It has to be. We need momentum and we need it now, if we’re going to prevent catastrophic climate change. Because climate change is no longer in our future: it’s here, now. And the intensity of 2017’s floods and fires are some of the most visible signs we’ve seen. Unmanageable air pollution, record temperatures, permanent ice loss in the arctic and rainforests’ decreasing ability to decarbonize the atmosphere: a few more 2017 surprises.
For many of us, this laundry list of despair sounds so far beyond our ability to help or make a meaningful contribution that we retreat. But we don’t have to and I don’t think we have a choice, anymore. There is too much to do. And those of us living with relative privilege — a home, food, income and education for our children — we have work to do. Because the rest of Earth’s population is on the frontlines of impact and although they’re already adapting, they need us to push ahead with political action, backed up with some impactful lifestyle changes.
Capitalism, growth and oil: changing our consumption habits The global economy is built on an idea that has now become a cultural value and a social norm for many people: growth. It’s so intrinsic to the privileged mindset that we don’t notice it until we’re prompted. And it’s not inherently bad; it just doesn’t work well with finite resources. Corporate divestment from economic growth into regenerative practices, peer-to-peer and commons-based living, personal rejection of fast fashion — all of these examples, at their variant levels, represent a challenge to the behemoth concept of growth for its own sake through reduced production and consumption. And a vital reduction in nonrenewable resource extraction and use.
Slowing down the machine from the consumption end means we’re attacking anthropomorphic climate change at the source, and there’s one industry group we can throw all our weight at, and multiple ways to do it: fossil fuels. Oil, natural gas and coal are nonrenewable and collectively make the greatest contribution to global warming. Using renewable energy doesn’t mean we have to install solar on our own rooftops (many of us don’t have rooftops): community solar projects, divesting your 401K from fossil fuels and choosing renewable energy producers through your supplier are all possible. It’s a long game but the more we can do to participate as consumers, the more we destabilize fossil fuel industries and bolster regenerative industries to create strong market conditions.
Extracting, processing and transportation pollute and destroy our environment. Fossil fuels also represent the most politicized resources on Earth, particularly oil. Oil has become such a multi-headed beast that nations struggle to disentangle themselves. Yet many are doing just that, with long-range plans to close down production and transfer to renewable energy and electric vehicles. Meanwhile in the US, the oil industry has gone as far as to fund a campaign of misinformation, spreading and supporting climate denial. At the same time, individual states and cities are pursuing strident climate change policy and investing in renewable energy industries.
This week The Guardian illuminated the relationship between oil and plastic: eschewing fossil fuel consumption means more than swapping the car for a bike; we can also reject at least single-use plastics and ideally any plastic at all. The rise and rise of plastic has rewarded our voracious consumer appetite with cheap, replaceable things and things to put things in… can we all embrace the movement for reusing, choosing durable materials and repairing clothing and broken objects?
Political activism Here in the US, participating in political activism is one of the most impactful ways to challenge fossil fuel domination, and it has been a personal learning curve for me. The US is primed for a climate action revolution through the active role of many individuals and organizations and with growing local government support. Take New York, 2017: tireless groups such as 350.org, Fossil Free and the coalition NY Renews are all focused on 100% renewable energy in New York state by 2050. Targeting divestment of New York’s pension-fund investments from fossil fuels has been a major focus and was rewarded in December with an announcement from Governor Cuomo’s office that it would start the process to do just that. NY Renews is now pursuing more bold legislation, the Climate and Community Investment Act, which would create an emissions fees environment in New York and ensure investment back into climate jobs, infrastructure, community scale projects, and assurance and rebate funds. At an event in December, NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman spoke with passion and conviction about this legislation: he sees New York modeling progressive policy at state level and poised to become a national leader. Schneiderman was inspiring, inviting us all to unite behind the NY Renews principles. This event was a watershed moment for me, the highpoint of my first year as a “climate warrior”.
How do we take this to the next level? My experience in New York has been inspiring and life changing, and I’ll be throwing myself into it with gusto again this year. I feel like I belong to the most important movement of our era. Let’s be vocal and insistent. Learn more, do more. Tell the story to friends, colleagues and our children. What can we change and how can we walk the talk in our workplace and in the way we work together and with clients? Who do we know in public-facing jobs? In communications or arts? How can we inspire others to spread the message? And don’t forget the small stuff — can we pick one disposable item every week or month and stop using it: plastic bags, plastic wrap? And keep all those glass jars! That’s a start! Happy New Year, Happy Climate Action Revolution!
Photograph by Andrew B. White