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Seán Moncrieff: The planet is officially boiling. Is this as good as it’s ever going to get for humankind?

A hellishly hot family journey to Disneyland was a wake-up call

It’s always gratifying to realise how much you can communicate with someone even without a language in common. You can use hand gestures; you can signal your intent or a question and you can use the handful of words that seem to be understandable everywhere. Okay is one. F**k is another.

I had reason to deploy the latter when myself, Herself and Daughter Number Four were in Paris. For reasons unrevealed by the transport authorities, they decided – at the height of the tourist season – to close down part of a busy rail line to the outskirts of the city. In fairness, we had been warned in advance and were told that a bus would ferry us to the next working section of track.

Except that when we got to where the buses were supposed to be, they weren’t. Instead, we had to take a different metro line to another station where, it quickly became apparent, nowhere near enough buses had been laid on. Crowds surged out of the station and lined the roads, and when each bus arrived, most of the people around us were prepared to battle their way on: elbowing, ramming and yelling at each other. There was screaming and children crying.

We let several buses go past, judging it too dangerous to even attempt to get Daughter Number Four on board. And when we eventually did, we had to form ourselves into a physical cordon around her, shoving back those who tried to barge past.


Inside, we stood by a window, placing ourselves between Daughter Number Four and the incoming crush: an arrangement that seemed to antagonise one woman who repeatedly shoulder-charged Herself to make more room. When I pointed out, in poor French, that we were shielding a child, the woman didn’t seem to care. That’s when I pulled out the F-word. Her reaction seemed to be more to do with my potty-mouth rather than any concerns over physical safety.

The level of desperation we witnessed was something you might associate with people fleeing war. Except this was Paris. And most of the people on that bus, like us, were going to Disneyland

Daughter Number Four remained wide-eyed, and for her, weirdly silent: like she didn’t want to ask what was going on or why the grown-ups around her were acting this way; like she didn’t want to consider what this might mean about people.

The journey was hellishly hot and painfully slow and when we eventually reached the destination there were people in tears; others who had obviously come close to fainting: flat on the ground, legs elevated. The level of aggression and desperation we witnessed was something you might associate with people fleeing war or persecution. Except this was Paris. And most of the people on that bus, like us, were going to Disneyland.

The following day we took a more sedate boat excursion along the Seine. We passed under 34 bridges, each with its own story, the on-board commentary pointing out how the City of Light is both ancient and modern. The trip also gave us a sense a scale, of how massive Paris is: millions of people, who need to be housed, to shop, to travel beneath the city in the vast metro network. More than 300 stations down there, each one costing millions to build, each one using up the finite resources of this planet. Paris, like most cities, is an avatar of human ingenuity and industry, but also an insatiable thing, gobbling up land and air to satisfy our need for nice coffee and photo ops with Mickey Mouse.

The tour also passed many historic buildings, examples of France’s cultural achievements, of the country’s world-changing movement from monarchy to democracy. And I couldn’t help but wonder what it might be like for tourists here in 50 years: what story will they be told?

If there are tourists at all. The planet is officially boiling. (And yes, we flew there. We’re part of the problem). We may have arrived at the point in human history where this is as good as it gets.