“If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.” David Attenborough
Climate change is one of the biggest crises facing humankind. And global society is slowly but surely mobilising — from activists like Greta Thunberg to Hollywood actors like Jane Fonda and Joaquin Phoenix, who are using their celebrity to raise awareness for the cause. Last September, around 6 million people around the world took to the streets to protest for climate change action. It is high time policymakers mirror citizens’ actions and take their own measures. The way we handle the climate crisis now will impact our lives and our children’s future.
From one disaster to the next
According to the UN, one climate-related disaster occurs every week. Developing countries are especially at risk. But many “lower-impact events” stay under the radar. Mami Mizutori, the UN secretary-general’s special representative on disaster risk reduction warns: “We talk about a climate emergency and a climate crisis, but if we cannot confront this [issue of adapting to the effects] we will not survive.”
The latest climate crisis disaster driving headlines are the Australian wildfires. The destructive blazes have not only killed at least 25 people so far and destroyed more than 2,000 homes, but experts estimate they’ve also killed more than a billion animals. And a study by UK charity Christian Aid found that extreme weather such as wildfires, floods, droughts and storms caused devastation on every inhabited contintent in 2019. If you consider the numbers, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Every day the effects of climate change are causing global destruction in many ways:
- glaciers are retreating in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska and Africa
- we are in the midst of a mass extinction of life, with up to 200 species of plant, insect, bird and mammal going extinct every day
- the rate of global sea level rise over the last two decades is nearly double that of the last century, contributing to higher storm surges and floods
- the planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 19th century — with most of the warming having occurred in the past 35 years, and the five warmest years on record taking place since 2010
- the Arctic is vital in regulating the climate but has been declining rapidly — Greenpeace set out with Italian pianist and composer Ludovico Eindaudi in a global call for governments to save the Arctic from threats like oil drilling and extinction of wildlife
20 firms cause a third of all carbon emissions
The role fossil fuel companies play in the climate crisis is simply undeniable if you look at the data collected by Richard Heede, one of the founders of the Climate Accountability Institute. The Guardian outlines how companies such as BP, Shell and Saudi Aramco have released 480 bn tonnes of CO2 equivalent since 1965.
Heede explains that he chose 1965 as the starting point for his research because recent data has revealed that industry leaders and politicians had become aware of the environmental impact of fossil fuels by that year. “Leading companies and industry associations were aware of, or willfully ignored, the threat of climate change from continued use of their products since the late 1950s,” he criticises.
Climate scientist Michael Mann argues: “The great tragedy of the climate crisis is that seven and a half billion people must pay the price – in the form of a degraded planet – so that a couple of dozen polluting interests can continue to make record profits. It is a great moral failing of our political system that we have allowed this to happen.”
It’s not all bad news. Here’s what you can do!
It is easy to feel discouraged by all the apocalyptic news. There’s even a term for it: eco-anxiety. The American Psychological Association defines it as “a chronic fear of environmental doom.” Last year the climate crisis was pushed up the news agenda like never before. Climate protests, activists and natural disasters dominated headlines. As a result, eco-anxiety broke out in the Western world. Mental health studies from Greenland to Australia show a rising number of people are being affected by their concerns for the future of our planet.
But there are a few things everyone of us can change in our daily lives:
- limiting our use of oil, carbon and natural gas, and replacing them with renewable and cleaner sources of energy
- put pressure on governments and companies to take real action
- go car-free (or at least reduce your personal car use as much as possible)
- change your diet to minimise meat and dairy products as a “flexitarian,” and eat locally grown and seasonal food
- find ways of transport alternative to flying
- change your shopping habits to support sustainable fashion instead of fast fashion
You might wonder “How much of a difference is that really going to make? It’s just me”. But social scientists have shown that when one person makes sustainable life changes, others follow suit.
Patrons at a US café were twice as likely to order a meatless lunch after being told that 30% of Americans had started eating less meat. In California, there was a higher likelihood that households would install solar panels in neighbourhoods that already have them. Additionally, an online survey showed that half of the respondents who know someone who had given up flying because of climate change, stated that they also flew less as a result.
Social scientists attribute this behaviour to the fact that humans are social beings: we constantly evaluate what our peers are doing and, as a result, adjust our own beliefs and actions. All the more reason that, as philosopher Edmund Burke said: “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.”
As Luisa Neubauer (nicknamed the German Greta Thunberg) puts it, the change can start with you: “A climate activist isn’t that one person that’s read every single study and is now spending every afternoon handing out leaflets about vegetarianism in shopping malls. A climate activist can be everyone who wants to join a movement of those who intend to grow old on a planet that prioritises protection of natural environments and happiness and health for the many, over the destruction of the climate and the wrecking of the planet for the profits of the few.”