spewing, dirty-bad car. After years of excuses I flogged the bugger, replacing it with a combination of buses, trains, subways and my work’s fleet of electric pool cars. I’d taken the last of the big four steps we must all take to avert climate breakdown, the others being going vegan, switching to sustainable energy and planting shitloads of trees. I’d done the lot. All was well.
It was at that point I decided to get personally attacked by a global pandemic. Now, 17 months after Covid first fucked me in the ear, and 14 months after it clobbered me with the long form, I’m still struggling to breathe, still walking with a stick, still getting knackered going two blocks to the supermarket. I’ve clawed my way back to work after a year off, but I’m on part-time hours based fully from home. I don’t know when I’m likely to do any better than that.
What I am, I realised, is disabled. I’m not sure how this came as a surprise given what the last 17 months have been like, and given I did a 10-year stint in a wheelchair and should have a pretty good idea of what disability is, but that’s how denial and stupidity work. This week, as I struggled to carry my glass recycling to the bottle bank two streets away, it finally sunk in. Plus I remembered the whole spinal injury/spinal surgery combo that left me with lifelong pain and limited movement. Every day I make decisions and compromises to manage this body and its pain. I just stopped noticing them. It’s fairly clear now: I’m disabled. Again.
I’ve undone my do-gooding
The reason I mention it: It’s not been great for carbon footprinting. The early, housebound stage was amazing, obviously. The plus side of not leaving my bed for months is that it reduced my emissions – and my activity, social life and hope – to zero. But as I got more with it, public transport wasn’t an option. Partly because I couldn’t walk as far as the train station, and partly because my immune system was on its arse and public transport felt like a pandemic delivery system. I was dependent on my brother driving me places in his (I apologise) petrol-fuelled car. As I got more independent I started Ubering in (again, I apologise) a series of petrol-fuelled cars. In recent months I’ve made it back to lower-emission buses, trains and subways but God damn do they take it out of me. I tried a trip to the office but was so wiped out by the walk to and from the train station I couldn’t do anything once I got there.
I find myself fretting over the coming collision between climate activism and disability. At some point I’ll have to increase my hours and duties at work, which means working from the office a few days a week and doing home visits because that’s how social work rolls. I don’t know how I’ll do that. I can’t use public transport reliably. I can’t risk a years-long contract for an electric car given how unemployable I am. I can rent one by the hour but it’s too expensive for anything more than occasional use, and the walk to its charge point is no shorter than the walk to the train station.
It’s tempting to give myself an exemption on health grounds – I literally have a note from my doctor – and start tearing up the place in a fossil-spewing Clarksonmobile. But the planet doesn’t care about the reasons for carbon emissions. It’ll reach its catastrophic tipping points whether we’re emitting for good or evil, and batter us with fires, droughts and floods regardless of our backstories. This isn’t The X Factor.
Climate anxiety: The best of all anxieties!
This is a genuine anxiety for me now. A lie awake, middle of the night worry about what’s to become of me. I won’t go back to petrol. I can’t. (You can’t either). But I can’t figure a way forward. The most likely outcome is one that will negate the problems of mobility vs public transport, of fossil fuel vs electric, of long-term vs short-term car hire: I’ll probably lose my job and have nowhere to go anyway.
Until then the best solution for now is the one that most people use for the climate crisis: I’m going to stop thinking about it.