TAKE stock of the many headlines attesting to Harvey’s devastation and there is a yawning absence. Climate change deniers have such a control of the popular narrative that it was barely mentioned. When it was, it was an addendum, treated as if the increasing severity of extreme weather events are a whim of nature and beyond our control.

Some consider it gauche to talk science while people are suffering. Environmentalist George Monbiot has been dragged up for daring to mention the Harvey-shaped elephant in the room. But I’m with George. To neglect to talk about this now, while the devastation is laid so plainly before us, is to fail to recognise the most inconvenient of truths: climate change is not an act of God, it is an act of man.

Harvey, like Katrina before it, like the great floods that have claimed more than 1400 lives in South Asia, are not black swan events. They are the result of the hard hand humanity keeps Earth under. They are a consequence of our devastating action upon our planet’s resources and devastating inaction towards protecting them.

Climate change as a concept has become almost entirely political, entangled with identity, and is thus almost impossible to discuss from a common, human vantage point. To talk climate change is to be syphoned into an ideological camp and ignored by all but your sympathetic peers. We’ve lost sight of how environmental concerns and the reality of our changing climate speaks to our unified human heritage. These epoch-defining shifts affect all of us as inhabitants of the planet, with no regard for how we vote. The science speaks loudly, we’re living through its impact daily, and little is being done. We need to keep pace with our changing planet – but we’re not even out of the starting blocks. This dissonance between what we know and what we do speaks volumes about how we view the world and our hand in its changing nature.

The earth has lost half its wildlife in the past 40 years. Half. Atmospheric carbon soared past 400ppm in March. That means over the last decade CO2 has increased between 100 and 200 times faster than it did during the transition from the last ice age. Global numbers of fish, birds, mammals reptiles and amphibians have shrunk by almost 60 per cent since the seventies. Yet we have a US president claiming climate change is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese to make America poorer. All the while coastal states sink beneath floodwater.

I could fill the rest of this column with evidence of our ecological footprint, but history has shown that to be a futile endeavour in catalysing change. The elaborate graphs, the dismaying figures, the sad, oil-slicked birds. They just don’t work. We are living in the anthropocene, a time of planet-scale human disruption where the consequences of our activities are so vast, everything else is impacted. But why are we so bad at looking after what we have? Why don’t we care enough?

I THINK it’s a problem of scale. We’re too far removed from the immensity of extinction, of extreme weather events, or rapidly dwindling resources that the impetus to act on the personal scale doesn’t occur. We’re too far away, geographically, temporally and now politically, to map the results back onto our daily lives.

The 20th-century philosopher Roland Barthes once wrote that the use of something obscures its overall whole in favour of its attributes. That is, when we use something, we stop considering the thing in its entirety. We break it down into component parts and value it through its pieces and what we get from them. This process of abstraction and obfuscation can be applied to how humanity as a whole relates to Earth and its resources. Looking at how easily we distance our hand from ecological disaster, it’s pretty clear: we objectify the planet.

Think about it: what do we really need of the Earth itself? It’s hard to think of tangible benefits when considering it on the cosmological scale. What we see in it is our immediate needs and comforts. We need food, air to breath, water to drink, an atmosphere which shields us from the invisible ravaging of the sun’s radiation. Because of the scale in question, it’s difficult for us to relate to the whole. Even though without it, we cease to exist.

It’s almost too big to think about. The distance between the planet and person too great to consider both simultaneously. The effect of our own actions too imperceptible against the work of the whole human animal. But the prayers, the hand-wringing, the relief efforts and patch-up jobs aren’t working. We need to take action, and to do that, we have to face up to how our actions multiplied contribute to change.

Isn’t it better to face up to what we’re doing and work towards something better? No-one wants ecological totalitarianism that dictates every aspect of our lives, but that’s what we’re sentencing future generations to if we don’t take notice and take action. The necessary constriction of their lives will be penance for our excesses: the shrinking of existence, resource and opportunity. Population control, food scarcity, severe and unpredictable weather, mass extinction, mass migration. Is that the legacy we want to leave?

Earth isn’t disposable, so it’s time we stopped acting like it is. Once it’s used up, so are we.