Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Between hopelessness and hope

A few million activists demonstrated for more climate action last week; the vast majority of scientists agree that, while the climate is changing naturally, human action accelerates this change, making it much more difficult, perhaps even impossible for us to adapt to the new living conditions. And no, the Earth doesn't care about a few degrees more or less – it's all about us (and thousands of other species, but hey, let's ignore these for now, otherwise it will get too depressing).

Facts are clear, consciousness is rising. But there are still far too many who think this is all exaggerated, or that it's some kind of master plan of the evil elite. The climate is fine, we are fine, let's just keep going and burn everything to the ground. Worst of all, our governments seem to think in similar ways. How else can you explain their complete failure of adequate action? In England they are busy with Brexit, in Spain they'll soon have the fourth general election in four years, and in Germany the coalition government just announced a new climate deal which is, quite frankly, a joke.

So what to do? Surrendering? Trying to be happy as long as possible, choosing some nice drugs and closing the eyes? It's definitely a possibility. But as a friend pointed out recently, if you give up on hope, what's the point in living?

But if we don't want to surrender, then what? Is it enough to change the plastic bag for a cotton one? To like a few posts on Facebook and get angry about the status quo? Surely not. As George Monbiot said in a short but very appropriate statement, we have to “stop pissing around at the margins of the problem”.

At this point, everyone who doesn't want to change usually blames China and India. "If they don't do anything, why should I bother?" This is one of the most ridiculous arguments ever! I think it's fairly obvious that the 'West' was the first to benefit greatly from resource exploitation and the consumerist growth madness which has become the new religion. If we were the ones who set the bad example, we should be the ones who now set a good example.

Who knows, we might be screwed already, but if you are not ready to give up hope just yet, here are three things which are said to really make a difference:

  1. Meat and dairy – changing to a plant based diet is a big one. Not only in terms of slowing down climate change and stopping unnecessary torture and killing, but also in terms of effort. It's hard to change your diet. Like smoking, it's a habit. No more burgers? No more cheese, juicy chicken and coffee with real milk? I'm not pointing the finger here, I still consume all of these things myself. But it's just not good enough to not do anything. So if you can't jump into the crystal clear but very cold water of veganism, why not starting with a few small steps? If everybody reduced their meat and dairy intake, the joint effort would result in a huge reduction. Not enough, but much better than nothing. If you eat meat every day, try a few meat-free days each week; if you eat meat three times each week, change to once a week. Try different milk (oat, almond, rice), buy less cheese and learn to make good humus. And don't try to be perfect, just better.

  2. Flights – there are about 200,000 flights in the world, each day! That's pure poison for the atmosphere, period. Do we really need to fly across the continent for a weekend trip? Do we need to have monthly business meetings in London or New York, when video conferences work brilliantly? Do we need to celebrate weddings in Bali?
    Admittedly, sometimes it's not easy to avoid flying in a hyper-connected world full of possibilities. If my daughter wants to travel the world one day, would I tell her she shouldn't do that? If you live in Europe and have family in Australia, should you go by boat each time you want to see your loved ones? What if you only have one week off work and don't have time to travel by train? Or the occasional business meeting which is really necessary, what to do?
    As with meat and dairy, the focus should be on reducing as much as possible. It's better to fly less, than not changing at all. And for those times when it can't be avoided, offsetting your CO2 output is also better than not doing anything. If you don't know about it, check out sites like ATMOSFAIR where you can compensate for your air pollution by paying a bit extra and thus contributing to reforestation and other ecological projects. Basically, you pay trees to clean up your mess.

  3. Activism – every single action is important, but without political change on a big scale, we won't save us. We're probably simply too selfish and too stupid to do it all voluntarily as individuals. And in order for big political change to happen, politicians need to be put under pressure. They have to be guided by the people. A critical mass has to be reached, enough people who say we need a drastic change of direction if we don't want to crash into the wall. One has to start, many have to join – Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for future movement is a great example. Extinction rebellion is another, and there are many more. As one banner on last week's demonstration read: 'The oceans are rising, so are we!'

And no, it's not all about the climate. It's about nature, our home. Most actions which slow down climate change also reduce the destruction and pollution of this planet. In other words, even if you don't believe in human-induced climate change – do you really want to live in a shithole?

I don't.

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