When the UN says 1.7⁰C of warming equals extreme food shortages for at least half of the world’s population in the next 6 years, and we are currently on a trajectory for nearer 3⁰C, it doesn’t take a genius to work out there’s a problem. The simple fact is that we cannot continue with the status-quo, and yet that is exactly what we’re doing.
Not only have we, as humanity, not stuck to our 1.5⁰C pledge from 2015, we have trampled all over it, in the most shocking collective crime in history. Current Western lifestyles are completely incompatible with preserving life on earth, and as long as we carry on living as we are, we are denying the reality of the climate crisis. Call it doublethink or cognitive dissonance, ultimately we can only claim to have accepted the science when we all begin living by its summons.
as long as we carry on living as we are, we are denying the reality of the climate crisis
I do not write this in an attempt to fear-monger, nor do I intend to place the impetus upon individuals rather than governments and corporations. My objective is to build a mutual understanding of our place in the order of things and solidarity with all beings that share our living home. Let us look outside of ourselves to what creates and sustains us. Let us be placed not at the top of some artificially constructed hierarchy, but a sparkling node in the beautiful web of life; a small part of a vast constellation bound up in ties of mutual appreciation and dependence. We are not separate from the living world, our life depends on it.
If there’s one thing we know about the climate crisis it is that we are not doing enough. We know the extent of the technological and societal change that it demands of us, and yet we find ourselves plagued by an overwhelming inertia. What ‘adequate climate action’ entails is not simple or easy. It will be the most radical and far-reaching transformation of human life in history, entailing destruction and rebirth of every aspect of life as we know it, from the economy to food systems to media and education, politics, transport, science, and social behaviour.
It is agreed that we need monumental changes to industries and the structures under which we live, but it is also impossible not to accept the extreme personal lifestyle changes that we will eventually have to accept; the ‘Western lifestyle’ must come to an end.
We need to reduce our average carbon footprint from 8.5 tonnes CO2e to 2.5t by 2030 if we are to limit global warming to even 1.5⁰C. For the Western world, which has far higher emissions per capita than the rest of the world, this will be the biggest reduction. To you this may seem like an abstract number, so let me give it some context…
Picture this: it’s the year 2015 and the Paris Climate Agreement has just been signed. In this parallel universe, the leaders genuinely intend to stick to every aspect of the pledge they just made as they understand the devastating consequences of failing to do so. They agree that putting the myth of economic growth above everything else must be brought to an end. They get legislating. First to go are the dirty industries: coal, oil, and natural gas are phased out quickly by carbon pricing and effective capture, and are replaced by green technology and new expansions of research and infrastructure for renewable sources of energy. Your home is given a complete insulation refit, and local repair and recycling centres pop up in your community.
Next, attendance of new ‘climate schools’ for all ages is encouraged and incentivised; you learn more about the importance of the changes being made and feel more connected to your environment. Cars for private transport are being phased out, but you don’t mind because new bus and train services have started running reliably and in places they never had before, and communities are redesigned to be walkable. You rediscover the joy of riding your bike. Meat and dairy becomes restricted in shops/cooperatives, as well as fresh exotic produce, but lots of alternatives are arriving on the shelves, and your community garden has expanded, providing more than enough for you and your neighbours. New regenerative farming practices have encouraged wildlife back to your hedgerows and waterways, while making produce more tasty and nutritious.
Shopping centres and other hotspots of consumerism are repurposed as community centres, swap-shops or nature centres, and new laws ensure your gadgets and devices are repairable for life. Every corner you turn the streets are being rewilded and nature is returning – you see a bee for the first time in years. You are able to visit your family overseas from time to time, but your previous frequent business flying has been banned. The air feels cleaner and the news on TV is slightly more bearable.
While this world is still possible and desperately needed, it is far from the current reality. In the West, we are all guilty of lifestyles incompatible with climate targets, so long as we continue flying, eating meat, engaging in consumerism and living out of touch with the earth that sustains us, we are denying the lived realities of those already dying due to the climate crisis, in extreme weather and brutal conflicts over scarce resources like clean water and food.
“It always seems impossible until it is done”
Change of the scale required to prevent the destruction of life on earth will not be comfortable, but there is no way of escaping its necessity. It is only by pushing the bounds of what we see as socially possible that we can be enabled to address such issues and discover our potential. After all, there are no limits to human imagination or what we can achieve together, as Nelson Mandela put it: “It always seems impossible until it is done”. And on this note, I leave you with the stark point that ultimately until we see genuine action on the climate crisis and radical changes to the way we live, we are all climate deniers.