Choose Your Future Manifesto

“Today [Oct 16, 2015] was a yellow day in Palangka Raya, Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Air pollution index reached an all time high of 2900psi.” Image Credit: Bjorneo Bear, Borneo Productions International

It’s business-as-usual, as Australia readies for Christmas. We’re going to have a big celebration, however we fail to see we could accidentally sell our real abundance away this time: a future. We’d even sell it to buy presents for our friends and children, in a celebration of life. The irony is bitter.

Australia has just approved the development of the largest open cut coal mine in the southern hemisphere, with an emissions output of four times the annual emissions of New Zealand. Apparently coal is good for the economy, but make no mistake: our modern luxuries and conveniences will not survive in the face of climate change. Australia may fail to look beyond the short-term spoils of coal, and it’s likely we may fail to change our relentless consumerism. Our options at this stage are few: ignore science at our peril, or reimagine our entire lives. If we do not behave decently, and act decisively, we’re all getting coal for Christmas.

Option One: Coal

Image Credit: Kristian Łupinski

Forget the promises of salvation: you’re done for. Humankind had a tidy little life membership pass of a million or so years on earth, now it’s expired.

We will be extinct in 200 years… as well as most of the bird, animal, fish and insects on earth. Continue burning fossil fuels at our current rate and we’re set to lose 90% of species on the planet.

Yeah it’s that bad. But don’t worry! Keep on keeping on. You can’t do anything about it anyway. Plus it’s too hot in summer to resist the air conditioning… for now. The last time our planet warmed more than two or three-degrees Celsius above current levels was three million years ago and the sea was 25 metres higher than now. We’re on track for at least two-degrees warming in the next decades. So burn some more carbon to cool yourself! It’s too easy.

To add a little extra bum butter to your shit sandwich: the exhaustively researched data projections about climate change you’ve heard don’t include the permafrost. As we burn coal, we heat the planet further, and we begin a deadly feedback loop of events that spiral totally out of our control. In the coldest parts of our planet there exist vast reservoirs of methane and carbon dioxide called permafrost, which are thawing as our climate warms, potentially releasing over double the amount of carbon already in our atmosphere. This possibility puts us on track for four or five degrees warming in the next 100 years.

The issue is not that we are warming, but how much higher the temperature will go, and how quickly. As it stands, to avoid more than a two-degree temperature rise, we can only use an absolute maximum of 80% of the fossil fuels companies already have. Yet our government is still granting new licenses to international corporations for massive new mining projects in Australia. No matter who you are, you need to care about this issue. Human bodies start to break down at a wet bulb temperature (the general heat-stress index) of 35 degrees. Our bodies start to break down from the inside out. This is a true zombie fantasy! Apocalypse soon!

The whole world is going to hell in a hand basket and we’re all responsible for packing the not-so-delectable picnic contents.

You really have to ask yourself, is it my fault? Coal is just the tip of the — rapidly melting — iceberg. If you use electricity, eat farmed meat — or even imported superfoods — and fill your refuse bin with plastic then yes, you have a hand in contributing to the destruction of our planet. In fact, almost everything in our modern lifestyle is contributing to this crisis.

We have seriously underestimated the volatile nature of our planet, and how much we rely on its perfect equilibrium to survive. There will be more than a billion people who need a new place to live, food, and clean water due to rising sea levels and rapidly changing ecosystems. There will be a mass movement of species away from the heat of the equator, frequent extreme weather events, much less fresh water due to permanent glacial melt, and higher sea levels. There will be a comprehensive extinction of life on earth. The animal and insect species likely to survive are pests. Look forward to many more mice, cockroaches and flies.

Due to your dependence on the economic spoils of coal, you won’t prepare for this until it’s too late. You’ll just be there, as paradise burns, wondering what happened. It’s okay; we understand you can’t do anything about it. You need the short-term economic boons of mining for your normal consumer lifestyle. You’re allowed to just eat, sleep and shit. Go on with your mindless conversations and endless shopping. Vote for the person most physically appealing or representing your favourite colour. Share your cat meme. Forget. Just forget about it.

If you don’t see alternatives to coal mining, you may as well say to kids now:

“You’re going to inherit a stinking pile of filth. See these animals in the picture books and on TV? They’ll be dead. All the pretty birds? Pretty much extinct. You won’t be getting plastic toys for Christmas in the future. Food will become scarce, hard to grow and in demand. You’ll appreciate broccoli then.”

The hopeful are out of touch — humans won’t change, or at least not quickly. How can we anyway, we still need to drive to work, and we need to work to survive. What is survival? If you were driving fast towards a cliff, would you ask if it was economically viable to brake, and swerve hard? You stand to lose a lot if you fail to act — and not just your life, but billions of lives. The stakes are the highest possible: the entire earth’s animal, aquatic and human inhabitants are in jeopardy.

Let this sink in for a minute. Stop double-thinking about your work, your crush or your million other tiny problems. Just devote one, whole, focused thought on the risk. Has anything, ever, been more important to fully comprehend than this fact? We need to drop our carbon pollution levels to pre-industrial revolution amounts to survive. We need to stop burning carbon today… and that’s yesterday tomorrow. This is a real-life nightmare, and it’s coming fast… but you’re asleep at the wheel, while the exhaust is still pumping out the black.

Are you prepared to act? No, probably not. You, like so many others, may be just planning on being hotter in your next selfie. But you’re going to be deadly hot baby, because you have no idea how to survive in a future world with a continued dependence on coal.

Option Two: Survival

You’re investing in hope. You start buying local, growing your own food, and refusing convenience with the resolve of a superhero.

Image Credit: subtrane

We know you’re strong, and adaptable, and worthy of a better world. You’ve seen the beautiful possibilities of life unfold upon your screen, along your street, in the random kindness of strangers. We live in a lucky country: Australia has a 7,000km coastline we don’t want to lose, and incredible biodiversity nestled in spectacular rainforests. We have an abundance of renewable resources here, such as vast deserts drenched in sunlight year-round, and great potential for solar, wind, and hydroelectric power.

Although, perhaps more importantly: the most renewable resource you have is your own intelligence.

You have the ability to think deeply, act differently, and speak out. We don’t have to give you all the answers: we want you to find them yourself. Your empowerment is the single, most effective agent of change that exists. By becoming informed, you can help more people understand how to ensure our future is habitable and how to preserve the fragile equilibrium of our planet, including its cute fluffy animals and coral reefs. Yes, with your new superhero resolve, your new full-time job is to save the world.

Although it becomes abundantly clear as you truly begin to consider how you can make a difference, that our government is no longer acting in your best interests. Our leaders, entrusted with our safety, have failed us at a crucial time. They make the big, game-changing decisions, yet proactive solutions are not being tabled or supported in parliament. No matter which party is in power, as leaders they need to act on this issue immediately to avoid colossal harm being done in the near future. If we do not intervene we imperil our whole earth’s future. We’re not being alarmist — though we’re very alarmed by the risk.

Ultimately, as Jason Box points out, who is currently a professor of glaciology at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland:

“If you stand to lose everything, then even a low probability event is high-risk. That’s why people fund armies — just in case they get invaded. We need to invest in decarbonizing our energy system… We’ve got to keep this fucking carbon in the ground.”

Unfortunately for us, we’re looking at a high probability, high-risk event.

Our dependence on coal is an illusion, fortified by a capitalist system devoid of ecological responsibility, and contingent upon your dutiful compliance. It’s time you took matters into your own hands. It’s time you grabbed the wheel and, without asking for permission, took control of your future.

Your choice to participate in the People’s Climate March coming up in November 2015 is one very important thing you can do to send a clear message to the government: make the choice to divest from coal and honour our global duty to commit to ambitious carbon reduction targets. You can be proud that you’re choosing to be one of the millions of aware citizens of the planet, who know enough is enough.

Granted, in every aspect of your life it’s almost impossible to live truly ethically at the moment. Every aspect of our modern lifestyle is embedded with an old lie: there is no limit to progess and money is power. Yet progress and profit are no longer compatible —in the short term — with the climate threat we all face.

But you? You’re smart. You’re capable of thinking outside the box, and you can see it’s possible to live a different life that still fulfils you in every material way. You’ve seen the recent phenomena of peer-to-peer finance, cooperative business models and the sharing economy, blossoming in the shadow of this looming challenge of climate change and worldwide economic hardships.

That this transition will leave you less wealthy is a misconception you’ll be able to prove incorrect, as you enjoy healthier food, a more connected community, and a carbon free conscience. Renewables will eventually make your life easier and cheaper, and therefore you’ll probably have to work less.

We’re doing this together: shifting from consumers to active citizens, and taking better care for our world as we live, for future generations. Have you considered who wrote this for you? We’re just a group of students who stumbled upon this issue for a school project.

As you can tell, we’ve chosen Option Two: Survival, and we’re doing our best to encourage you to as well. We want to celebrate many more Christmas’s together, and show our ability to adapt to the greatest challenge we’ve ever faced, with dignity. We can’t do this alone.

It’s your choice too.

Image Credit: Michał Zagorski (mikazagorski@gmail.com)

Choose Your Future Manifesto was written by TK Steel, Kiera Taylor, Esther Meek, Samantha Coventry and Stasha for a group writing project at RMIT Melbourne.