Tag: Whereas Extinction Rebellion
Imagine for a second that society had a do-over. That we could hop in Marty McFly’s electric DeLorean and go back 40 years to alter how we reacted to climate change. What would we do differently?
It would be nice to think that, armed with worsening facts from “the future” (aka our present), politicians and contributing industries would take it upon themselves to behave differently.
But I don’t buy that. Because self-interest has always been intrinsic to the climate change story.
It might have been an oil company’s self interest in continuing to generate profits, or a political party’s self-interest in telling people what they wanted to hear.
How climate change has impacted the world since your childhood
Global warming is already changing the world before our eyes — let’s see what has happened in your lifetime, and what’s in store for your future.
As world leaders championed their citizens’ interests at global summits, at the other end of the scale sat my individual self-interests: eating steak, plane travel and ambient, air-conditioned temperatures.
If we are to neutralise the threat of climate change, we must first neutralise the power of self-interest. But doing so requires a hard look at ourselves.
Earlier last year I found myself becoming riled up by the same circular discussion we’ve been having for decades now: that Australia alone can’t make a difference to global emissions, and we need to await some magical consensus that includes big emitters like China and the US.
“But we should be setting an example!” I cried.
Then I applied the same logic to my own life. And my hypocrisy was laid bare.
The solution is closer to home than you think
There’s nothing stopping me aiming to cut my own emissions by the recommended 45 per cent. But have I tried? No. Far easier to wait for an agreed, society-wide consensus.
That’s when it hit me: we can’t bemoan passive self interest at a global level while practising the exact same approach in our own lives. Succumbing to the lure of disempowerment is what has cost us most dearly in the response to climate change. That is what I would go back in time to warn people.
We have to believe we can make a difference. We have to believe we must make a difference.
As climate protests grew louder in 2019, I found myself yearning for a mass movement not of defiance but of sacrifice.
Whereas Extinction Rebellion sought to shame governments into enforcing a top-down solution, sacrifice would aim to inspire large-scale change from the ground up.
It’s hard for opponents to argue in the face of sacrifice. Sacrifice is also not contingent on convincing the rest of society first. Sacrificing voluntarily, and being humble about it, allows room for people to go through their own journeys of acceptance.
To come to the realisation that the lifestyle they’ve become accustomed to — through no fault of their own — is no longer sustainable. It also allows for people’s differing economic and life circumstances.
That doesn’t mean it won’t be effective over the medium term. Humans are inherently social creatures, and positive change can rapidly multiply as social norms shift.
Rather than solving the self-interest puzzle at a global scale first, better to start closer to home.
Ordinary people own this problem
That’s why our family — who have done a bit, but are by no means model citizens — is planning to make one new life-long, carbon-reducing resolution every month in 2020.
We’re going to re-examine all aspects of our lives: from diet and purchasing habits, to leisure activities and super investments. There will be no gimmicky “my year without …” abstinence. Each commitment will be something we’re willing to do forever from that point on.
First up is a war on ignorance: I’m going to commit at least one hour a week to reading about the impact I’m having on the planet. It’s not the most dramatic first step, but it will ensure each subsequent resolution is well informed.
We’re also aiming to eliminate (as much as possible) our standby power use. Simple things: switching the TV off at the wall, turning the wi-fi off overnight, etc. Using electricity more mindfully.
We are not seeking immediate perfection, simply to each month become better than we were before. Not only does this stepped approach make it more likely our new habits will stick but, if more people were to follow suit, it would give the economy time to adjust to the effects of large-scale change.
I’m sure critics will call this approach naive. But we are not as powerless as we choose to believe. The carbon economy, like all economies, operates on the principles of supply and demand. And we control the demand.
If there’s one thing that has made climate change seem intractable, it’s that we removed ordinary people’s ownership of the problem.
Individual sacrifice won’t alone be enough; of course it won’t. But it can give us purpose and direction. It can make this all seem real. And it can upend the self-interest narrative once and for all.
Conal Hanna is a media analyst and former journalist. You can follow his resolutions on Twitter.