When confronted with the overwhelming specter of global climate change, it can be hard not to feel immediately defeated, as if it were impossible for any of us, as individuals, to make much of an impact when it comes to this looming disaster. It's almost too easy to feel helpless, to just ignore all the minor and major signs in our lives—the rising costs of avocados, the impending shutdown of major forms of public transportation in America's biggest city—and hope these problems fix themselves.
Unless, of course, you're Fay Milton. Drummer for the band Savages, Milton was alerted to the gravity of environmental change after reading Naomi Klein's seminal book, This Changes Everything, in 2014. The book spurred Milton to action and led to the creation of a documentary series called Very Important Things. In the series, Milton conducts interviews with everyone from musician Tom Morello, of Rage Against the Machine fame, to Chris McKay, a NASA planetary scientist, in order to get a variety of perspectives about how to cope with and try to alleviate the effects of climate change on our communities, both local and global. The result is a frank, non-preachy look at a topic far too many people find intellectually intimidating to normally engage with, which is part of what makes this series such a welcome addition to the ongoing dialogue about climate change.
Today, we premiere the latest installment of Very Important Things, in which musician Thor Harris (Swans, Shearwater) talks about the importance of not eating animals. (Seriously, though, it's basically the worst thing to do for the environment.) Take a look at "Don't Eat My Friends" below, and then read on for our one-on-one with Milton.
What was your original inspiration to do this series?
It was probably about two years ago, I was reading Naomi Klein's book called This Changes Everything. It's this really amazing book; it's a super-extensive and detailed account of the state of climate change at the moment and the challenges of combatting it. It's a really really powerful book... there are so many negative things that could come out of, you know, even a small amount more of climate change. There are just so many problems related to this one problem; it's mind-boggling.
I read that book and it really gave me a kick in the ass to want to do something, but it was sort of hard to know where to start or what to do. Last December, I went over to Paris during the climate conference that was going on there. My aim originally was to make a short film about the protests at the climate conference and about the climate movement. One of the things that I find doesn't quite add up in my head is we always look back to the civil rights movements of the '50s and '60s, and we're proud of this movement and we're proud of what's changed and what happened and the use of protesting and the use of demonstration and activism. We look back at those times and think how it was really important for humanity to solve some of these problems or, you know, move toward solving them. And the imagery of that era is really romantic; everything is black-and-white; everything looks so vintage, nostalgically kind of brilliant. But also at the same time, we have an incredibly important movement happening now, but people don't look at in the same way. People look at it as very kind of middle-class, very white, a very kind of cheesy image of the climate movement. You think of people dressed up as polar bears, people with flowers drawn on their faces, some kind of silly thing. But, actually, when you look at the movement, it's much more diverse and much more powerful and impressive and inspirational in the flesh, when you're there at the protest or demonstration. I wanted to try and get that nostalgia, that kind of imagery into a film about the protests.
Once I was there, though, I just met so many people and I learned so much stuff, and I went to loads and loads of talks, and I realized that there are so many areas to the problem. So I tried to start trying to put some of this information into this short two-minute film I was making, and realized there was so much I wanted to try and convey, and it was just not happening in this short film. I figured a series of interviews would be a better way to start to raise those topics.
And, interviews make it easier to understand what can be a very overwhelming topic.
Yeah, exactly! All the interviews I did were about half an hour, and I'd love to do long versions of them because they are so interesting. But even five minutes is quite long for internet viewing... but not everything has to jump. I have that attention span as well. I watch millions and billions of videos on the internet every day, and I watch 10 seconds of each one and think, Oh this is stupid. But also, I think it's good to have things that are a tiny bit longer; you know, five minutes is nothing really. I think the aim wasn't to get 10 trillion views, it was to actually convey some information to people who were already interested.
What were some of the most interesting things that you learned during this?
I think one of the most shocking things I learned was in the Betsy Taylor interview, and it's that cities will be going underwater, like London, New York, Shang Hai; those cities and many others going underwater is something that is happening imminently. They could be flooding in 20 years from now, sea-level wise. It's just bizarre. One of the good things about that is once people see the water is coming, people will start to act a lot more quickly on the problem. In a way, it can be the catalyst for things actually moving forward. But at the same time, New York and London are my two favorite places, I don't want them to go underwater! It's pretty horrific. It's just apocalyptic and just really shocking.
Another thing that I found really really encouraging, speaking to Chris McKay at NASA, was that basically every problem that humanity has faced has been overcome, and it's been overcome by lots of different people getting together. Science is sort of a huge collaboration between minds over hundreds and hundreds of years, and all across the world; it's just this world-huge collaboration. So with that in mind, and with the speed in which information travels now because we have the internet, and so many more people can learn so much more about the problem, things can change. It kind of describes how there's going to be a critical point where enough people know about the problem, the answer is certainly going to emerge, just by the fact that there's that sheer number of people thinking about it because that's always what's happened in the past. That's how we solve problems as a species. It's not just one person coming up with an answer, it's a sort of mass of knowledge moving forward. That was really encouraging, they weren't really saying it in an airy fairy dreamy way, he was saying that in a very straight, serious, massive scientist "this is how it's going to be" kind of way.
So that sounds really optimistic, that it's all going to be okay somehow, but communication is a big part of that. It also made me really happy that what I am doing is kind of feeding into that and even though it's not the hugest thing in the world, little by little you slowly get toward tipping the balance of enough people knowing there's a problem, and it all will emerge somehow. There will be many different answers for sure.
Living in New York, where four years ago there was Hurricane Sandy, and all of the power in Manhattan went out and tons of streets and subway stations were flooded for a really long time, it was incredible to see how people really banded together to help each other. I think people are really capable of coming together in times of disaster but we're not always fast at preventing the disasters from happening.
It's all going to be okay, but the thing is it needs people to be frightened. We need actual fear, which is something I have. I'm fucking terrified of what could happen. The thing is I don't think anything terrible will happen to me. I like England, I could move to Scotland, how is it going to affect my life that much? I'm relatively well off in the world, compared to most people in the world. It's not going to affect me very much. It's already affecting other people so massively. It's terrifying in a way.
Are there any simple things that most people can do to make personal changes in terms of making a difference?
There are a few things that are really simple. In London, and probably in New York as well, you can change to a green energy company. Instead of giving your monthly electricity money, you can give it to a renewable company instead. In a way, when you pay your bill, you're investing your money into a system. You can choose to invest it in oil or gas and dirty energy, or you can choose to put it into renewable. It's so easy to switch, and it costs about the same amount of money. Money runs the world in a sense.
Another point, it's really obvious but maybe not really obvious, is to go vegetarian or vegan. It really reduces your carbon footprint and the amount of water you use. Animal production is responsible for degradation of land, species diversity, and just so many negative things tied into the production of animal products. Going vegan is one of the ways you can help the environment, but also it's going to be better for you as well. It's not a sacrifice! Maybe for people who love meat, it's a sacrifice, but actually, after a few weeks of not using it, you're not going to miss it. We love animals and we look at animal videos every day on the internet. You can extend your compassion toward animals, and its a good step to extending it toward the environment and nature, and it's just a really positive thing to do.
Then, obviously not flying as much. I think everyone has things that are going to be easy to do and things that are going to be hard to do. You just find the thing that's going to be easy to do first—maybe it's cycling to work or replacing light bulbs. It's easiest to do one thing, and once you do one thing, then you can start thinking about something else. You don't want to start with something that is really hard, like a huge sacrifice, because you won't stick to it. Turning up to demonstrations, protests... If you believe in something, turn up. The more there are on the streets, talking about things and learning from each other and acting in solidarity, then that really changes things.
Those are all simple enough, particularly going vegan or at least vegetarian.
Or even just choosing the animal products that you buy. Like beef is the absolute worst. If you're going to choose eggs or beef, choose eggs. Don't have beef, it's so bad. It's definitely a step in the right direction. It's also a nice thing because we're in an age of anxiety, everyone's sort of guilty all the time. We're trying to go to the gym, we're trying to reduce our carbon footprint, and we're trying to do these other things. It's actually like one thing you can do so easily that you suddenly have no guilt about. Every time you eat, three times a day at least, you can do that with a clear conscience. There are so few things in life, in these crazy 21st-century lives we're living, that you can just do something so simple. Also, your skin gets really good, and you don't age as quickly.