Wednesday, 3 October 2012

How many months to save the planet?

You may remember the big publicity campaign that was launched on 1 August 2008 called '100 Months to Save the Planet'. What interests me about this is that, at the time, '100 months' sounded frighteningly short (quite rightly so) but looking back now, August 2008 feels like a long time ago. This is an effect of our media-induced very short-term attention-span. As I pointed out last week, the big panic about the Arctic ice-melt faded from the news media faster than an ice-cube in a sauna.

But now we're down to 50 months - half of that very short time has vanished already, during which Britain's 'greenest government ever' has been exposed as a sick joke, the new Minister at the Department of the Environment reportedly doesn't believe in human-induced climate change, and the George Osborne, as chancellor, wants to reduce and weaken the few 'green' requirements that we have. The big worry of governments and business is 'lack of growth', whereas a contracting manufacturing economy might buy us a little breathing space - a few months, perhaps - in relation to the damage we're doing to the planet.

But what is it that will happen in '50 months' (or thereabouts)? This is about what are called climate 'tipping points', where events occur from which there is no turning back, and this is why the arctic ice-melt is so significant. When large areas of open water become ice-free in the summer, the winter freeze produces a much thinner ice layer, which in turn melts more quickly the following year. When the Arctic warms so that the permafrost starts to melt (is no longer 'permanent') the melting of this soil, rich in decayed but frozen organic matter, releases methane into the atmosphere; methane is a greenhouse gas, so warming produces more warming . . . and so on. After such events become established we lose the capacity to return to the climate state that we had before, and something new and unknown is inevitably coming down the tracks at us.

Andrew Simms, of new economics foundation, is heading up a new 50 month awareness initiative. There's an interactive section on The Guardian's website where invited contributors and readers propose new ways forward. Andrew's own article for The Guardian explains the position, and the actions needed. To people on nef's email list, he asks, 'What will you do?'

In my Swarthmore Lecture book, addressing the same question, I wrote that it involved
all the easy things we already know about, but may not have yet implemented in our own lives – and we are aware what they are: insulate our houses, use less gas and electricity, reduce our travelling and change our means of travel, eat less meat (or none at all), reduce all consumption and waste, re-use, repair and recycle everything we can, shop less and shop local, reduce food miles, grow your own, compost food waste, buy without packaging, cook fresh food from scratch instead of buying processed food . . . and so on. Many of us are already doing some of this, some of the time; we all need to do all of it, all of the time, consistently and reliably, forever.
These are all individual actions - we know what to do, and the question is why we aren't doing it. I'll write about that on another occasion. In the book I also wrote:
Beyond our private lives, how about tackling the carbon emissions of the places where we work? This might involve us in difficult conversations with management; if we are ‘the management’, then it might involve us in difficult conversations with trustees or shareholders; if we are the trustees or shareholders, then it’s time we faced the fact that increased costs or reduced profits in the short term are not an argument for doing nothing.

And then there’s our local area, the place where we live and the local government structures there. Have we got Transition Town activity already happening? If so, are we involved? If not, can we, as Quakers, help to start it?

Do we know what our local councillors are doing, or not doing, about sustainability? Are they actively supporting local food initiatives and markets? Are they actively seeking land to supply more allotments and get hopeful growers off the waiting list? Can we find out, question them, make it an election issue for next time? Might a few more of us be called to take our Quaker values into the public, political arena and stand for election as local councillors.

What about our local MPs? Do we know their views? We can start writing letters, holding public figures to account. These are all the basic minimal things that every responsible citizen needs to do, whether or not they have any religious underpinning. For those of us who profess a faith, how can we countenance doing less?

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