I’m an optimist from a long line of problem solvers, I was brought up with the mindset that there is no problem too big to fix so even if at first something seems overwhelming you might as well have a go at solving it. This is the case with climate change, the majority of people I know are aware of climate change but it seems like a distant problem and they feel like they can’t contribute enough to solving it so don’t do anything. So what motivates me?
The things which motivate me can be placed under two categories: fear and hope.
The fear category represents all the things that I as an individual don’t want to be destroyed by a failure of our species to act on this and other environmental issues. As an Ecologist I’m passionate about protecting the other species on this earth but also very aware of how much we depend on biodiversity to provide us with food, energy, materials for goods and services, space to feel free, buffer us from extreme weather events and turn our waste products back into clean water and nutrients which fertilise our soils. Biodiversity is key to providing these services as this helps maintain ecosystems which can react to changing conditions. However due to a combination of habitat loss and climate change impacts the forecasts for the health of the world’s ecosystems under the business as usual scenario aren’t great. If we don’t swiftly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions it is highly likely that 2/3 of vertebrate species alive today will be extinct be the end of this century. This translates into reduced crop yields, altered rainfall patterns, dead fisheries and broken ecosystems Many of the keystone species which help maintain the conditions for our civilisation to thrive will be gone and we’ll gain the title of the first ever species to have evolved on this earth to have knowingly caused a mass extinction and not done anything about it.
Of relevance to Britain is how the Amazon fuels the weather systems which provide our rainfall, currently the Amazon acts like a giant humidifier. Trees pump water vapour into the atmosphere via a process called transpiration. Much of this is recycled within the Amazon itself falling as rain or mist soon after being transpired by the trees but a hefty proportion of it is swept in our direction by the air currents associated with the gulf stream to provide much of our rainfall. IPCC models predict that if warming proceeds much beyond 3°C the Amazon rainforest will go dry and disappear in a very big puff of smoke, with it an important source of rainfall that is vital for agriculture throughout Europe.
I’m currently in my mid twenties and I’m very conscious that if unabated the impacts of climate change will be in full swing by the time I retire. I want to pass on a healthy world to future generations and I don’t fancy explaining to my niece and nephew why we failed to act. I recognise that this is no mean feat. To avoid dangerous climate change we need to leave 70-80% of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground and promote regeneration of the world’s forests to help sequester the carbon that is already in the atmosphere.
Hope represents my vision for a more sustainable, zero carbon world. For the UK this means aiming to go zero carbon by 2035. Based on the 3000 people who showed up to the Edinburgh People’s climate march last September along with the millions who hit the streets globally this is a vision I know I share with many others. A zero carbon society means cities free of smog and traffic noise, a healthier more active population, well insulated warm homes, thriving communities empowered by the chance to take ownership of their own food and energy production reducing our dependence upon other nations for our energy needs and healthy ecosystems allowing wildlife to thrive while providing space for us to play and relax.
There are also glimmers of this society emerging: recently the Economist reported that 2014 was the first non-recession year in which global carbon dioxide emissions flat lined due to a move away from coal, the divest from fossil fuels movement is gaining momentum as large institutions such as the Rockerfeller group and Glasgow University move their money out of fossil fuels, countries and cities all over the globe are spawning a renewable energy revolution with Scotland on track to meet its target of 100% renewable electricity generation by 2020 and people are organising to drive change from the bottom up.
That said the risk still remains that governments and corporations with vested interests in an economy addicted to fossil fuels will stifle change. For example in the UK the recent discovery of vast quantities of oil in South East England represents a major decision we have to make about the kind of future we want to create, for many it represents a line in the sand that we simply should not cross as exploitation of this resource would lock us into oil dependency for more years than we can afford. Globally big oil companies like Shell are pushing further and further into hostile regions such as the arctic to access previously marginal oil reserves. An oil slick in this region would devastate the arctic ecosystem and seriously impact fish stocks relied upon by millions of people.
SO WHAT DO WE DO?
I don’t have all the answers but together we do, this is no longer an issue of technology. We’re an intelligent species and already have the tools and technology to create the zero carbon society that so many people want it is simply an issue of will. The most powerful thing anyone can do is organise, link up with others in your community working on climate related issues whether it’s growing food locally, campaigning to pressure governments and companies to change their practices, creating renewable energy schemes, reducing waste or working to build sustainable homes. It is likely that someone in your community is already active in doing something and would love a helping hand.
Although 2015 is a big year as far as global climate negotiations are concerned and we should pressure the UNFCCC to deliver when it comes to the talks in Paris this December the track record over the previous 20 years makes it clear that we can no longer pin our hopes on the efforts of world leaders to take action for us. We need to take ownership of this issue and work together to make our own villages, towns and cities sustainable. In Edinburgh a new coalition has emerged in recent months under the banner of the people’s climate movement. We aim to provide a platform to unite and motivate all local groups, businesses and organisations acting on climate change to drive Edinburgh and surrounding communities zero carbon by 2035 and we are making progress.
SO WHERE CAN I START?
If you can make it to Edinburgh on Saturday May 23rd there will be a People’s Climate Assembly designed to inform inspire and equip attendees with the tools and knowledge to organise and act on the climate change issues that they are passionate about. For more information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you can’t attend then a simple internet search will likely yield results, contact your local Friends of the Earth , Transition towns or Greenpeace group. They’ll likely have contacts and links to local projects you can get involved in from direct action to community energy projects you can invest in.
As I said at the start, I’m an optimist I am confident that we as a species have the potential to secure our future by preserving rather than trashing this little blue and green dot we call home. I’ve been inspired by the recent buzz around this issue. I’d much rather reach old age and tell stories to my Niece and Nephew about how we worked together to protect our environment for future generations than how we failed to act. If we allow ourselves to succumb to despair then we will fail but if we act and organise then we may just pull it off so let’s give it a go eh?
MSc Ecosystem Services, BSc Ecology and Conservation
Leader of the Edinburgh RSPB Phoenix group for teenagers aged 11-16 interested in wildlife, GIS Technician for Scottish Water and active participant in the Edinburgh People’s Climate movement.