“Stop saying we are trying to save the planet; the planet will survive, but will humans still be able to thrive on it? That’s the question!” bellowed Christiana Figueres, the formidable Costa Rican and engineer of the Paris Climate Change agreement.
Figueres was speaking at a tech conference in Lisbon about the urgent action needed to reduce global warming. Since brokering the Paris accord, which commits governments to limit global warming to two-degrees, in 2015 she has been a fierce advocate for action on climate change.
But oftentimes it’s as if rule-makers and the most polluting industries aren’t really listening.
As a journalist covering energy and sustainability, I sometimes get a unique view on how to tackle climate change and what prevents progress. Putting it simply; it’s extremely complex. A myriad hot mess of politics, engineering and economics, in fact. But the solutions are there.
To reduce heating of the planet to below two degrees, or the more optimal 1.5 degrees every major industry will need to change, often from the inside out to something completely different altogether.
First on the hit list is the energy sector. It powers everything we do so if we can fully decarbonise the energy ecosystem we are winning. Yet, in reality, we are way off; no one can really envision a fossil-fuel energy sector for several decades. Twenty years seems ambitious. You only need to look at what the companies are doing and Big oil isn’t slowing its investment in fossil fuels.
Beyond energy, the way we live and consume things will most definitely need to change. We simply can’t keep buying clothes made in a factory thousands of miles away only to wear it once and throw it away. As much as we can, we need to stop buying things one minute and discarding it the next.
What string energy and consumerism – fashion, food, travel and… well, everything, together is that changing the status quo will undoubtedly upset the apple cart. People don’t like to change, businesses don’t like to change, especially if it means they will make less money or it will cost them big investments, and governments don’t like to lose out on revenues. Therefore, a huge factor in all of this is, who is going to pay for the transformation? How will our economy survive if we consume less? How do we get fossil fuel companies to move away from the polluting fuels that make them billions a year and on which we depend to power our homes and cars?
These are the big questions many are trying to answer.
As we see the water rising and the fires raging the picture often looks overly bleak, but the good news is, the solutions are definitely there. Governments just need to figure out how to implement them, and at pace, and who is going pay for them. If we really did have a magic money tree we could do most of them now.
It’s our job, as responsible citizens, to keep up the pressure. We have already lost too much time.
Therefore, let’s not squabble about whether someone is a hypocrite because they attend a climate change march but take a plane or two. Let’s focus for a second: if entire industries aren’t decarbonised and relatively quickly, to be frank, people holidaying in Spain every year and eating roast beef on a Sunday isn’t going to make a huge amount of difference.
The systematic wholescale change that’s needed isn’t going to be easy, it will upset many people and there will be resistance. There has already been a LOT of resistance. Indeed, fossil fuel companies knew about climate change decades ago but funded organisations to discredit the science. Then there are politicians like Donald Trump who want to maintain the status quo – such as propping up the coal mining industries – to win votes and make money. There are many like this.
The best thing we can do, along with the obvious things everyone always talks about, is to stay aware of the big issues and think about them when making political and other decisions. Our strongest impact will be as voting citizens, as taxpayers and as consumers. So, get your pen and paper (or email) ready and be prepared to harass the hell out of politicians.
In this ongoing blog series, I will try and highlight some of the key issues impacting climate change mitigation efforts, some of the engineering and technology that can save the day and also the small things you and I can do to keep up the pressure on the those that hold our futures in their hands.