The answer to the climate crisis isn’t reusable coffee cups

We’ve got 12 years to prevent irreversible climate damage.

If we don’t see drastic change by 2030, our children will be immersed in persistent heatwaves, flooding, and increased poverty. By the end of this century, we will most likely lose all rainforests, coral reefs, and 50% of all plant and animal species on this planet.

There may be more electric vehicles on the world’s roads than ever before, but there are also more internal combustion engines. There may be more bicycles, but there are also more planes. It doesn’t matter how many good things we do, we absolutely must cease the bad things entirely if we are to reverse climate damage.

The micro consumer nonsense

We’re led to believe through both the government and the media that the root of the climate change crisis is consumerist, and if we all use reusable coffee cups and switch up our plastic cotton buds we will eventually change the world for the better.

Nice idea, but sadly that’s hugely far fetched.

Don’t get me wrong, some consumer solutions will inevitably make a huge difference – transportation and animal farming for example. Raising livestock for meat, eggs and milk generates 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the second highest source of emissions and greater than all transportation combined. It also uses about 70% of agricultural land, and is one of the leading causes of deforestation, biodiversity loss, and water pollution.

So, you can probably guess that if all of us switched to a plant based diet, we’d be taking a large step in the right direction. 

Easier said than done, however.

Snip-it_1556331503375 - Edited
A graph from the Guardian demonstrating the significant impact of livestock on our planet

Micro-consumer solutions such as the switch to reusable coffee cups and paper cotton buds is obviously a positive, small step in the right direction, but let’s be honest they themselves won’t get us anywhere in solving the colossal climate crisis.

The solutions

I’m no climate change expert or scientist. I don’t claim to have the correct solution but I do have a good idea of what I believe the steps are in ensuring we get ourselves out of this mess before it’s too late.

Education

At the forefront, we need to educate our decision makers on the urgency of the climate crisis. Until we do this, we will not see change. Economies are so focused on the power of markets and short term profits that they don’t even recognize longer-term issues like climate change and environmental destruction.  

Radical protests like that from extinction rebellion recently is a fantastic way of doing this – it’s sad that people are having to go to the extremes of gluing themselves to the floor and getting arrested to gain climate change the attention it deserves, but it works.

Photo: Christian Charisius_105325656_gettyimages-1084530868
Photo: Christian Charisius 

Of course, we also need to educate our young people. The youth of today care far more about climate change than our elders because we have no choice. We will be more radical than our elders because we have no choice.  Those before us have left us, and future generations, to deal with a catastrophic future if nothing is done.

Climate education must be on every school curriculum. I’m currently teaching English in Vietnam and Global warming, pollution and bleaching of coral reefs are all topics in their syllabus but this equates to less than 1 page of a 200 book. It just sadly won’t be that memorable.

If we make Climate education a core school subject, our kids will fight for change and take action. But, for this to happen however, we have to educate the decision makers first and foremost.

Scrap GDP as a sensible measurement of human welfare

The current capitalist system of perpetual growth needs to be overthrown.

Traditional ways of economic thinking have been based on the assumption we will continue to have access to cheap and plentiful sources of energy and materials to grow, which we don’t. You don’t have to be Einstein to know that.

Our current measurement of human welfare is GDP, Gross Domestic Product. It’s a measure of the market value of all the final goods and services produced. If we are to climb out of irreversible damage, GDP as a measure of human welfare needs to be put in the bin and incinerated. Currently, all government decisions aim to do is boost GDP. It’s taking precedence time and time again even against a backdrop of fires, floods and hurricanes.

 

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Photo: Peter J. Wilson/Shutterstock

We are at an ecological crunch point and we don’t have the economic tools at present to deal with it. We need a better way of measuring human welfare than perpetual growth and we need to find new ways of thinking about the economy. We should not in any circumstance still be aiming for growth and more consumption – that’s bananas.

We absolutely must aim for liveable environments in the future or there will be no future.

Make the protection of nature a political priority

Destruction to nature accounts for more global emissions than every car and truck on this planet. So long as the rainforests of the Amazon and Sumatra are burning, we will have failed on a solution to prevent irreversible damage.

However, if we make rewilding a priority and let forests recover from deforestation and the sea floor recover from trawling, we could dramatically bring down the carbon dioxide levels we’ve already produced. The world’s vegetation could hold up to 450 billion tonnes of carbon. That’s staggering.

AP4997094644081
Photo: Andre Penner/AP

Rewilding would represent 30% of what needs to be done to get us out of this mess. Therefore, we need to include nature in every corporate, state and national climate goal. We need to invest in forests and mangroves the same way we are investing in renewable energy. We need to respect and ensure the rights of indigenous people who make a living out of these habitats.

Time is ticking

We still have time, but we can’t do it by tapping at the micro consumerist stuff, we have to go straight to the heart of the problem.

We need to educate and elect leaders who believe in science.

We need to rethink our current measure of human welfare.

We need to put nature first, because if we don’t protect nature, we can’t protect ourselves.

My inspiration for this post came from a) a segment on Frankie Boyle’s New World Order featuring Environmental and Political activist, George Monbiot. b) A speech by Harrison Ford at the 2018 Global Climate Action Summit.

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