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Climate action starts with social action.

In 1972, 150 concerned scientists warned the world that it needed to take urgent action to avoid an environmental catastrophe. Did we listen? Yes. Did we do anything about it? Not really.

Twenty-five years later, 15,000 scientists have signed a second warning to humanity that we really, really need to pull our finger out. Since the original warning, the average global temperature has continued to rise, forest loss hit a new peak in 2016, and we’ve officially entered the sixth extinction period. As one of my teammates so eloquently put it, “we’re f*cough*ed”.

But are we? There’s a glimmer of achievement to acknowledge. The hole in the ozone that everyone in 1972 was freaking out about is getting smaller thanks to a ban on ozone-depleting CFC’s. The economic and social conditions that exacerbate environmental degradation and climate change are being tackled too. The percentage of the world’s population living in extreme poverty has dropped from 43.1 per cent in 1990 to less than 10 per cent today. Access to education, family planning advice and contraception has put us on a path to a population size our planet can cope with.

However we still have much to do. Inequality and discrimination still exists. The gap between the rich and poor is widening. And women’s reproductive decisions are still being dictated by men, even in developed nations.

The view from the poverty line. Research from Brookings.

Reading the latest warning, I began to wonder, what will the world look like in another 25 years, in 2042. Will we be living in a barren, smog filled world like the one depicted in Blade Runner 2049?

This is definitely not the kind of world we want to live in. Credit: giphy.

I asked my teammates what they thought the world would look like in 25 years time. “Greyer” and “more polarised” were two of the responses I got. But the most intriguing answer was this:

“I think the world will be pretty much the same, maybe humans won’t.”

Perhaps this is the crux of the issue. We want the world to stay the same as it is now, and we want to live the same lifestyle we have now. But we can’t have our cake and eat it. Either we change, or the world will.

If we follow the idea that we ourselves have to change, does that mean we’ll end up living in a repressive and abusive society like the one portrayed in Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’? Where a massive reduction in carbon emissions comes at the cost of human rights and personal freedom? Maybe H.G. Wells’ sci-fi vision of the future is more accurate. Rich people living in a naive utopia while the Morlocks toil underground and turn to cannibalism to sustain themselves. Neither option appeals does it?

When writers imagine the future they often describe a dystopian future. And why not. It’s far more interesting and thought-provoking than a story where everyone gets along. We like reading about the plucky survivor who challenges the establishment and leads their friends to a better future. There’s plenty of evidence that doomsday scenarios like those described in Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’ are ineffective for motivating genuine personal engagement in climate conversations (O’Neil and Nicholson-Cole, 2009). Yet that’s the kind of future we keep imagining when we think about the impact climate change might have.

If we revisit Atwood’s and Wells’ versions of the future, we see examples of societies that have changed to fit themselves into the parameters of what their world can provide. We must do the same, but we need to do it without donning red dresses and white hats. That’s why it’s so important to fix our environmental issues by solving social issues. People are already mapping the overlaps between climate-management activities and the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They recognise that improving literacy rates, increasing gender equality and creating economic opportunities leads to the kind of society that is well-equipped to make more sustainable and climate friendly choices.

“Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.” Credit: giphy.

There are a few people that still need convincing though, and the concerned scientists stress that other “scientists, media influencers and lay citizens must put pressure on their governments to take immediate action.” That includes you and me. Government’s are not legally bound to fulfil the pledges they have made to fulfil the Paris Agreement and SDGs, so public support is essential if we want to achieve lasting change.

We promise to keep working with those people and organisations who are responding to our planet’s warning call. We’re supporting projects that reduce deforestation, fight for fundamental freedoms, make supply chains more transparent, and tackle illegal fishing. We want a future that’s full of colour — green, blue, pink, yellow and all the rest. One where everyone has the same opportunities and freedoms. We won’t sugar coat it — it’s not going to be easy but we owe it to nature, ourselves and all our children, nieces, nephews and cousins to give it everything we’ve got.

References and further reading.

Corner, A. and Clarke, J. (2017) Talking Climate. From Research to Practice in Public Engagement. Cham, Switzerland. Springer International Publishing AG.

FAO (2016) The state of world fisheries and aquaculture. 2016. Contributing to food security and nutrition for all. Rome. 200 pp.

O’Neil, S. and Nicholson-Cole, S. (2009) “Fear Won’t Do It” Promoting Positive Engagement With Climate Change Through Visual and Iconic Representations. Science Communication. 3:3.

Photo by Steven Wei on Unsplash.

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