'The actions we take in the next eight years will determine how high global temperatures go and every fraction of every degree is worth fighting for'
Green Watch columnist Louise Tennekoon writes about environmental matters from a Bishop's Stortford perspective for the Indie...
The record-breaking temperatures a fortnight ago sparked a national conversation about climate change, bringing with them a new sense of urgency for many. It’s at the top of the news cycle for a brief moment, and it will pass. But it will be back.
It raises an important question. What is getting in the way of the action that is needed to slow down the warming of the planet? We have enough data to know what’s going on. We have much of the technology we need and a lot of it is getting cheaper all the time.
And we care about it. Here in our own community, more than 100 people came together last November to talk about climate action. But still the Bishop’s Stortford Climate Group has only eight or so people turning up to its monthly meetings, and those eight people are already stretched too thin.
There’s no blame here. I’m just curious. What’s holding us back? Yes, we are all busy, but we tend to make time for what matters to us. And to more and more of us, this matters. So what is going on?
I think it all comes down to the stories we tell ourselves about climate change.
Some people believe that climate change isn’t happening, or that, if it is, it’s not something to worry about, maybe it’s even good for us. This group includes Donald Trump, the Common Sense Group of Tory MPs, 17% of the UK population and at least two readers of this column. Personally, I think it’s getting harder to cling to this story as the world warms, but it still has traction in powerful circles.
Some believe that technology will save us – this is certainly the stance of Boris Johnson’s Government. This is a massively appealing story because it means we don’t have to change our behaviour, we can just carry on with business as usual and everything will be OK.
There are two problems with this one. First, some of the technology it relies on doesn’t exist yet, including large-scale carbon capture and storage. Secondly, there’s no getting away from the need to change the way we live – eating less meat, flying less, getting out of our cars and consuming less energy and less stuff.
Some believe that it’s already too late to stop climate change. It’s true that we have left it very late to deliver on the Paris Climate Agreement and limit global heating to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. We are, after all, already at 1.2 degrees and heading for somewhere between two and five degrees this century.
The actions we take in the next eight years will determine how high global temperatures go. What does this mean for us here in Stortford? As a rough rule of thumb, each one degree rise in average global temperature adds 10 degrees to the hottest days of our summer – 1.2 degrees has brought us to 40 degrees, a further 0.8 degrees will take us close to 50 degrees and so it goes on. Every fraction of every degree is worth fighting for.
But perhaps the most pervasive and paralysing story of all is: I can’t make a difference. What is the point of me choosing not to fly/eating less meat/cutting down on my car use/writing to my MP when the rest of the world carries on as usual and people in power are doing nothing?
Which of these stories resonates with you? How does it make you feel? These stories, and the powerlessness and guilt they give rise to, stop us taking action. Why would we try to do anything if we don’t believe change is possible? We need a new story, one that makes it impossible not to act.
Here are some fragments that I am drawing together into my story about climate change. The future is uncertain – yes, it looks bleak, but we do not know how it will turn out, so to give up now would be crazy. Perhaps it has to get this bad (or worse) for enough people to wake up and demand the change we need. It’s true that I can’t change the world on my own, but I’m not alone. I am one of a movement of millions around the world who are working for a future where all life can thrive. And history shows us that, when people come together around a shared cause, previously unimaginable societal shifts are possible. The abolition of slavery. Votes for women. The end of apartheid. The world really can change, even against the odds.
I think we need a place to tell our stories about climate change and to explore new stories that support and encourage us. Watch this space for news about this in September.
In the meantime, if you want to do something about climate change, here are some things you can do today:
Do what you can to reduce your own impact
This is all the obvious stuff: walk and bike more, fly less, eat less meat, compost your food waste, shop locally. Our neighbours in Essex have produced an advice pack for residents full of practical tips at www.essexclimate.org.uk/what-can-i-do. To keep you on track, check out the My Footprint app from WWF which allows you to choose and track challenges.
There are lots of ways to do this. Use your vote, in every election. Sign up for alerts from campaign groups like Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and Possible, and respond to their calls to tweet ministers, email MPs, sign petitions. Join a march or non-violent protest.
There’s so much going on in Stortford already. All the groups and projects shown below welcome new members/volunteers.
Bishop’s Stortford Climate Group: firstname.lastname@example.org
Community Orchards Group: Jillgoldsmith1@virginmedia.com
Grow Green Spaces (community gardening): email@example.com
Velo Voice cycling campaign group: firstname.lastname@example.org
Save our Stort (monthly river clean-ups): www.facebook.com/groups/saveourstort
TUBS (bi-monthly litter picking): tubs.yolasite.com
Breeze Rides (free guided cycle rides for women): email@example.com
Talk about it
In the words of leading climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, the most important thing we can do to fight climate change is talk about it.
“We can’t give in to despair,” she says. “We have to go out and look for the hope we need to inspire us to act. And that hope begins with a conversation, today.”