As you might imagine deciding to get myself arrested (twice) last week was a hard decision to make. I am a 52 years old middle-aged woman, I have two masters degrees, no points on my licence and plenty of respect for the law. But as I said to the policewoman that suggested I might want to take my protest off the road – the situation is dire and nothing else seems to work. So what is going on?
Until recently I thought environmental issues and climate change were one and the same. We recycled everything we could, spent loads of money on insulating our home, put solar panels on the roof and when our oil tank cracked we replaced it with a wood pellet burner. I definitely felt like I was doing my bit. Then XR showed up in my life and I realised I was living in a bubble of ignorance.
I think one of the reasons I failed to understand what is going on is that I did not have access to expert advice. I equated 1.5% rise in global temperature to my moving the house’s thermostat 1.5% one way or another. Not much of a difference. Right? Well. Turns out that turning nature’s thermostat a tiny little bit up has huge repercussions for life on earth.
While I was obliviously recycling and ‘doing my bit’ scientists, Friends of the Earth, Green Peace and countless activists were working really hard to wake the public up to the impending disaster. I didn’t hear their call. Below is my graph of shame. In 1965, two years before I war born, President Johnson said “This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through… a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels“. The IPCC was set up in 1988. I was 21. Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997. I was 30 years old. The forth IPCC report warned that the serious effects of warming have become evident in 2007. I was 40 years old. The Paris Agreement was signed in 2015. I was 48 years old. And all this time I was oblivious. I took a return flight to Paris to see a Giacometti exhibition. I flew to the US several times because that is where my yoga teachers taught. I know someone that flew to South Africa for a 30 minutes meeting and worked for a company that flew someone around with their boss so that they could work together during the flights. And greenhouse gas emissions went up and up and up. And they still do!
One of the things I did not understand was that what we emit now impacts us later. Like how the impact of a heavy drinking night is felt the morning after. The climate crises is like that, but much more complex and over a significantly longer time scale. The temperature changes we are experiencing now are the result of emissions that were released during decades. We won’t feel the full impact of what we are putting into the atmosphere now for a long time but we have to make an emergency break now.
When things get really bad it will be too late to do anything.
I can hear you shouting ‘technology, technology. We have the technology. Technology will sort it’. The good news is that huge strides have been made with technology such as renewable power. However, because the public is not grasping the enormity of the crisis there is a lot of NIMBY objections to wind turbines (and other technological solutions too. Wind turbines are just a very visible example). Green technology will only come to the fore with support from the public, politicians and businesses. So take personal responsibility. Say Yes!
I hear you shouting ‘capitalist, capitalism. The markets will sort it.’ The markets’ horizon is limited by short-term profit-led decision making cycles that are too short to factor in the climate emergency. For example, in terms of our carbon emission budget, we already know about more oil fields than we can safely use if we want to keep the earth inhabitable but oil companies keep searching for more because that is how they make themselves attractive to their shareholders.
One of the key changes that could help capitalism be part of the solution is carbon pricing. This does exist in the EU but is fundamentally constrained by the lack of carbon pricing in other countries where there is no cost to emitting CO2. Of course, there are no global carbon pricing mechanisms in place because corporations lobbied not to have them. There are lots of other examples of corporations putting profit before survival. In fact, the list is endless, which is why I am skeptical about capitalism and the markets saving the day.
I hear you whispering ‘politicians. Politicians.’ Well…. . I can limit my response to one word ‘Brexit’. Need I say more? Probably not. But I will. Blair and Bush insisted there were weapons of mass distraction in Iraq even though the experts said there were none. That country was completely demolished. Millions of people were displaced and irrevocably traumatised, many others died and to this day, no sign of weapons of mass distraction. I learnt to trust the experts.
This brings me back to the fact that one of the reasons I failed to understand what is going on was that I did not have access to expert advice. What are the experts saying about climate change? 97% of scientists researching various climate related issues believe we are in an emergency situation. It is no longer about change. It is a full blown crisis. A climate emergency. We have 18 to 12 months to put the right policies in place and about 10 years to change our behaviour (based on the policies that will be put in place during those 12 to 18 months). If we don’t act within this narrow window of opportunities things look really grim. We will still be able to pray to the gods and hope that deep adaptation will be a viable option for some (but many others will die).
I got myself arrested twice last week because XR woke me up to what is going on and I believe they are waking lots of other people too.
Find an expert. Get yourself educated. Let the BBC know you want to know the truth. Write to your MP. Let everybody in a position of power know you want them to behave as if the truth is true. Beat the drums, spread the word. This Is not a drill. Our house is on fire. We need to act. We need to act NOW!