As I write this blog today the news is full of the climate emergency. Pictures of kids striking, interviews with business leaders, politicians claiming support, scientists providing advice and even some real people with real concerns and real stories of climate’s impact on them. Who would have thought that climate change would be getting such high profile verses other issues like Brexit after so many years whistling into the wind?
Has anyone spotted the difference? I believe there are two reasons climate change is moving into mainstream thinking and mainstream media. If I’m right, we need to build on the success in these areas and not slip back into old, less successful ways.
The first is the figurehead. Greta Thunberg the 16-year-old Swedish youth campaigner. Instead of the usual crusty old beardy environmentalists we hear prophesying doom, here is a young, smart, dedicated and passionate ‘school child’ speaking clearly and firmly to anyone who will listen. She has become the icon, the lightning rod, for the younger generation who rightly feel they have been passed a pretty poor hand by the generations before them. She looks even younger than her years which makes the message even more emotive. This is young people talking to young people; and she is galvanising a whole movement of youngsters who rightly feel they aren’t being listened to.
Sooner or later I predict a backlash will come and those with vested interest in fighting against climate change action will attack her either directly or more likely indirectly through criticising her policies. But for now Greta holds considerable influence and we must all make the most of it and learn from it.
The second reason is that climate change campaigning has branched out and become more relevant to more people through examples that we can all relate to. For years I have been critical of climate change campaigning because in my opinion it has been too technically based, too esoteric and too big for any of us to make a difference. With a religious fervour, it has appeared that we were being called on to make changes to the quality of our lives that would make imperceptible changes to the global climate problem. Also that climate was somehow outside of nature, wildlife and conservation because it was THE environmental problem.
In my opinion, there has been a pretty recent shift in approach towards showing climate change not just as intangible tonnes of CO2, but as the broader natural environment, which it most certainly is. You only have to look at concepts such a Gaia, proposed by DWT’s Patron Prof James Lovelock, to see that at the global scale all things are connected. We won’t solve the warming of the climate without protecting our nature because ecosystems, which include humans as we can never be above nature, are a complex set of inter-connections, feed-back loops and buffers to name just a few.
Engaging nature and the wider natural environment in the climate debate rather than excluding them has several positive implications. Now we can tell tangible stories of how humans are messing up the planet that causes multiple environmental damage such as species extinctions and climate warming. Only today examples being used included the appalling destruction of the Amazon forest and the devastating loss of 3 billion birds in America and 260 million in Europe over only the last decade. These show to people in far more understandable, illustrative and emotive ways real stories about what we are doing to our planet, rather than talking about the probabilities of a 1.5’C temperature rise or so many tonnes of CO2 – which you can’t relate to and are very hard to envisage.
A challenge we have is that we all have to do things which are individual and discrete actions, but we have to think and plan holistically for the planet. This can be confusing. Yesterday on Radio 4 I heard an academic saying that if Germany shifted away completely from coal it would only save a maximum of 2% of what is needed to keep the world at a 1.5’C rise. This was said as if it wasn’t worth-while, but actually that’s huge. Just because something else has a bigger impact, such as Chinese power stations, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do something. The solution won’t be a global carbon capture and storage factory, it will be you and me taking billions of tiny steps.
So by taking a broader approach to environmental impacts we all benefit from each other and not try to fight lots of independent, siloed battles. Greta makes this a human problem and more than that a young human problem. Rainforest, birds and insect loss brings it home to us what is going on around us. Please don’t despair. This is repairable and we can all do something. For example go to the Dorset Wildlife Trust website to see what you can do that will make a difference and start a building tsunami of actions to stop climate change and reverse our loss of nature. Click here.
You can also donate to our appeal to protect pollinators and keep Dorset buzzing. Click here.
Also Greta Thunberg and Britain’s own environmentally campaigning journalist George Monbiot have launched a video that’s worth seeing. Have a look and please pass it on. It’s on several websites including ITV and the Guardian. Click here.