This is a phrase the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti used to describe the preciousness of our current moment. Originally an aeronautical term, the time of useful consciousness is those few moments between being deprived of oxygen and passing out, moments in which the full extent of the danger is known, but it
is still possible to act. We are in the Time of Useful Consciousness, the brief period where we still have an opportunity to save the delicate balance of the atmosphere and the civilisation that depends on it.1 How long is this time? Only a few decades. We have around 30 years from 2017 in which to act decisively to reduce carbon emissions to around ‘net zero’: if emissions are not close to zero by 2050 it will likely no longer be possible to stay within the ‘safe’ level of below 2 degrees Celsius and prevent catastrophic climate change.2 The process that needs to happen is a descent down the ‘Carbon Staircase’: a visualisation of the deliberate and rapid steps required to move from our present peak carbon production to a zero carbon economy by around 2045. The first step (present – 2020) requires nations beginning to act on the most basic commitments made under the Paris Agreement: measures like removing the existing subsidies for fossil fuels, implementing stringent carbon taxes or recalibrating emissions trading schemes to make the price on carbon realistic. The second ‘herculean’ step (2020–2030) will require the complete phasing out of coal mines and combustion engines in cars. The third step (2030–2040) will require the transformation of cities though building with low or zero-emission materials (wood instead of concrete) The last step (2040–2045...) will be the transition to all energy being generated from renewable technologies. The ‘controlled implosion’ of the fossil fuel industry needs to occur within the Time of Useful Consciousness.

Defined By Ralph Chapman

1. Lawrence Ferlinghetti interviewed by Michael Silverblatt, Bookworm, 23 August 2012,
2. Ralph Chapman, Time of Useful Consciousness: Acting Urgently on Climate Change (Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, 2015).

Insults against a 1960s Environmentalist calls attention to the personal attacks made against writer Rachel Carson after her seminal exposé of the chemical industry, Silent Spring. The insults, slurs, and criticisms heaped upon Carson ranged from lifestyle put-downs “health nut” and “spinster” to more openly political statements such as “communist sympathizer.” These insults mark the genesis of the illogical divide between economic progress and environmental protection, while foreshadowing the other progressive movements that would arise to confront the sexism and homophobia faced by Carson.

All The News I Read About Climate Change In 2014. Artist book, Amy Howden-Chapman, with introduction by The News Paper Reading Club.

View PDF