This article is in response to frequent comments I receive acknowledging the usefulness of the science around environmental breakdown but also a feeling of helplessness as to what each of each of us can do.
After a devastating year, a looming question emerges – can environmental collapse still be prevented? The answer! The world as we now know it – the age of fossil fuels – must come to an end. There is no time to waste.
The past year left no doubt: Climate change is dangerously impacting societies the world over. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) projects a record of 275 million people will need humanitarian aid in 2022 – a rise of over 60 % from last year. As forests burn and cities drown, as crops wither and people die, it becomes clearer than ever before: The deadly flaws of our economic structures have been ruthlessly exposed.
It can be easy to despair at the climate crisis, or to decide it’s already too late. But that does not have to be the case. We have the knowledge and the technology to transform our energy structures. As well, there is a rapidly growing awareness worldwide about the severity of the numerous crises we face, especially among the vocal youth. Some in positions of power are listening. There was progress at the last COP (Conference of the Parties) held in Glasgow. At a minimum there was a decision that the COP meetings would now be held every year instead of every 5 years. However, it was clear that most national leaders were held back by vested interests and “their own attachment to the status quo – and thus the profits from continued destruction” (Rebecca Solnit – Dec 2021).
The anxiety that is building concerning the looming environmental crises and the institutional inaction, is best met by having a clear understanding of the facts and the possibilities for a truly sustainable future. Here are a few thoughts and suggested readings.
CAN WE PREVENT A CLIMATE DISASTER?
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN
CAN WE PREVENT A CLIMATE DISASTER?
TWO NUMBERS – 51 billion and zero. The former is the number of tons of greenhouse gases typically added to the atmosphere each year because of human activities. The latter is the number of tons we need to get to by 2050 to avert a climate crisis.
What this means is that carbon emissions must be halved by 2030 and halved again by 2040 to achieve the goal of net zero by 2050. It also means that deforestation must stop immediately. As well an international agreement on preserving biodiversity must be signed before next year’s COP meeting and thus be integrated into the international pledges.
Moreover, there is a dire need to ensure that justice and equity are at the heart of these massive campaigns. After the COP conference, some of the harshest condemnations were reserved for wealthy countries, which have released the bulk of greenhouse gases now in the atmosphere but have resisted mandates to provide financing for developing nations. It is well documented that poorer nations, despite very low carbon emissions, are more heavily impacted by climate change. Critical financing is thus needed to help these nations address loss and damage, adaptation, and damage mitigation.
Addressing these over-arching goals is massive – but as individuals we are left exasperated as to what we can do.
WHAT CAN WE DO – INDIVIDUALLY
Everything we do, from having a shower, eating a hamburger, driving to work, to buying things, has an environmental impact. With the clarity of this understanding, we can lessen our impacts – at least to a degree. To be clearer, over-consumption is at the root of the planet’s environmental crisis. We (globally) are using up the planet at a rate of 1.7 times faster than it can regenerate. If everyone consumed at the rate of the average American or Canadian it would be 5 times faster. Consuming less is a must. Also – how we consume such as knowing the source of the product, is a factor. For instance, at present, buying meat produced in Brazil will most certainly be associated with destruction of the Amazon rain forest. Much of what comes from China is manufactured using energy from coal.
There is a multitude of sources that provide information on reducing environmental impacts of our lifestyles. They all, more or less, emphasize the same steps – buy less, avoid unnecessary packaging, eat less meat (or better still no meat at all), eliminate food waste, ensure home energy is not wasted, reject bottled water, drive less, ditch big cars (or better still drive a low or zero emission vehicle), recycle properly, fly less, etc.
For those interested, here is one link among many that can be viewed online that present ways we can lessen our impacts.
Youth climate strikes – from National Geographic – 2021
THE COLLECTIVE FOR A BIGGER IMPACT
Consumer choice and individual action are needed and can make a definite impact. But climate change policies, from the local level to the global level, often collapse on the lack of “political will” — the unwillingness or inability of governments to enact policies that will reduce carbon pollution at the scale and speed required. Public will, especially as expressed through citizen activism, therefore becomes crucial. Global climate change is a massive collective action issue.
Author Rebecca Solnit – posted recently on her Facebook page the following about Bill McKibben a well-known American environmentalist, author, and journalist: “ I was sitting on the floor of an auditorium in Paris with Bill McKibben, while the Paris Climate Summit was in session. Someone wandered up to him and asked him, “What’s the best thing I can do as an individual, for the climate?” He replied, as he often has with the best possible answer, “Stop being an individual.”
By this he meant join something, support something, look for the strength in numbers and coalitions and organizing. Alone, most of us can’t do much, and can feel helpless; together we have the capacity to change the world for the better. Some thoughts:
Informed Discussions – Read documents, watch documentaries, or read books and discuss these with family members and friends. Some recommended reading is listed at the end of this article. As well, there is a link to a short video that is informative.
Vote for our future – Politics matter. Consider the 4 wasted climate denial years of the Trump administration resulting in the USA exiting, for a time, the Paris Accord. Brazilians will do the world a big favour by ousting the environmentally disastrous Jair Bolsonaro as their president. Simply put – I recommend that one of the highest priorities in casting a ballot should be based on the candidate’s stance on environmental protection.
Advocate – Write letters to political representatives and inform them to take action or they will lose your vote. Or better still, take part in some form of activism. Collective action works. There have been many mega projects cancelled or put on hold due to collective action. Here are some:
Donate – I realize there are many organizations worthy of donations and it is difficult to choose which ones to support. However, given the various crises we are facing, it is well worth considering supporting organizations that are lobbying to eradicate fossil fuels, revolutionize agriculture, call for a halt in deforestation and loss of habitats, or are advocating loudly for climate justice.
One area of great interest to me is the use of the courts to hold governments and industry to account – much like what was achieved to fight ‘Big Tobacco’. Recently, climate change activists won a big legal victory against oil giant Royal Dutch Shell. A Dutch court ruled that the company must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 45% by 2030, based on 2019 levels. This could set a precedent for similar lawsuits against huge oil companies that operate across the globe. See also the link below about the organization – Urgenda holding the Dutch government to account.
Pictures of plaintiffs fly outside the court in The Hague, Netherlands, before a ruling ordering Royal Dutch Shell to rein in its carbon emissions. Thousands of citizens joined the suit charging that Shell’s fossil fuel investments endanger lives. Peter Dejong/AP
In summary – we do not have to feel helpless facing the threats of environmental collapse. The knowledge and technology are there but politics is being unduly influenced by big industry. We can take our own steps but also join the voices of many to demand change.
The following is a few of many sites and literature sources for those interested.
A good read about over consumption
SUGGESTED WEB SITES
a few that I use
Friends of the earth
League of Conservation Voters
Union of Concerned Scientists
The Urgenda Climate Case against the Dutch Government was the first in the world in which citizens established that their government has a legal duty to prevent dangerous climate change.
SUGGESTED NEWS SITES
I find The Guardian to be one of the best – it’s international edition has a section devoted to climate change and publish new items each day. It’s very current and fact based. I also like Science Daily.