Being shocked at having an ice cream on a hot winter’s day in February seems like a very western and privileged way of looking at the climate crisis.
Whilst we concern ourselves with the nuisance of painstakingly sorting the recycling, or not having steak night,or god forbid having to have a paper straw with our coke at McDonald’s, people like us across the world are losing their homes, their livelihoods and in some cases their lives; this has nothing to do with a pandemic. This has been happening for many years as the global powers keep chugging along on their fossil-fuelled train heading for piles of cash.
I’m an ‘angry millennial’ who isn’t really angry but rather kind of terrified by the slump towards catastrophe that our species seems to be heading for. In the midst of a pandemic it’s quite easy to get ‘het up’ like that. Particularly when we’re told we’re heading towards the worst ever recession, temperatures globally are predicted to rise by 1.5 degrees in five years not twenty-five, the Greenland ice sheets have melted beyond repair, movements for equality like BLM seem to polarise rather than unify, the likes of Trump seem to be gaining more traction not less, and the arts are taking a beating like never before. All of that can make you feel quite ‘end of the worldy’. But really things aren’t so bad…
Okay, so things aren’t all gravy. The pandemic is awful and even now as I write this, I feel guilty for writing an article about the climate crisis when there are such huge and imminent problems facing us all. It’s hard enough to think about existential, global problems like the climate crisis at the best of times, let alone when life has been completely turned upside down by a pandemic. Nevertheless, I’m going to bang that climate change drum and I hope you’ll tap along to its rhythm with me for a short read.
First, let’s start with the positives. A year ago when Greta was rallying the troops and Extinction Rebellion were stealing the headlines, the dream was that drastic system change would arrive. There would be less cars on the roads, fewer fuel guzzling planes would populate the skies and our collective carbon footprint would plummet. A very faint silver lining to the otherwise doom-filled rain cloud that is the pandemic, is that this has happened. Systemic change has been proved to be possible and we have seen carbon emissions meaningfully reduce for the first time in an era. Admittedly no one would have wanted the dream to come true in such nightmarish ways but you’ve got to look for the positives. There is hope.
The waves of change are upon us, and that’s great. However, this change is one that we have been forced to make. It is not a change through choice. That’s a problem because currently all of the efforts surrounding the pandemic seem to be trying to get us “back to normal” as quickly as possible. This means that any progress we’ve accidentally made through the pandemic is going to be reversed, and we don’t know whether that means reversed back to ‘business as normal’ or whether it might be worse.
We can’t blame governments for wanting to put us in reverse – people are suffering and remedying that should be a priority. I wouldn’t blame anyone for putting their concerns about job security before the climate crisis – we all need food on the table and a roof above our head. The cruel irony however is that even before the pandemic, those same worries had been prevalent in the minds of those across the world who are already suffering from the effects of climate change. As we in the west return to “normal” once the worst effects of the pandemic subside, our brothers and sisters around the world will still be suffering regardless of the pandemic.
Let’s look to Malawi for example. Malawi is a landlocked country bordered by Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique. Already one of the poorest countries in the world, the people there rely on farming to feed their families and make a living. Unpredictable rain patterns, severe droughts and floods have hugely impacted the lives of those living in Malawi. The unpredictable rainfall and droughts kill crops and contribute towards barren farmlands, leaving people with food supplies running low and limited means to make a living. Floods destroy homes, wash away crops and livestock, wipeout roads, bridges, schools, hospitals and sanitation facilities. Of course, we can’t assume that the floods or droughts themselves are directly caused by climate change, but what we do know is that climate change is causing the intensity and frequency of these ‘climate shocks’ to increase dramatically.
We could also look at the Delta regions in India. The Bangladeshi communities are at risk of coastal erosion, sea-level rise, salt water intrusion, rising temperatures, changes in rainfall, floods, river erosion, cyclones and drought (amongst others…). This drives people from their homes and livelihoods and forces them to start their lives over from scratch. People of all ages. The number of internally displaced climate refugees is on the rise. These people are not refugees of war, there is no tangible enemy, the lives of these people are uprooted and cast out by mother nature as we continue to hold our carbon foot on her throat. By the year 2050, it is anticipated that 1.4 billion Indians will be living in areas experiencing the negative effects of climate change. To put that into perspective, that is over twenty times the population of the UK (66.5 million).
A perilous line that I often hear is that, ‘It will take something really bad to happen for us to do anything [about climate change]’. To me, that is an unbelievable thing to hear because it is already happening. The two examples I have given above don’t even scratch the surface of the untold climate suffering around the world (we haven’t even approached the subject of how disproportionately women will be affected) and I’m quite embarrassed that my word count can’t do those countless stories justice.
So what can WE do? Well for starters we can aim to be consciously incompetent. What this means is that even if we don’t live the most sustainable of lives, we appreciate that every action we take that is contributing to the climate crisis has an effect on the life of someone else. A step further is to become consciously competent. That is to set about making changes in our lives – however small – to try and help the issue.
This could be considering the impact that fast fashion has on the climate crisis. Instead of buying 5 new items of clothing on ASOS with a view to sending 4 of them back, we can look to purchase second hand (often rarely worn) items of clothing off of eBay or Depop, or maybe even from your local charity shop. You might find you get something that was previously way out of your price range for a bargain! Wear that dress or shirt more than just once. If you don’t intend on doing that, see if anyone else fancies giving it a go or maybe drop it round the charity shop. Fast fashion is incredibly wasteful. It is often more expensive for a clothing company to wash, repackage and resell returned clothes than it is for them to just throw them away? Those 4 items you sent back to ASOS might have found their way to a landfill rather than back onto a hanger. There are other nasty facts about the clothing industry that I won’t go into but I’d recommend a quick bit of research.
You could of course consider adjusting your food habits to be more sustainable; this doesn’t mean you have to go vegan, it could be that you eat meat less regularly and shop more locally. There are however a lot more veggie/vegan options out there that are delicious and often cheaper! If you do go vegan – great, I hope you love it – don’t get lazy and think that’s it. Not all vegan options are better for the planet. We only have to look at the millennial avocado to see a plant-based food that is shockingly bad for the environment. Be consciously competent.
Do you need to take a flight to another country for that weekend getaway or could you take the train or ferry or even crazier a thought, is there somewhere in your country you’ve never thought to visit? I’m not suggesting that you’re guaranteed to get sun kissed skin in the Lake District, but you could do a lot worse than those breathtaking views. Can you get on a bike instead of taking an Uber? Can you shower for 5 minutes instead of 10? Can you shower cold instead of hot…? Can you…etc. Eventually these sorts of decisions might become natural for us and that is reaching the ultimate goal of becoming unconsciously competent.
Our lives are full of choice. This is the gift that life gives many of us, we get to choose our actions. Right now, we can choose to change things for the better. We can choose to stop the climate crisis suffering of billions – not just in the future, but right now.
We need to make these choices whilst we can so that we can realise the dream scenario. If we don’t, the climate crisis will go beyond the tipping point we’ve already reached and the choice will once again be taken out of our hands. As the pandemic has shown us, we only lose our gift of choice in nightmarish circumstances, and the nightmare circumstance that comes from ‘climate collapse’ might not be one that we can reverse back from.
P.S. The next step after being consciously competent could be the notion of becoming consciously courageous. That is to stand up, unite and spread the word where you can. That word ‘unite’ is very important and so too is the phrase ‘where you can’. If you’ve stuck it out and read this far (thank you!), why not grab a stick and give that climate change drum a whack.
Ergon Theatre are currently working with Contact and Re:Con on their commission Ergon, a piece of immersive theatre about the climate crisis. Ergon will ask the questions; Whose responsibility is it to change? How easy is it to change? What is geographical privilege?
Image Credits: Nathan Cutler
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