With heatwaves and drought becoming increasingly common across the world, it’s unquestionable that the climate is changing, and that human activity is behind that change. So why aren’t we doing anything? And what should we do?
Alex Matthews: We’re writing this during the UK’s second heatwave of this summer. Back in July, the UK experienced its hottest ever day – the temperature reached over 40 degrees in some parts of the south – unthinkable just a few years ago. It was unbearable in the cities, and there were even fires caused by the combination of high temperatures and dry ground. I saw a very dark cartoon with a little boy saying that today had been the hottest day of his life, and an ominous man representing the oil companies replies ‘…so far’. Although temperatures aren’t as extreme this time around, there are now serious water shortages across much of Europe, and the risk of wildfire across the continent is very high.
Some people try to dismiss the heatwave as just a hot couple of days, but it’s obvious to most sane people that things are changing, and therefore we have to change, but we just don’t seem to be able to do it. Why not?
Mel Young: We have been writing about climate change in this blog since we started. To save the planet we have to change our entire system yet we seem reluctant to do so. It is incredible that people are still in denial! We get wake call after wake-up call and the latest heatwave is yet another example. We have to do something but it is like we are all stuck in the headlights. We see the television news and we know things need to change but we just go on living their lives in the old way. What we need is some real leadership across the board from those people in power. Not just politicians – who seem increasingly powerless – but people from the world of business, finance, NGOs and so on need to step up and work together to change the way we are all living. The simple answer to your question is that there is a lack of real leadership and a lack of urgency – it has to be the number one priority for us all – otherwise there won’t be any world!
AM: It often boils down to that doesn’t it – and we’ve often talked about the lack of leadership affecting so many issues that we face. The sad thing is that there are so many brilliant people who want to lead on climate change – Greta Thunberg springs to mind immediately – but they are ignored or even ridiculed by the people with real power. We need a shift in mindset – and I think we spoke about this a few weeks ago – for issues as urgent and critical as climate change, we need a sort of committee that sits above a government and is, crucially, more permanent, so it can make long term decisions, unencumbered by concerns about re-election. This is too important an issue to be entangled in politics.
MY: It is linked to the overall objective of The New Ism, which is to look at creating a new system but we can’t wait, this is a real emergency right now. The COP26 meeting in Glasgow was positive and there were lots of well-intentioned people there, including politicians, but it is how we take these policy agreements and turn them into action. That’s where we are too slow. I do think we need some sort of overarching global committee but it has to have power. We have the United Nations which can pass good policies, but it is how they are applied which is the challenge. Everyone needs to step up now.
AM: I think we’ve been here before haven’t we – The New Ism take on these issues often comes back to better, more global leadership from players other than governments. It’s interesting that we think that governments have become almost incidental – I wonder if people in other countries feel the same. Do you think that normal people can do anything useful in the fight against climate change? Is there any point in me not driving my car to the shops if Shell is drilling new oil wells?
MY: We all have to become activists. First, we must change our lifestyles and become much more environmentally aware. Then we need to tell our friends and neighbours to do the same thing and then we need to join lobbying groups to try and influence the people in power that we have to change the current system. If we all do that we can change the world. It is imperative that we become effective activists.
AM: Yes, and if we can change our own habits then hopefully we can inspire others to change theirs, and so on. And in doing that, we can show our leaders that we want them to change too, now.
MY: I do think that our activism should be constructive. I understand why people want to sit in the road and stop the traffic as part of a protest, and I understand their anger, but I’d much rather do something positive like organise clean-up campaigns, organise hustings, interview business leaders, build clean energy and so on and so on.
AM: Yes I agree – and we have to get the media interested in the more positive actions too! But positivity is definitely the way forward, we have to harness it and use it to inspire others. Just small things like cleaning up your community or having a community compost heap are really amazing ways to start and can lead to bigger things. We have exciting guests on the podcast talking about how they think we can change our lifestyles for a more sustainable future – hopefully their ideas will inspire others, they certainly inspired me!