Climate change – and what we need to do to avoid it – continues to dominate public and private discourse around the world, with scientists warning that if we don’t act now, we run the risk of being too late. But how do we force our leaders to act meaningfully and rapidly? Our founders Mel and Alex discuss in their latest ‘conversation blog’, drawing from their experiences and perspectives as members of two different generations.
Alex Matthews: Even though the covid pandemic has dominated the news over the last 18 months, the climate is never far from our minds. We’re reminded daily of the effects of climate change on the planet, from melting ice caps to flooding and mass displacement. And even from an intensely local perspective, I’ve noticed that we get much sharper heatwaves here in the UK. Last week it was 30 degrees – which is pretty hot for June in the UK – I can’t remember it getting that hot very often when I was younger.
Climate scientists pretty much agree that we’re running out of time to act, that the 2020s are the last decade in which we can reverse the trend towards overheating the planet. But it will require a huge effort from every country, government and individual – an effort which too many seem reluctant to make. Do you think we can do it in time?
Mel Young: Well, I hope so. It is vital for your generation if nothing else. I think the majority of people in the world now ‘get it’ and agree something has to be done. Political leaders are making grand announcements but I worry that these targets aren’t good enough and I am also worried that these are just words to make them sound popular rather than genuine action. I don’t feel their passion! And then, we as individuals, have to change our lifestyles. We have spoken before about making sacrifices like not flying to our foreign holidays. Are we all willing to do this?
I have become so much more aware of nature as a force during the lockdown. I don’t know why. Maybe because I have been forced to be still, but I have started to notice birds, animals, flowers, trees and so on and I conclude that we are indeed all part of one world. We can’t let it get out of balance. Humans have to take responsibility.
AM: Yes we do. It’s an inescapable fact that human beings are part of the earth’s ecosystems, just as every other living organism is. Over the last few centuries we seem to have developed a sense that we are separate, and therefore that our actions don’t impact on the planet – but we have to accept – urgently – that that is incorrect. So much of what we do – driving our cars, flying, buying clothes, farming, manufacturing etc etc – has a huge, visible impact on the Earth’s climate. We all have to dramatically change our lifestyles, quickly. But as we have said before, it can’t all come from individuals. There seems to be a tendency among leaders to abdicate their responsibility by placing the onus on ordinary people, without implementing the infrastructure to make those changes possible. And then, when change doesn’t happen, they can say it’s not their fault. As you say, all the grand pronouncements feel empty.
COP26 is happening in your neck of the woods later this year – many experts are calling this our ‘last chance saloon’ to literally save the planet. Sadly I imagine that we’ll get lots more empty promises and calls for action from our leaders. I hope that they bring young people to the conference and really listen to them. There is a lot of passion but also a lot of expertise among young people – and I mean younger than me – and leaders have to listen to them because it is they who will be responsible for implementing change.
MY: We need younger voices for sure. But we also need inspiration. Which country do you think is getting this right? A place which can be held up as an exemplar which others might follow?
AM: Great question. I would need to do more research but my knee jerk reaction is that New Zealand has some interesting policies in place. I think they are doing work around having a wellbeing economy rather than solely focused on GDP growth – with wellbeing including environmental wellbeing. I believe they have recently implemented some environment-specific policies as well. Another country that comes to mind is Bhutan – they did away with GDP a few years ago to focus on happiness – again, harmony with the planet will come into that – and they celebrated the birth of a prince by planting a billion trees or something. There are lots of great examples like that that the rest of us should be following.
MY: I think the answers lie in what you say. People, and indeed some governments are being proactive but to save the planet this needs to be done at scale. We need to learn from each other and be inspired. COP26 is important because it will bring nations together and we need joint action. The world won’t be saved while Butan does amazing things whilst Brazil does the complete opposite! We are all part of one world and we have to act in unison across the globe. Indeed, we need to think how we can compel countries like Brazil to fall into line.
AM: Yes, that brings us back to what we wrote about last time about having global institutions that have the authority to compel countries to implement important policies for the planet – because, as you say, what one country does in terms of climate change has huge impacts for all of us, so it makes sense to have one body that sets and enforces laws. I hope that something of that nature – something dramatic that has the potential to create huge change – comes out of COP26. Leaders need to look beyond their own short-term agendas and create long-term, large scale policies that will make the planet safer for all of us. And to force them to do that, the rest of us have to make it clear that that is what we demand. It will be interesting to see what happens in the lead up to the conference. I expect many people will be out on the streets and writing articles. We will undoubtedly have lots of conversations at The New Ism about this topic, hopefully amplifying the voices of young people who have something to say.
MY: It is important to hear these voices. But in addition, I’d like to hear about practical solutions and constructive policies which emerge. Let’s be positive and make things happen before it is too late.