Put simply, the earth’s climate system is getting hotter as a result of human activities. Despite some claims to the contrary, this is something that 99% of active climate scientists agree on.
The last century or so has seen a drastic increase in emissions (polluting gasses that we dump into the atmosphere) that has caused the earth to be, on average, about 1° warmer than 170 years ago. While this seems small, the results have been catastrophic.
We are seeing significant increases in wildfires, loss of animal habitats, ocean acidity, droughts, rising sea levels, heat waves, and floods.
The present struggle is to slow down / halt the warming and keep things at no more than 1.5°. This is something that we have all globally committed to at the 2015 Paris Agreement. However, many of us - particularly the more affluent countries - are not meeting the goals that we had set out. This is largely based upon our reliance on fossil fuels.
And now the timeline to meet the targets is getting shorter and shorter. In case you’re wondering, yes, this is a huge emergency.
Interested in learning more about the climate crisis?
It’s not enough to think about this only in terms of temperature. Our climate system is complex and interconnected with our entire world. Everything will be affected by this crisis.
If you can access it, the New York Times has a powerful visual article exploring the human cost of this crisis. As places on our planet become basically unlivable, we will see a mass migration unlike anything we have experienced before. We need to have infrastructure in place to give that many people safe places to live.
Elizabeth Kolbert has written an excellent book that details the tragic impact that this crisis is having on animal species as we enter a new mass extinction event.
Because this is a multifaceted problem, it requires holistic and systemic solutions.
While there is a lot of nuance to how various groups suggest that we address the climate crisis, the overwhelming consensus is that it is our consumptive behaviours, our reliance on fossil fuels, and our growth obsessed economy that have the change. The goals for sustainable development help us imagine a better way forward.
Part of the struggle is that there is a considerable amount of debate around what the right way forward actually is. Navigating that can feel a bit overwhelming.
If you spend any time in the climate conversations, you will inevitable hear one or more of these terms thrown around. Basically, these are three different approaches to imaging what our relationship with economic growth needs to look like in order for us to meet the targets. I’ll try to sum them up quickly, but I highly recommend this podcast that talks about all three.
Green Growth is the idea that we can continue to grow, but do so in a way that is not destructive to our planet.
De-growth is the idea that there is no way for us to continue to infinitely grow on a finite planet.
Post-growth is about moving away from talking about no-growth to a means of shifting the economic model to one centred around wellbeing.
Rather than focus on the differences of each of these, it is important to recognize where they are aligned. We are facing an unprecedented emergency that is being created by our reliance on growth. In order to face this problem, that has to change.
Obviously the main question is what any of us can do in the face of such a big problem. How can we make any difference at all? Is there even a point in trying? Should we just give up? The problem with really big problems is they often elicit a bit of an existential crisis. My first suggestion is to take that journey.
You need to deal with your emotions, your biases, your blindspots, and your privilege. One thing I noticed during the early parts of covid was that society needs to grieve in order to move forward. We needed to mourn the loss of the life we had grown accustomed to. The people who didn’t grieve are the people who (still) refuse to admit that things have changed. Grief is a powerful and necessary process, one that our culture doesn’t really understand or make space for. I could say a lot more about this - and maybe I will somewhere else - but for things to change you have grieve what you’re losing.