First off, I write this mostly to process my grief and not to provide some scientific analysis and I hope that in doing so, perhaps I can help others and offer some meaningful ways to contribute.
I work in the field of sustainability and some days I wish I didn’t. It’s like you know too much and can no longer hide behind the shelter of ignorance.
- 200 species go extinct every day
- The nutritional value of our food is decreasing with rising CO2 levels and soil depletion
- We have consumed over 50% of the world’s fossil fuel resources within the last 30 years, that level of carbon output cannot be sustained
- We basically need to 1/10th the amount of energy we consume by 2030 if we are ever to avoid complete biological and ecological collapse
Just a few of the most devastating facts that have stuck with me recently. It’s hard not to feel a bit of anxiety, climate grief as we face this existential crisis.
I have felt paralyzed, bewildered, not sure what I should really be doing or what to best focus on to help us all avoid this collapse.
I’m annoyed by the flippant responses that tech or efficiency or Greta will save us. I’m annoyed by the consciously ignorant or unconsciously ignorant responses that ‘everybody just has to do their little part’. Because well, it’s all too little!! (Although the Institute for Global and Environmental Strategies just released their 1.5 Degree Lifestyles report that showed that in fact, all our little actions do add up and could be enough to avert disaster), BUT we would need to have 75% of the world’s population taking those actions to stay within 1.5°C of global average temperature rise. We can barely get people to recycle properly, it would be a herculean task to try to convince 75% of the world’s population they need to change multiple behaviours let alone actually committing to doing it.
Obviously we will need to do more than just rely on just everybody ‘doing their part’. The fact is that none of it will be enough unless those behaviours are supported by a system, infrastructure, cultural contexts, social and economic structures that would enable such behaviours. And those systems are too entrenched, too self-serving, and far too big to move.
So I accept collapse. I accept that we will likely see more stress on parts of the world leading to climate refugees, food security issues and devastating events that people will need to rebuild from. I accept that we are on a trajectory that puts us on a collision course with extinction. However, even though I’m on the train headed for disaster, how could I not at least do what I could to put the brakes on and even turn the wheel just slightly so that at least it might not be such a devastating head-on collision?
Of course we still have to do something, so the question then is – what should we do?
Yes we all have to do our part, and get more people to take those little actions. But that’s clearly not enough, we can’t ask people to just recycle more without looking at the consumption we have and the demand it creates. We need to cut consumption drastically to 1/10th of what we use and that requires a fundamental shift in values and how we actually want to define prosperity.
We will need to live with a lot less and that requires the tough choices. We can’t have all that we want or need, we simply can’t afford to, the planet cannot afford us to. Travel is too carbon intensive, an electric vehicle is still not enough because of all the embodied carbon that goes into making it. It’s not buy the eco label product, it’s don’t buy it at all. We need to all be minimalists.
The Tragedy of the Commons though, is if your neighbour isn’t going to do that then why should you. So nobody does.
It’ll require government effort, government regulation and government control, much like the collective effort during World War II to ration resources and redirect manufacturing to create a circular economy and one where growth does not have to mean resource and environmental destruction.
Making it Approachable
It sounds monumental and the only way I can make it approachable but meaningful is to start within. To start looking at the identities, and values we hold. Who do we really think we are? How committed are we to saving the planet, when it’s time to make those tough choices, what do we really value and are we willing to make that decision then, to not take that trip, to not purchase that item or to really take a bold move and curb carbon emissions? Are we actually going to align our actions with what we say we care about?
This is the part that excites me because there is nothing more rewarding than stepping into your full potential and becoming the leader you were meant to be. And as a conscious leader you can commit to playing a bolder role, share your message, vote for people who are committed to changing policies to enable living within planetary boundaries, (even if it means nudging towards a new economic model), advocate for bolder climate action, and create a community of action.
The world is calling for more conscious leaders. And I am encouraged by the number of people ready to dive deep into their identity and values to uncover their potential.