Everything we love is at stake at COP26

So many of the things we hold dear in our communities and local environment are threatened by the accelerating climate emergency. Tom Scott writes of one spot in Falmouth that’s close to his heart.

As Cornish beaches go, Gyllyngvase Beach in Falmouth is pretty modest – without the thundering surf and miles-long stretches of sand you’ll find up on Cornwall’s north coast. But Gylly, as it’s known locally, is a spot close to my heart, and it’s one of the main reasons my family moved to Falmouth more than two decades ago, and why we hope never to leave.

At the moment it’s chocka with holidaymakers in probably the busiest tourist season that Cornwall has ever seen. But it’s a hugely popular spot with residents, too. I have friends – hardier than me – who swim here every day of the year.

Gyllyngvase Beach, Falmouth. All photos copyright the author

When we moved to Falmouth there was a small café on the beach where you could get a cup of tea and a biscuit. Which is what we had there on our first, exploratory visit to the town, in the depths of a bitterly cold winter.  This has now grown into a full-scale bar-restaurant, packed with people pretty much year-round. Hard to imagine back then, but our imaginations were anyway fully occupied with the idea that we might be able to live in a place where we could see the sea every day.

I have so many happy memories of Gylly. Of picnics with family and friends, of kayaking to neighbouring beaches, of the annual Christmas Day meet-up when half the town gathers on the beach, some taking part in a ritual dip to mark the occasion. Of my two daughters building sandcastles, exploring rock pools and delighting in the amazing creatures they discovered there. Their first astonishing experience of swimming in the chilly, unbounded ocean, so different from the warm, chlorinated pools where they’d learned to paddle.

My children at the beach

I don’t think they ever quite realised how lucky they were to live within walking distance of Gylly Beach – or not until they left Falmouth for university towns many miles from the sea. But my wife and I still count ourselves blessed every time we stroll down there.

And it breaks my heart to think that this beach, and countless others in Cornwall and around the UK, could soon be gone.

Mapping by Climate Central allows you to see the likely impact of sea levels rising on all the world’s coastlines, unless drastic and immediate action is taken to curb carbon emissions. Zooming in on Falmouth and selecting the date 2040, just 19 years from now, I find Gylly Beach has vanished, along with all the other beaches around Falmouth, and quite a lot of the lower-lying bits of the town.

Nineteen years is not the dim and distant future. And of course those years will see far worse climate disasters than the disappearance of a much-loved beach.

Rising sea levels don’t just mean an end to rockpooling and sandcastles – they mean millions of people around the world forced to leave their homes as climate refugees. They mean many of the world’s largest cities becoming uninhabitable. They mean the sea, which has brought so much bounty and pleasure, becoming an implacable and unimaginably powerful enemy.

A few weeks ago, I took part in the biggest protest Falmouth had ever seen, when XR and many other groups converged on our town to send a loud message to the G7 leaders then meeting in Cornwall. It filled me with hope (against hope) that perhaps it will still be possible to avoid some of the worst impacts of climate breakdown.

After the protest, which was on one of the warmest days of the year, many of us headed down to Gylly. Among us were dozens of people from Tigray, who had come to Falmouth to draw attention to the war being waged against their homeland by the Ethiopian government. Some of these, I think, had never seen a beach like this before – it’s possible they’d never even seen the sea except from a height of several thousand feet – and it was wonderful to see the sheer joy they took in dodging the waves at the water’s edge.

Tigrayan on Gyllingvase Beach

I want future generations, not least my children’s children if they have them, to be able to experience this same joy. But they will not if we allow the fossil fuel companies to continue destroying the world’s climate in the name of profit.

Gylly Beach, and so many others like it, will be a distant memory of a better time. A time when we could see the horrors coming but failed to take the action we knew was needed to stop them.

A version of this piece first appeared on ‘Save What You Love’, a Facebook page set up by the Green Party that invites people to share personal testimonies about things that matter to them that are threatened by climate breakdown.