The BBC drama Years and Years has gripped me like no other TV show that I can remember. It has left me feeling uneasy, nervous and quite frankly, terrified. Without giving anything away, the eerily plausible depiction of our dystopian future beautifully and matter-of-factly conveys how all the different segments of life are, in fact, intrinsically linked. Whilst I hope that we will not be turning ourselves into data any time soon, the frighteningly relatable portrayal of our natural world and political landscape is not a million miles away, and what is becoming more and more apparent is that environmental factors have a much larger role to play in all this than most people assume.
Whilst I am no political expert by any means, I think even the most ignorant of us can recognise that there is a wave of extreme right wing-ism sweeping the country, the continent and even the world. A trend fuelled largely by anger, fear and to some extent hatred can be a very scary prospect indeed, and have serious implications for our civil liberties and human rights. With Brexit and immigration probably being the main drivers for many of the political parties and the majority of voters in the UK, it is clear that a climate of preservation and protection dominates the collective mood of the country, helping to pave the way for the Viv Rooks’ of this world. Whilst some are shamelessly outright racist, many just fear losing their jobs, losing their identity and losing power. They fear the NHS cannot support us all, that there won’t be enough school places and so on. (Before you all shout at me, I do know it is not that simple, and I did warm you I’m no expert, and I won’t stay on the subject too long, promise…) All seemingly valid points for concern from the outside, but what we don’t realise is that by focusing mainly on theses short-sighted and self-motivated issues, and ignoring everything else, including climate change, we are, in fact, exasperating the problem even more….
Let me explain (very simplistically).
According to the UN, in 11 years, unless we intervene significantly, the world will enter a phase of irreversible warming. By 2050 the average temperatures will have increased by 3 degrees Celsius, and should this happen, scientists estimate that in 30 years 55% of the world's population across 35% of its land area would experience more than 20 days of lethal heat per year, heat too excessive for human and animal survival. (We are already seeing this happen; look at India, where the highest ever temperature ever has been recorded this month, killing dozens of people, and new records were set this week-end here in Europe…) Across many places in Africa, South America and Asia there would be more than 100 days a year of deadly heat, leading to over 1 billion people being displaced. ( From "What Lies Beneath: The Understatement of existential Climate Risk", by David Spratt, a researcher into climate change, and Ian Dunlop, former chairman of the Australian Coal Association and chair of the Australian Greenhouse Office Experts Group on Emissions Trading).
The authors argue that a rise in temperatures will also have further indirect consequences for mass migration. Rising sea levels, caused by melting ice, would cause people to abandon large parts South East Asia, with around 15 million people in Bangladesh alone potentially being displaced. More frequent natural disasters such as tsunamis, earthquakes, typhoons and mudslides, largely due to climate change, will make millions more homeless. We are talking tens of millions of people being physically displaced.
Furthermore, higher temperatures would cause food production to drop off significantly due to the "catastrophic decline" in insect populations, weather too hot for humans to survive in significant food-growing areas and chronic water shortages. We are already seeing marine animals and birds starving to death all over the world as the fish stocks have become so severely depleted due to climate change, pollution and over-fishing. With not enough food to feed the world's population, prices would sky-rocket, and basic food staples like rice and some grains would become a luxury. Countries affected by rising temperatures will see negative economic growth, which will further drive global inequality. To make matters worse, the countries that would be hit the hardest are not only the poorest, but also those with already unstable and corrupt governments. With famine, drought and lack of arable and habitable land comes a war. More and more factions and greedy militia groups will rise from the darkness and whole countries will plummet into new heights of civil war and poverty; displacing millions more.
As hundreds of million people, displaced directly or indirectly by climate change, try to make their way across borders to find a new life, news reports of starving and sick refugees in over-crowded refugee camps, and footage of families in lorries and boats, or more sombrely washed up on beaches, will become mainstream (as long as they haven’t been censored!). As overwhelmed and ill-prepared governments battle internally and externally to find a solution, countries will become even more divided; with riots, violence and extremism becoming common place. At a time when unity is going to be imperative for a stable future, this is a prospect that does not even bear thinking about.
So if you think things are bad now, think again. Our democracy, liberty, security, economy and health, everything we take for granted, could all be compromised if climate change is not taken seriously. Philip Hammond claims we cannot afford to tackle the climate crisis, but what this short-sighted view fails to acknowledge is that things will soon be much, much worse, and by then it might be too late. Whilst I have focused only on the environmental aspect here, I won’t pretend that it is by any means the only contributing factor. I did want to highlight, however, that it is not a stand-alone issue and actually has consequences that reach far beyond just the environment.
Told you: simple…!
Luckily there is hope. Despite what some may say, the Greta Thunberg generation is not just a bunch of kids throwing their toys out of the pram. They are not just another group of “brainwashed”, “misinformed” and “attention-seeking” “brats” (Facebook is a charming place), but an insightful and passionate force to be reckoned with. I am completely stunned and appalled by the hostility towards her and her peers, but then having experienced similar resistance from my own friends and family, not to mention the general public (though not to that extreme), I should not be altogether surprised. People are fundamentally very simple. We want a good life, we don’t like being told what to do, and we certainly don’t want do-gooders to make us question our own morality. Deflect, avoid and ignore at all cost. There is nothing that makes the average Joe stick his head in the sand faster than a bit of climate change talk; “not my problem”, “too expensive”, “too impractical”, “too restrictive”. Perhaps yes, to most of these, but I can categorically say that, actually, it is our problem. Unless we want to see the world enter an irreversible downward spiral, climate change has to be taken seriously, and whether we like it or not, we have a role to play. It is not fair, but it is the sad truth.
Having said that, the responsibility of saving the planet should not be down to just us, the lowly minions of this world. Even if we took every feasible step to reduce our carbon footprint and impact on the planet, we would still fall short. As a working mum-of-3, and one who, obsessively some my say, pours an unhealthy amount of time, energy and money into being eco-friendly, there are only so many hours in the day, and there is only so much that I can do. Sometimes I do have to use the car, sometimes I have to buy an emergency drink when out and about, and sometimes I just want to hide in the shower for half an hour… (in case I hadn’t said, I have 3 kids, and yes, I appreciate the irony of a self-professed “environmentalist” adding to the population / climate change problem, but there’s not much I can do about that now…). And I also won’t pretend that all too often I don’t dream of jetting off on a holiday with my family for a bit of sun, sea, sangria and r & r… Whilst not being something we do every year, I would be lying if I said it is something I am able to completely cut out from our lives… (lowers head in shame…).
So what I am trying to say is that we do what we can, with what is available and affordable to us, but it is not enough. Yes, the eco-friendly market is growing rapidly, but it is still not competitive with what we are used to. Let’s take plastic, for example. Almost everything, and I am talking 99% here (my guess from observation), is packaged in some sort of plastic or other protective / decorative wrapping. And that is before it is boxed or wrapped again for shipping and delivery. Billions of single use packaging items end up in land fills every day. Even the packaging that is put into our blue recycling bins apparently ends up crossing the ocean, being dumped in some foreign country, to just be burned illegally or chucked into the sea anyway… The whole situation is diabolical, but if consumers don’t have any other options, what can we do? (Apart from reuse, reduce, refill, and recycle when we can, obviously…).
So in this case, what needs to happen is that the corporations guilty of producing, packaging, selling and contributing to an out-of-control waste and plastic situation need to step up. To be honest, investing in becoming one of the first in your market to offer competitive and eco-friendly alternatives will put you ahead of the game. It’s a win – win situation, and even though some are a heading in the right direction (Waitrose Unpacked I salute you) I am surprised that more corporations haven’t cottoned on to this. There is a profit opportunity here, as well as a sustainability one.
But it is not just the producers of the masses and masses of pointless plastic crap and their packaging that need to wake up. It is not just about the plastic, but also about the carbon emissions. It is about deforestation, fossil fuels, animal agriculture, clothes production, urbanisation. It is about every aspect of our lives as consumers. The industry sector, the energy sector, the restaurant sector, the food sector, the construction sector, the leisure sector and even the service sector are all culprits and need to take responsibility. A recent study found that 70% of the world’s greenhouse gasses comes from just 100 companies, with oil and gas companies being the worst offenders. They all have a big part to play, as well as a moral duty, in ultimately helping consumer make sustainable choices.
But guess what, the buck doesn’t stop here! The reason many of these fat cats get away with this, is: 1. Because they have money, and money buys power, which buys people, which buys more money and 2. Because they are allowed to. The next, and possibly most important, level of action therefore needs to be at government level. Law- and policy-makers across the country and globally need to say less and do more. We need to see laws implemented yesterday, curbing the damaging practices of all these corporations, and we need to enforce these like our lives depend on it, with very harsh punishments for when they break them.
Admittedly, there is some progress being made on this front, but not nearly enough. Banning single-use plastic seems to be the dish-du-jour in parliamentary menus across the globe, and whilst we applaud it, there does appear to be some band-waggoning going on (yes I have decided that this is a word). Never-the-less, it is a step in the right direction, and we now anxiously await actual policy change and long-term environmental strategy. And we are not alone! Being somewhat politically-challenged (as I think you may have understood if you are still reading) I try to not get too drawn into political debate and party propaganda. Having followed the European elections quite closely from an environment perspective, however, it is clear that there are some politicians out there who are putting climate change on the top of their agendas, and more people than ever are supporting them, which is fantastic news…. Let’s keep writing to our MPs reminding them that climate change and the environment IS a major concern, and when it is time to vote, let’s also remember to consider the different parties’ stance on the environment, and not let ourselves be blinkered by all things Brexit…
Thankfully, if there is a risk that politicians have made all things green look uncool (like the Tories have done for drugs 😊) there is a whole host of dishy celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, Harrison Ford, Jude Law, Mark Ruffalo and Marion Cotillard to name just a few, who are doing a fantastic job in making the fight against climate change relatable, cool and accessible. The likes of Emma Watson, Hayden Panettiere, Dougie Pointer and Ellie Goulding are helping to draw in the younger crowd, and then let’s not forget the wonderful Sir David Attenborough whom we all love, respect and worship…
So there you have it. A top down approach would see that climate change is tackled at every level, and this is something we need to push for... And to support this, celebrities, public figures, scientists, scholars, educators, activists and individual low-level campaigners (your truly) will push from the sides to make this a reality sooner rather than later. When (not if!) this happens, it is important that we mere mortals at the bottom of the triangle uphold our part. Once armed with choice, information and opportunity, we are then the ones that need to see it through. Yes, we are just 1 mere mortal, but imagine that said times 8 billion. We can make a difference and we are all in this together.