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The family sceptic

From the LabLit short story series

Rebecca Nesbit 27 December 2016

A carbon neutral wardrobe is impossible to achieve

My uncle is a climate change denier. Not just the sort who rant at family dinners (though when he does it gets pretty awkward), I mean the type who turn up at climate lectures just to ask accusatory questions. His favourite game of all is to ask questions in lectures given by me. We lock eyes across the lecture theatre, I nod politely as he lists his charges against me, then I answer as sweetly as if I’m about to hand him my Christmas list.

And so I thought of him as I sat waiting to be called onto the stage to receive my university’s award for climate leadership. This was for him, and I’d asked my mother to tell him that.

Knowing my mother, I think she will. I used to wish I had her name, because a) it’s cooler than my father’s and b) she is cooler than my father. As Uncle George’s fame on the climate denial circuit grew, however, I thanked the weather gods that my name didn’t betray our connection.

But what about today? He must be the one thanking the god of conspiracy theories that our names didn’t link us. Have the tables turned enough that recognition for me has overtaken his notoriety?

The award was being given out as part of a graduation ceremony, and no doubt the hall was full of proud family members, supporting the achievements of their sons, daughters, nieces, nephews. As a stream of graduands processed across the stage, I avoided any nerves by focussing on my feet. A carbon neutral wardrobe is impossible to achieve. I had cheated with my dress, buying it from a charity shop and attributing the carbon to the original owner. The shoes, on the other hand, were best ignored. I tried not to think about the life cycle analysis of processing leather or rearing livestock, or about the fact that I would be wearing stilettos to walk onto a stage in front of almost 1,000 people.

Before I walked that gauntlet, I had to listen to the Dean explain why I was receiving this honour. She spoke from notes placed on the lectern, glancing at the audience over her glasses. She started by listing my scientific achievements, and then moved to her personal commendation:

“I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Dr Taylor speak on multiple occasions. She speaks with passion and integrity about her research. What has always struck me the most though, is the way she engages with questions from those audience members who are yet to accept the arguments for manmade climate change. I shall never forget one man in particular. He directly questioned the validity of her findings, yet he received an answer based on empathy and understanding. Upon seeing that connection she had with a stranger speaking against her, I knew she would be a worthy recipient of this award. I would now like to invite Dr Taylor onto the stage.”

I stood to the sound of applause.

Uncle George, your reputation is based on a fundamental misunderstanding. And now, thanks to you, so is mine.