12 years to save the planet?

AND 5 significant ways to reduce your carbon footprint.

Is 12 years enough time?

The recent IPCC report on 1.5 degrees warming that exploded into public consciousness thanks to the apocalyptic reporting in The Guardian has got us all in a tizz. Printed with a picture of a firefighter silhoueted against an inferno he is single-handedly fighting, it’s pretty clear the idea they are trying to spread. That is, ‘take climate change seriously before we all burn!’. Well thank you The Guardian for that apocalyptic threat, not that it’s really all that helpful. And here’s why:

For those of us who were confusing this with the EU emissions targets of 2020 (well, me) this may sound like old news, perhaps even a generous estimate for the more pessimistic-minded of us. The constant stream of doom and gloom forecasts and news reporting on climate change does little to actually motivate people to change their behaviour. If it did a lot more change would happening. No doubt the odd scare story might warn you not to use a coffee cup or drive to the shop that’s a five minute walk from your house, but long term global impacts are virtually unaffected by the apocalypse narrative that is continually emitted by the press.

That isn’t to say that the science is not serious and that we shouldn’t be taking any warnings seriously. It is and we should. To be fair to The Guardian, they did publish that story with a list of things you can do to help. But – telling people we’re all doomed right now, and especially in twelve years, isn’t the most empowering tactic for trying to create change.

What does 1.5 degrees of warming really mean for us?

abstract-art-bark-983200 phil kallahar
Image by Phil kallahar, from Pexels image library.

What does this temperature rise mean for all of us, for every human, animal and plant living on this continually warming and ever more polluted planet?

1.5 degrees might sound like not very much of a rise, but the reason it’s a major problem is that 1.5 degrees means a global rise overall, making hot places a lot hotter and cold places much colder. It means more extreme (lethal) and far longer droughts, arctic ice melt and the disappearance of those ecosystems and inhabitants like polar bears. It means more intense and dangerous storms and mucked up seasonal changes, as well as more flooding, more food insecurity and more disease. And like most problems, it will be the poor of the world who will fair worst.

It means, and I’m sorry to say this, that buying a reusable straw, although good for reusable straw companies and turtle noses, isn’t going to cut it if you want to have a significant impact mitigating not just your own impact on climate change, but also the global impact of all products and symptoms of climate change.

It means that it’s time for all of us to start, not panicking, but facing some hard thoughts, discussions and choices about how we address climate change, as well as how we talk about it…

It has long been said by scientists and scholars that the term ‘climate change’ is not fit for purpose in galvanising enormous public support for lifestyle change as it is too vague and doesn’t communicate the urgency required. ‘Climate crisis’ has been coined by some as a more accurate term for communicating the reality of this man-made global environmental problem, because the truth is we are already “dwelling in crisis” (Frederick Buell).

What can you WE do?

alternative-energy-blur-business-1076807 rawpixel.com
What can we do? Image from Pexels.

The good news is that at the moment, and I have to credit Olly from Sustainababble for this- in terms of global governmental collaboration we are doing next to nothing. The reason this is good news is that were we doing everything already and still these reports were appearing, then the situation would be much scarier. We are in a position to demand and enforce change that can and will work IF it is put into action.

Individual changes to your lifestyle that will have a significant impact have been found, according to Peinado Lorca, to be:

“shifting to a vegetarian diet (which reduces an individual’s C02 footprint by about 820kg), giving up transport by car (for an average reduction of 2.400kg of C02) and air plane (1.600kg of C02 per transatlantic flight) and, most importantly, having one child less per couple: on average, each child in a typically developed country will produce 55.600 tons of C02 over the course of its life, about the same amount that 700 teenagers would be able to avoid by recycling as much as possible until their deaths. Nothing else will have a significant impact. The call is for politicians to accept that an economy based on infinite growth goes against the elemental principles of physics and the limits of our planet”.

So, within the confines of a system of global capitalism, which relies on infinite economic growth (on a planet made of finite resources) the main changes it is suggested we make as individuals are:

  1. Go vegetarian
  2. Stop using cars
  3. Stop flying
  4. Have one child less

Of course, discussing the child issue can get pretty contentious, sometimes even lapsing into racist ideas of Malthusianism. Thomas Malthus was a famous cleric, scholar and social economist who stated that overpopulation would cause the collapse of food security. It’s important to remember that he lived in the 18th century before industrialisation, and his ideas have been used on occasion to justify some pretty abominable racist and imperialist policies that essentially blame the poor for their problems. The point is that overpopulation is a problem, and remember the advice isn’t to not have children at all but just to have less if you come from an industrially developed nation. It is not simply a matter of having too many children, but having children in a country where consumption and carbon emissions are greater than others.

We in ‘developed’ nations consume far more and produce far more waste and emissions than people in the ‘global south’, we have far better infrastructure and so rely less on the help of family for care in later life. Inequality is still a global phenomenon and the meatification of diets exploded in the twentieth century due to the rise in living standards among working class people, in particular in Western countries. The rise in living standards is undoubtedly a good thing for us, but the rise in how much we eat meat is not a good thing for the planet as it has hugely contributed to the development of industrial agriculture practices and density of carbon emissions. That is why the adoption of a vegetarian diet, or severely cutting down how often you eat meat is advised by those in the know.

We have become accustomed to a certain standard of life, and everyone should be allowed that standard. However, if we are ALL to enjoy these standards, without “endangering the basic conditions of life” (Hannes Bergthaller) then we all need to face our individual and collective responsibility towards taking care of our global home and make some changes…

astronomy-cosmic-cosmos-355935 - from pexels
Earth. Image from Pexels.


This also means:

Lobbying – ministers, organisations and businesses. Get involved with the Citizens Climate Lobby (US) here and with Greenpeace here.

Campaigning – lots of organisations are popping up all the time out of anger over inaction and the threates to livelihoods and lifestyles from fishermen to snowboarders. One such organisation is Protect Our Winters, who work both out of the USA and UK.

Join a communityTransition networks and community energy initiatives are all trying really hard to continue to grow towards more sustainable resource use and develop in community numbers.

Protesting – damaging policies and actions for the sake of the children you do have and for yourself and everyone around you. Try the People’s Climate Movement to get involved.

Boycotting – companies who wantonly disregard the destruction they may create despite overwhelming evidence that action and investment needs to work the opposite way. Business Insider has written up a list of 15 companies to avoid. Easy ones to start with are generally oil companies, plastics manufacturers and cheap high street fashion brands for a whole host of ethical, environmental and animal rights reasons. If the economy is run on the simple idea of supply and demand, then take the demand elsewhere to change the supply. Of course living on a budget can make this very challenging, so it is also worth writing to companies as a consumer and demanding change.

Divest – take your money and invest (divest) it in companies and banks that are doing good things with it, rather than funding oil exploration or diamond mines.

Voting – for people who will care and enforce these things, rather than for the Eton set who are bent on fracking and investing in oil and gas – in the same week that the IPCC report came out. Do your research and remember politicians are still politicians despite their promises.

Considering– the possibility that Capitalism may be unfit for purpose for effectively address climate change. This may seem bizarre to write about on a sustainability blog where I have encouraged people to purchase renewable items and cleaning products with a low chemical impact. But, as Lorca claimed above, an economic system of infinite growth, which dominates how governmental policies are created and driven, is not going to fit the bill for effectively addressing climate change because it will always prioritise the market, and it’s not the market that needs to be prioritised:

“The call is for politicians to accept that an economy based on infinite growth goes against the elemental principles of physics and the limits of our planet” (Lorca).

Economist Paul Mason has also written in his book PostCapitalism, that Capitalism like Feudalism before it, will respond to outside pressures that could mean it capitulates anyway, it’s just that climate change (sorry, crisis) is forcing that change. This isn’t to suggest that we must all become Communists, or even Socialists, but that perhaps there is another system that may work better than the one we currently have.

Perhaps, if we can think up a new system in time to prevent 1.5 degrees of warming then a few other social ills, like homelessness and poverty might be addressed as well? Wouldn’t that be nice? But perhaps for now, it would be better and more effective to try to change the way we talk about climate change for the sake of urgency.

Earth Rise- NASA- downloaded from PEXELS
“Earth Rise” taken by Bill Anders on the NASA Apollo 8 mission to the moon, 1968.    This was the first time anyone on Earth had seen the planet from this perspective, small and lonely in rising out of the darkness. At the time the image was very effective at getting people to care about environment and climate change because the image reminded us that this is our only home.


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