The verdict is in. The science is incontrovertible:
“Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history. Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems.”
This is the conclusion of the latest UN report, released in early November.
According to the report we are now facing at least a 4 degree Celsius increase in average temperatures and almost a metre rise in sea levels by the turn of the century.
What this means in reality to the lives of ordinary people (and wider ecosystems) is anybody’s guess. The report does its best to make some educated guesses: disruptions to food production in Africa, Latin America and Australia, leading to lower yields of corn, wheat and rice; significant impact on marine life worldwide, glaciers and ice caps melting, increased risk of wildfires: the list goes on.
So how could climate change be a distraction? Isn’t this the single biggest challenge facing mankind at this point in history?
Don’t get me wrong. I am deeply worried about climate change. I am conscious of it, I increasingly use it to guide my actions and my purchases. And, like a million others I took part in the recent worldwide Climate March.
So what’s my worry?
Let me explain. Recently I watched the film Disruption. It’s a lively 45-minute account of the preparations for the Climate March. It’s fantastic stuff. So many committed folk, pulling off a true feat of organisation. As if that weren’t enough they place a genuine emphasis on making climate change an issue to unite the whole of society. They show how it impacts on the poor and disenfranchised most and they bind these groups into the response. Great stuff.
So what’s my worry?
My worry is where a single-issue focus on climate change takes us. This comes out somewhat in Disruption. The fossil fuel companies become the enemy. If we sort them we sort the problem. Now, let’s not pull our punches here. It does seem to be true that these companies are responsible for an inordinate amount of the damage. According to an analysis in the journal Climate Change in 2013, just 90 companies are responsible for two-thirds of all global greenhouse gases since the dawn of the industrial age. Half of all this has been in the last 25 years. So there is definitely a task to be done in holding these companies to account and shifting their activities, and the whole industrial economy to renewable energies.
So what’s my worry?
Here it is: I suspect that even if we sorted the climate change issue we would still face a much bigger issue about environmental destruction. We saw a hint of this in the 2014 Living Planet Report by WWF. This revealed that the world population in vertebrates (animals with a back bone) is now half what it used to be. Just think about this. We are exterminating whole populations, making species extinct, clear cutting forests, and polluting waterways. Our entire economy is based on destroying and consuming natural ecosystems rather than sustaining them and supporting them to flourish.
So is that my worry?
Well, not quite. It’s actually what sits beneath even that. In a very real sense our economy is itself a reflection of our collective attitude towards the planet we live on. This is part of a global feedback loop. We are at war with the planet, because we are not at peace with ourselves. And because we are at war with ourselves we destroy all that sustains us. Until we get past that, to a place where we can love and value ourselves – even those of us who work in the fossil fuel industry – and we start to value and love all that sustains us (and all other living things), we will not get out of the corner we have painted ourselves into.
As I read those words back I see that they could make it all seem so big and impossible. That’s one way to view it. Another is to see that every act of love, kindness or compassion is a truly revolutionary act. That’s far easier – and more joyful – to get behind. It gives us something to work towards, rather than fight against.