Step 1: learn the basic facts of climate change
Our first task in solving the climate crisis is to know exactly what we're dealing with. This four-minute video outlines the very basics of climate science: what is the greenhouse effect? How do we know the world is warming? What are the major sources of emissions? And what are the consequences? Even if you know this stuff already, it's useful to brush up on. And in my experience, most of us think we know more than we actually doso you may well learn something anyway.
So that's all well and good, but how sure are we of the facts? About as sure as you can be in science. Despite the 'debate' you may hear at times in the media, 97% of scientific papers on the matter agree that climate change is happening and humans are the main cause.
If you're wondering how scientists have figured out all this stuff, this video gives a brief overview of the major figures and discoveries in climate science, stretching back nearly 200 years. Yes, the field is that old!
So how bad is it? Should we be shitting our pants?
Yes. This report was published by the National Centre for Climate Restoration (Breakthrough), an independent, Australian-based think tank. In it, author David Spratt assesses the latest climate science and takes an unflinching look at our predicament. He also explodes a number of myths, chief among them being that there is a 'carbon budget'—an amount of fossil fuels we can still burn and expect things to be ok. He also talks about how the Paris accord—whilst being an amazing feat of diplomacy—is a woefully inadequate response to the climate crisis that gives us only a tiny chance of averting catastrophic warming. So how bad is it? Pretty bad. Make no mistake; it's an emergency, right now. The climate is changing more rapidly than most people predicted. It isn't easy reading, but if we want to stand a chance of having a prosperous future, we need to come to grips with this. Which brings us to our next step.
Step 2: acknowledge how you feel about it
In some ways the report featured in the previous post is controversial. It's taboo to say certain things out loud. Things such as: we're facing the greatest existential threat of all time and if we don't completely transform our whole society very quickly we're fucked.
Why? Because many in the climate movement—most notably Al Gore—believe that the general public need to be protected from the full extent of the awful truth. They don’t want to ‘spook the lambs.’ They argue that if people know just how dire the situation is, they will throw up their hands and give up, or wallow in despair.
I think this approach infantilises people. Of course we need hope, and some positivity, but if that hope is based on wishful thinking then it doesn't serve anyone. It stops us from making informed choices, from struggling with life’s big questions, and blocks us from our greatest potential. I believe that if you openly discuss what’s at stake, people will—possibly after a period of despair and soul-searching—rise to this truth and shoulder the task of change. The thing about grief—and shock and rage and hopelessness and fear—is that it’s the first step to substantive action. It’s only when we look into the abyss, and glimpse its depths, that we truly adjust our priorities. This is the transformative power of climate truth.
Have you ever heard about the guy who smoked and drank and sat on the couch all the time, and then one day he has a heart attack? He survives, but this brush with death has brought on an epiphany. He thinks about his kids and his mum and all the things he loves in life. From that moment on he jogs every morning, eats broccolini and almonds, gives up smoking, and yeah ok he has a couple of beers on the weekend but that's it. This is what we need to do—as a society. This that the climate crisis demands of us.
So your first task on the road to being a climate hero is to honestly think about how you feel about it, and to process those emotions. Many of us will hear or read something about how awful it is, push aside these uncomfortable feelings and focus on other things in our lives that are easier to deal with. I know because I have done this. But if we want a liveable planet—indeed if we want to survive—we must stare into that abyss, because most of us, when we do, when we really think about what is valuable in life, no matter what our political leanings or status in society, will decide that we don't want to go there. That deciding is the first step.
To illustrate this point, in the first 8-minutes of the video below, Katerina Gaita—director and founder of the non-profit organisation Climate For Change—discusses how a period of grief led her to create an organisation that is making substantive grassroots progress on climate change.