Why we need to view our individual actions as part of a bigger whole
Last week we talked about what you can do to help tackle the climate emergency that we are living through and the reaction was broadly positive (thank you as always), but there is a small minority of people, and we see them in the shop as well, who’s response is that individual actions make no difference, that we’re too small to make an impact.
This sort of thing annoys us, so we thought we’d explain why that just isn’t true.
Climate Change isn’t a zero sum game
Some things in life are very much ‘you win, I lose’. Sport results, elections, sharing the last of the ice cream on the sofa, that sort of thing. Climate change isn’t like that, it isn’t a binary subject. The Paris agreement of 2015 states that we need to aim to keep average global warming below 2 degrees of change in order to prevent catastrophic outcomes. All the science backs this position up. However, that doesn’t mean that if we don’t keep to that limit all is lost. 3⁰ of warming is worse that 2.5. 2.1 is better than 2.2. This means that every action is important because it contributes to making the situation better than it might have been. The action in itself may not keep us to below 2⁰ of warming, but it will be better than doing nothing.
To put it simply, there is no excuse for refusing to take action because all baby steps take us closer to the goal.
Action at all levels
Ahh, say the cynics, but if governments did there bit it wouldn’t matter what I do They just need to ban plastic, it’s not up to me to make that sort of change.
Well, yes. But no.
Yes, governments do need to take action. We’ve been very vocal about that over the last few editions of the blog, we need to vote in governments who will take the required steps to really drive change at the pace we need it.
But, that is not a reason to let individuals off the hook. What we need is change at all levels; individual, local government, national government and internationally. Without all four bits of the jigsaw puzzle in place, we aren’t going to dig ourselves out of this carbon created hole. Multi-level action looks a bit like this:
As we detailed last week, there at lots of actions we can each take that are totally within our control. Voting, eating differently, insulating our homes, cutting flights, shopping locally or in a packaging free manner, resisting the urge to treat consumerism as a hobby, learning skills so that we can make, bake and grow our own food…. I could go on. The point is there are loads of actions we can take that help nudge down the course we’re on and there is no requirement to wait for a government to tell us to do the right thing. We just have to do it.
We always think this is the overlooked slice of the pie. Local government have a lot of power to make a real difference. Planning applications can be screened for their environmental impacts and pushed to add sources of renewable power, green roofs, or wildlife friendly landscaping. Councils can leave verges unmown to act as havens for animals. Inventive bodies could even use that as the beginning of a scheme to create wildlife corridors through towns to link up isolate habitats. County councils can instal electric charging points, convert their fleets of vehicles to electric when they reach the end of their life and encourage their employees to cycle to work by providing storage facilities and showers.
These are all actions well within the scope of local government. Sadly, too many are failing to be inventive and proactive on these, and other matters. Very few have things like rewilding plans or similar. Again, we as individuals do have power to change this. Often, at this level, the problem is the lack of a ‘Green’ voice in the room. It’s not that people don’t want to do the right thing, it’s just that they are used to the status quo. When presented with a slightly more green alternative people are more than happy to get on board. This means we need to pay attention to local elections, and maybe, just maybe, consider standing to be a councillor or local official in order to be that voice. Once again, there is nothing stopping us from that sort of activism. Only ourselves.
Ok, this is where things get big. Here is where big change can happen very quickly if the will and incentives are there. National governments are responsible for taxation. That means they can nudge our behaviour towards more green alternatives by taxing things like carbon emissions, fossil fuels, obsolete polluting technologies and wasteful packaging. Basically, they carry the biggest stick of all the levels.
It is also going to be down to national governments to make sure our infrastructure is in the right place to reach net zero carbon emissions. They will need to electrify railways, upgrade electricity grids and invest in recycling facilities. On top of this they will need to encourage better choices through subsides for things like green energy and the retro-fitting of houses with better insulation.
National leaders also have soft power to influence our societies. They can set the tone and example which others will follow and can set the course for things like education policy which will ensure tomorrows generations are able to avoid the mistakes we’ve made.
National governments could make huge changes today if they chose to. Hopefully as we move towards the COP26 climate summit to be held this autumn, they will start to do that. As we’ve said before, there is not much stopping the roll out of some big changes except the legislation required to make it mandatory.
Some things are just so big that they can only be tackled on a global basis. For us, this is why we believe that in future we’ll need more international co-operation, not less. When discussing the climate emergency there are tow big areas where countries working together are the only way to deal with the issues.
The first is carbon pricing and taxation. Eventually, we’re going to need a global carbon price in order to make polluting products too expensive to use by including their environmental cost within their price. That would make a difference to coal or petrol but also to aviation and global shipping. Right now that cost is hidden or ignored making polluting products far more price competitive that they should be. This has to be solved globally so that producers can’t just move from one country to another to avoid any carbon levy.
The other area that will increasingly need global co-operation and solutions will be climate migration. As the earth warms and our weather becomes increasingly unpredictable more and more people will be forced to migrate from where they currently live in order to survive. On top of that, sea level rises have the potential to displace hundreds of millions of people from places such as Bangladesh and other low lying parts of south east Asia. And that doesn’t mention all the inhabitants of small pacific islands who are already watching their homes disappear. Our newspapers and politicians go mad when half a dozen migrants try and cross the channel in a small boat. Just wait until the middle of the century when millions are on the move from central Africa…. Global solutions are our only hope of managing this looming humanitarian disaster.
Pressure from below
If we think of those four layers of action as a rocket with the individual at the base and multinational co-operation at the tip, then the argument for individual action becomes clear once again. We are the booster and the power for the whole process. Our action builds slowly but creates a pressure that lifts the whole process. Our example, our demands, can force governments at all levels to take action in our names.
And all of that is in our hands.
It is easy to get frustrated by the lack of change from other people or governments and it is also easy to use such inaction as an excuse to do nothing ourselves. But to succumb to those feelings is to miss the point. Change is possible and we as individuals are the drivers of it. We have to be optimistic, but we also need to understand that we have more than hope, no matter how audacious. We have real power and we can make a difference. And that one action, no matter how small, can lead to another, and another. Our 1% today, is a cumulative 50% in twenty years time. There are no excuses, we need all four levels of society fully engaged in change. We must rise above the cynicism and negativity to do our bit. The planet is waiting.