That’s all we’ve got
The next column he writes on climate change, Gord Stewart hopes will be extolling the way we snatched victory from the jaws of inaction. However, he really doesn’t have much time to write it — just a decade.
Iwish I never had to write another column about climate change. Actually that’s not true. I’d like to write just one more. It would be a victory column of sorts. In Sir Ed’s words, it would be a ‘We knocked the bastard off’ column.
It would talk about how we came to our senses and acted — just in the nick of time. It would note how effective and equitable international and country laws and polices helped us pull back from the brink of climate catastrophe.
It would record how droughts, floods and extreme weather events were now less severe and occurring less often. It would report that we turned the corner on biodiversity loss and species extinction.
It would rejoice in the news that the problem of ‘environmental refugees’ was abating and that residents of many lowlying island nations could stay home.
It would acknowledge the contribution of so-called ‘technological fixes’. And it would confirm the crucial role of the many practical solutions — like solar on roofs and EVs in garages — that helped make victory possible.
It would document the many success stories about truly (not ‘light green’) sustainable agriculture; compact, livable cities; strong and resilient local economies, and the growth in community volunteering.
It would celebrate the end of the consumer culture, noting that shopping was no longer the #1 leisure-time activity of humans. It would marvel at a pervasive change in attitude — at how so many people put value on having fewer things but more time, less filled by fuller lives. If only . . .
Dr James Hansen surely wishes policymakers listened (and acted!) when he alerted the United States Congress to the dangers of climate change way back in 1988. If they did, there would have been no need for his commitment to climate activism on top of his busy life as a leading researcher. His 2009 book
would not have been necessary.
If we acted earlier, there would have been no need for Bill McKibben to write the likes of and
Nor would he have had to launch the nonprofit organisation 350.org.
But we didn’t act early. So the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in an update published last month, tells us we now have just a decade to take unprecedented action to cut carbon emissions to levels that will contain global warming. The IPCC notes it will take a “rapid and far-reaching” transformation of the world’s economy — a change that has no historical equivalent.
Transformative change with no historical equivalent. That’s our challenge, and it will take every one of us to accomplish it. As David Brower, founder of the Sierra Club, once put it, “On Spaceship Earth, there can be no passengers, only crew.”
But it’s a tough go on the road to being a ‘good citizen’ (a thoughtful crew member) when the marketers pursue ever new and different ways to convince us to be ‘good consumers’ — to buy more stuff, go on another trip, and generally ramp it up whether we can afford to or not.
The Earth can’t afford it. The consumer culture has taken a grave toll on the health and habitability of Spaceship Earth.
The Global Footprint Network, to its
credit, has devised a way of quantifying this toll. It’s available as an online tool that can assess the impact on the planet of the resources we use and the wastes we produce as we go about our daily lives.
The Footprint Calculator, as it’s called, depicts the results in a stark and dramatic way. Input information on how you live — type of housing, your diet, the kind of car you drive and how much you drive it, holiday habits, amount of air travel, those sorts of things — and it will tell you how many planets would be necessary to support the world’s population if everyone had a similar lifestyle.
Transformative change with no historical equivalent. The words of Wendell Berry — poet, essayist, farmer — resonate here. Simple thoughts, perhaps, but they take on real meaning at a time when we desperately need to take our foot off the pedal.
His advice: “Slow down. Pay attention. Do good work. Love your neighbours. Love your place. Stay in your place. Settle for less, enjoy it more.”
is an environmental sustainability consultant. He does project work for government, industry, and nonprofits.
The consumer culture has taken a grave toll on the health and habitability of Spaceship Earth.
Our consumer culture is driving climate change.