Who must lead climate action?

COP26 is taking place next week, where the world’s leaders will hopefully agree on the dramatic action needed to avert a climate crisis. But we can’t leave it to them – we must all act, now.

Mel Young: I live in Scotland and COP26 is on everyone’s lips. Obviously it is an extremely important summit and may decide the way forward for the environment for decades to come. But that speech by Greta Thunberg where she urged leaders to get on and do something rather than the usual “blah, blah, blah” was spot on. How many times have we had grand pronouncements by global political leaders which have come to nothing. People are looking for action from this summit. Even the usually non-political British Queen has come out and said that action more than words is now required. So, what do you think the outcomes should be from COP26?

Alex Matthews: Well ideally, we’d have leaders from all the major polluting countries in the world committing to whatever scientists deem necessary to avoid climate catastrophe, as well as to helping developing countries to do the same. Sadly – and I don’t think I’m being particularly cynical, just realistic – I think there will be a lot of talk about how important this is and lots of empty promises made, and then they’ll go home and carry on as they were. 

So that means that we – the people – need to act. We need to find ways to live more sustainably, recognising that we will likely need to make sacrifices and dramatically transform how we live. If we – the voters – start acting, then perhaps our leaders will be forced to accept that they need to as well. 

MY: Yes, actions speak louder than words and we have to act individually, even if we make tiny sacrifices. Lots of tiny sacrifices can add up to something substantial. I was interested to listen to Chris Martin of Coldplay when they announced that they were organising a world tour. He said that they had spent a lot of time thinking about how they could make the tour as sustainable as possible and be carbon neutral. Ideas like capturing the energy of their audience when they started dancing was innovative. But some have criticised them for going ahead with the tour anyway. He responded by saying that they were trying really hard to make this tour the best possible for the environment but that it wasn’t perfect and that they needed to learn and do even more in the future. I think this is the right attitude. It shows leadership and some honesty; if we could follow in their footsteps, commit to doing small things and trying our best, even if we’re not perfect, then it could make a huge difference. 

AM: Yes it’s really interesting what Coldplay are doing – and I think one of the most important things is that they are providing leadership and inspiration, which is more than can be said for political leaders! If Coldplay fans go to one of these gigs, or even read about them, they might be inspired to see what changes they can make in their own lives, or encourage other musicians to make similar changes – and there will be a ripple effect. I think this is only positive and hopefully other public figures will start looking at what they do and where they can make changes. For example, as a voracious reader, I’ve started feeling a bit guilty about the number of trees that must be chopped down for the publishing industry – it would be exciting if publishers, perhaps encouraged by authors – could innovate to find more sustainable ways to create books. Nicole Rycroft, who we wrote about in our book, set up Canopy to protect forests, and one of their most famous projects was ‘greening’ the Harry Potter books. Every industry – culture, manufacturing, farming, everything – could look at their processes and figure out ways to be more sustainable. It would be a real movement and really exciting.

MY: I think the real energy for this is coming from younger people, they have to take the lead. Do you agree?

AM: I think you’re right, a lot of the energy is coming from young people – after all, they are the ones who will have to live in the world we are creating now. And yes, they should take the lead – but I think that honestly, we should all be taking the lead. It’s so urgent now that we can’t afford for any group of people to think that they don’t matter. No matter how old we are, we can act. As we’ve talked about on the podcast before, older people have experience and wisdom that could help inform decisions. Many older people are naturally more sustainable than younger people, buying locally and seasonally for example – that’s something that they can teach others. So yes – young people should take the lead, but that doesn’t mean that older people shouldn’t!

MY: I totally agree. We all need to own the problem if you like. I worry slightly that the issue is becoming tribal. There are still lots of climate deniers who are actively against change and the car lobby is still very strong – it is almost like they are becoming a political bloc. People are taking direct action against the ‘spaces for people’ initiative in the UK which I find incredible – but they are active and following a different path altogether. I hope they are just a minority but I worry about their influence.

AM: Yes you’re right. It just means that those of us who want change for ‘good’ need to be louder and more insistent. It’s easy to be vocal when you disagree with something, but as you mentioned when we were chatting earlier, we don’t tend to speak up in favour of something good, like the ‘low traffic neighbourhoods’ which we have around where I live. So perhaps we all need to take a page out of Greta Thunberg’s book and not be afraid of speaking up for what we believe in. And there couldn’t be a better time than now, with the world’s leaders gearing up for a trip to Glasgow!

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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