“We’re so deeply invested in fossil fuel consumption that we can’t remove it by force”
The speech held by We Don’t Have Time co-founder David Olsson at Chamber of Beautiful Business, Stockholm, “Our Cold War”, on June 8th.
I am twelve years old. My father is shouting at the television set. The images on the television is of a white building with black holes in the façade. It is the Russian parliament being bombarded by army tanks led by Boris Yeltsin, in the final act of the cold war.
It’s because my father is so upset that I understand something huge is happening. Overnight, our perception of the world changed.
Our perception of the world is about to change again.
The climate crisis is “our cold war” because it is the great narrative of the 21st century. I say climate crisis instead of climate change. You can adapt to change. But a crisis must be overcome, the word implies that failure is possible. And this is important: We’re at a crossroads in history. This crisis is the greatest we’ll ever experience in our lives. And how we act now, today, determines how it ends.
We don’t have much time. We’re already locked in at 1.5 degrees. And every extra bit of warming increases the likelihood of tipping points, such as massive loss of ice sheets, permafrost thawing, and large-scale Amazon drought and dieback. This will cause famine, war, and mass migration. Sea rise and lethal heat waves will cause cities in the tropics, like Jakarta, Bangkok, Shanghai and Hong Kong to become uninhabitable. This could lead to 1 billion climate refugees. We’re talking about total collapse of civilization as we know it.
The scary thing is not that this is a plausible scenario. Or even that it’s a possible scenario. It’s that we’ve known about this risk for quite some time, and yet we’ve done nothing.
Global GDP has risen about 2.8 per cent annually since 1990. Say you run a business venture. Would you accept a ten per cent likelihood of going bankrupt for a 2.8 per cent yearly revenue growth? Maybe you would. But what if you knew that that likelihood increased every year until you changed strategy? Would you not, as soon as possible, try to find some other way to do business?
We have waited far too long. We don’t have time to sit on our hands any longer. But the hopeful thing is that we’re finally waking up, through movements and initiatives like Fridays for Future, The Green New Deal, and Extinction Rebellion. The Green group in the EU parliament increased by 40 % in this year’s election. The recent general election in Denmark clearly favored parties with a progressive climate agenda. Here in Sweden, train travels are up 8 per cent this year, while the number of flights are down 5 per cent.
This is not a trend that soon will be over. It is the most important mentality shift since the end of the cold war. We are ready for change. A change that must encompass all parts of our societies. It must involve everyone and everything. Companies, citizens, public authorities, politicians, consumers, nations. We need to break our habit of either competing with, or ignoring, each other. We need to work together.
We have created a social network that enables people and organizations to be part of the solution.
Our platform is available on the web and in a smartphone app. Some examples of initiatives in our network:
#savetheveggieburger — the vegan food blogger Gustav Johansson has created an appeal against the European Parliaments Agriculture Committee (AGRI) who has voted for a proposition to ban the use of the words ”burger”, ”sausage”, ”steak” and similar ”meaty” words to describe vegan and vegetarian products.
Canada Motion to Declare a Climate Emergency — an initiative from Citizen’s Climate Lobby Canada that encourages the parliament of Canada to declare a climate emergency.
#BoycottBrazilianFood, in which the founder of food chain Paradiset, campaigns against the use of pesticides in food production, recently approved by Bolsanaro, the Brazilian president.
Our social network is a collective space to co-create innovations, initiatives, and changed behavior. Because the solution must have the form of collective mass action. It matters if I stop flying. It matters even more if 100,000 people do it together. It matters if I don’t buy plastic bags. But it matters so much more if I can cooperate with others to make Wal-Mart ban them in 4,800 stores. We connect people concerned about the climate, we connect employees with their employers, we connect consumers with the companies they buy from, we connect citizens with politicians and public authorities, we connect ordinary citizens with climate activists, because they all share a common interest. They need to communicate, and cooperate, for a better future.
But someone might say: Is more networking really what we need? We live in a world where fossil fuel energy use is 80 per cent of total energy use. Isn’t what we need a revolutionary break with this fossil fuel dependency so that something truly sustainable can take its place?
To this I say: We’re so deeply invested in fossil fuel consumption that we can’t remove it by force, even if we accepted the violence that would follow. So a revolution would have to wait until the system breaks under its own weight. But that means waiting for the ecological collapse to crush us. Our only hope is to transform our system from within. STARTING NOW.
In other words: We don’t have time for a revolution.
The future has a habit of being totally unpredictable. The first world war was supposed to last a couple of weeks and bring glory to everyone involved. The cold war ended in unexpected collapse of the Soviet union and the introduction of democracy in Eastern Europe. We now face this crisis. This we know. But we have no idea how it will end. And if it ends well, it’s because we’ve realized this:
We don’t have time — to wait — we must act now.
Everyone must be involved — major players like the World Bank, China, the US, small businesses, individuals, you, your neighhbour, your co-worker, your family.
We must influence each other and co-create solutions, initiatives, new habits.
Together we are the solution.
David Olsson, COO & co-founder, We Don’t Have Time
The Chamber of Beautiful Business, Stockholm, was hosted by House of Beautiful Business, a think-tank and global community to humanize business in an age of machines. The event was co-hosted by Abel Buko from Bannerboy.
Facts about We Don’t Have Time
We Don’t Have Time is the world’s largest social network for climate action. Together we are the solution to the climate crisis. But we are running out of time. Join us: www.wedonthavetime.org