When I sit down to write these columns every other week, I usually start by checking the news. I flick through a couple of papers and a few websites, searching for something that annoys or interests me. I spend some time thinking about it, and then I take to my laptop and tap away.
For the most part, it works. Normally, there’s a quirky piece of news or an amusing observation to be found somewhere. But this week, when I sat down with my pile of newspapers, I started to feel a bit dizzy.
For the majority of last week, the Guardian’s homepage, where I tend to spend most of my days, flashed red – the colour of danger and Satan. Live updates every few seconds, talk of a snap election, a defection by Phillip Lee, a slouching Jacob Rees-Mogg, so bored by democracy he couldn’t bring himself to sit up straight.
But while alerts from Parliament buzzed through every five minutes, with one ridiculous, exhausting update after another, the news that should have dominated last week’s front pages was relegated to near enough the bottom of the agenda: an apocalyptic hurricane. At least 20 people dead, dozens more injured. Thousands of homes wrecked. People stranded on rooftops awaiting rescue. An estimated 60,000 people left without food, 62,000 without clean drinking water.
Hurricane Dorian crawled across the Bahamas leaving unthinkable devastation in its wake. One aid worker described how attempting to recover from the disaster won’t be a case of rebuilding, it will be a case of starting all over again, the impact of the hurricane already recognised as one of the greatest national crises in the country’s history.
Footage shows residential areas transformed into oceans. The island of Grand Bahama’s only airport has been destroyed, creating further crisis for those in urgent need of medicines and emergency aid. People in the Bahamas will be picking up the pieces from last week’s disaster for years to come.
It is difficult to directly link individual natural disasters to climate change, but it is generally accepted that warming waters fuel hurricanes, and Dorian was strengthened by waters well above average temperatures. While the government and opposition spent last week bickering over the political future of our country, across the world the impact of climate change showed its ugly face again.
What difference will it make whether we are inside or outside the EU when the world’s coastal cities are under water? Who will remember the torturous days of Brexit debates when the scientists’ warnings become a reality? How futile will it all seem when we’re the ones who have lost everything?
As government spends days, years and untold millions debating our exit from the EU, the world is facing a crisis, one that should dominate every newspaper and radio programme.
We’re living in a time when politics is pushing people further apart, splitting the country and the world in two, when people should be coming together to fight a problem that is bigger than all of us.
I’m sure we’re all looking forward to the day when we can switch on the news and the Brexit debate feels like a distant memory. Maybe then will be the time for politicians to sit up and take notice.