In October 2018, just 7 months ago, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announced we had 12 years to deal effectively with Climate Change, otherwise we’re likely to reach a tipping point beyond which our ability to predict future changes is at best unreliable. It is likely such a scenario will result in widespread devastation, starvation, and war generated by nations’ needs for dwindling resources. Since that time, climate scientists have also revised their estimates of sea level rise by a factor of 100%, doubling it from 1 metre to 2 metres. This places many more millions of people in peril from flooding.
Whilst climate science remains the most challenging of disciplines due to its complexity, it’s clear we’re in trouble as a species. Our excesses and irresponsible actions have brought humanity to a place where extinction is a distinct possibility.
The time has come for all of us to face reality. I joined Greenpeace way back in the 1980s because I was concerned about the environment. Nothing has happened since to make me feel we’ve come close to addressing the issues in any useful way. Because I write science fiction, I have continuously researched the subject of climate change and used the predictions in my stories. Whilst I’m no expert in any scientific subject, I’ve gathered a wealth of information from many expert sources during my life and concluded that we are, in fact, in deep shit.
12 years is a fleeting blink in the eye of geological time. But it’s a dozen lifetimes in political terms. Governments are notoriously slow at responding to new facts and changing situations, unless they find themselves faced with war, in which case they generally perform the wonderful knee-jerk action that precipitates their nation state into a conflict for which they’re utterly unprepared. But the less obvious, longer term crises make little impression on politicians, who are generally content to leave such developments for the next lot of elected representatives to fix. The result of such postponement is generally that nothing gets done. Which leaves us with the question of what we, as a species under threat, can do to halt our apparently unstoppable decline into extinction.
Big Business has shown itself to be unconcerned about the environment. The fossil fuel industry in particular has proved itself as corrupt and unconcerned about the environment as the tobacco industry always has over cancer. But other businesses have also allowed the great god Profit to drive them to exploit resources and waste energy in the pursuit of financial gain at the expense of everything else. There was a time when many goods were engineered to last, were capable of repair if faults occurred, and were designed to be disassembled and parts re-used in other things when the original item reached the end of its natural life. Nowadays, especially in the electronics industry, devices are deliberately made to be replaced, as often as is possible, with old models thrown away regardless of their use of materials in vanishingly short supply. The fashion industry has encouraged and facilitated the idea that clothes should be manufactured to be worn only once and then to be tossed on the rubbish heap in the name the next new thing.
We, as consumers, are undoubtedly culpable in all this waste. Where my generation, born following a devastating world war and the resultant shortages, was brought up in an atmosphere of no waste and a respect for the quality of long-lasting goods, the current generation has been raised in a world where disposal is the gold standard, replacement the only desired option. We utilise resources, materials, and energy as though these were endlessly available. But even the most basic analysis makes it blatantly obvious that constant growth is impossible in a finite environment.
So, what do we do?
Initially, we must identify the actions, attitudes, philosophies, habits and patterns of behaviour that contribute to our approaching demise. Maybe, if we start to ask the right questions, we can discover what really matters, what aspects of our modern lives are most responsible for our potential demise, and where lies the possibility for effective change to stem our rush toward self-destruction.
I’ll make a start. I invite everyone to add their ideas, their suggestions to this list, so we might do something to prevent what will otherwise become a devastating catastrophe for our children.
Here are my initial suggestions for consideration, in no order other than this is how they occurred to me at the time of writing:
- Population: at the current rate of growth, we’re consuming too many of Earth’s resources. How can we curb the exponential expansion of our species?
- Economics: our current dominant system is one of barely regulated capitalism. It places the acquisition of money ahead of all other considerations. How can we change a system, run by and for the wealthy, that fundamentally increases inequality?
- Energy: renewable energy sources have proven their reliability and economic viability. How can we persuade manufacturers, providers and those in authority that all future energy should come from renewable sources?
- Waste: we dispose of vast quantities of food, clothing, plastics, electronics, and general rubbish, polluting the atmosphere, drinking water, oceans, and lands. How can we change attitudes to accept we have limited space, resources, and time, and we need to respect the world we inhabit?
- Species extinction: we face the sixth mass extinction, with millions of species under threat, and it’s our fault. How do we educate everyone in the importance of species variety so that our food chains and the natural environment are protected from abuse and exploitation?
- Education: much of the world’s population remains ignorant, receiving their limited knowledge through the filters of religious dogma, tradition and custom. How do we remove the barriers of superstition, myth, ritual, and irrationality so the world can learn enough of the facts to prevent the coming disaster?
- Transport: we live in a world where mobility is viewed as an essential. How do we change our emphasis and make travel sustainable for all?
- Work: many people are employed in jobs that cause the problems we face. How do we change the emphasis on work as an end in itself rather than a necessary aspect of life that should be reduced for all to the benefit of the environment?
- Trade: there’s a sort of madness that encourages trading of goods from one land to another despite the availability of such merchandise in the receiving country. How do we reduce such unnecessary movement of goods across the world, thereby reducing our carbon footprint as a species?
All these issues are firmly intertwined, and none can be properly addressed in isolation, which makes solutions much more difficult and complex. We can’t, for example, reduce fossil fuel use without also reforming the way in which the world is governed and the methods we use to boost unnecessary growth and international trade.
This post has already exceeded 1,200 words, so I’ll close it here. But, please, address your concerns, make your suggestions, ask your questions in the comments space below, maybe pass this to any expert you know who may be willing to comment. Depending on response, I’ll develop a new post to spread those concerns further. We’re all in this mess together and the only way we’ll resolve an issue that’s already urgent is to work on it together.