David Pencheon: Solidarity? When mass (in)action is bad.

David PencheonWhen good people do too little, bad things happen. Or: beware death by omission as much as death by commission. Prizes avaliable if you know the heritage of the original quotations.

I was at a House of Lords event yesterday discussing the effect of climate change on older people and what the response of public services should be. It struck me there are some important analogies between approaching older age and approaching a world of likely resource constraint and climate chaos. For many people the prospects of both are undesirable, but our preparations for both scenarios, especially at a societal level, remain woefully inadequate.  Ageism is still endemic, despite the fact that most of us will spend a lot of time as an “older person.” Similarly, the evidence that climate chaos is having profound negative effects on all that we value is strong, probably stronger than the evidence of effectiveness of many clinical interventions today. It may be that we worry too little about something (ageing, climate chaos…) that happens to us all – the theory being that suffering is more bearable and acceptable when it affects us all. This has led me to ask: what does a good end of life (and death) look like in an environmentally sustainable world? And it reinforces my belief that there is only one human characteristic more powerful (and therefore more dangerous) than denial, and that is mass denial.

David Pencheon is a UK trained public health doctor and is currently director of the NHS Sustainable Development Unit (England).