We can’t afford to sleep on climate risks any longer
The story of Rip Van Winkle, first published 200 years ago, resonates deeply with me. I too feel like I have awoken from a deep sleep to find society greatly changed. I don’t remember setting out to be a polluter, but I am now informed that my per capita greenhouse gas emissions have been destroying the planet at an alarming rate. Students are marching to decry climate change. Local Councils are declaring climate emergencies. Much like Rip who wakes up to find his axe has rusted away, I’m finding that my old ways of doing things are no longer useful, and need to change.
I don’t remember setting out to be a polluter, but I am now informed that my per capita greenhouse gas emissions have been destroying the planet at an alarming rate.
The first thing I need to change is my overwhelming sense of helplessness. This comes from the narrative that there’s “no point trying to change unless the big emitters change first.” Yes the big countries need to change, but when we add up the 168 countries who each emit less than 1% of global emissions each we see the total emissions counts for over a quarter of global emissions. This is as almost as large as China and more than twice the influence of America. Small nations can lead effective change, and bring hope.
The second thing I need to change is my sense of entitlement. I need to realise that convenience and choice are often a luxury that someone else (potentially even future generations) pays for. Driving less or removing plastics will require me to take on some of these environmental, financial, and “convenience” costs. Using public transport will not usually be as convenient as driving my own car. Removing plastic from my food chain will probably mean paying more for unpackaged food. It will also mean being hyper vigilant in regard to food waste (that plastic wrap really does elongate shelf life) and spending more time sourcing unpackaged food alternatives.
Convenience and choice are often a luxury that someone else (potentially even future generations) pays for.
Which is really the crux of the matter. How do we internalise the environmental costs of our choices while balancing the need to look after those who simply cannot afford to pay more? Higher food or petrol costs can mean those on lower incomes are hit hardest; people who are the least able to just go and buy a more efficient car or electric bike. The solutions will not always be easy to find. Becoming an employer that has flexible employment practices so people using buses or trains can minimise travel costs might help. Re-thinking our 9am-3pm school hours might mean fewer additional one off trips to drop off and pick up children.
Ultimately it’s important to remember that the story of Rip-van Winkle is ultimately a story of liberation. Part of this liberation is to realise that the world has moved on while many of us were sleeping, and change will be required. But alongside this we must hold out hope that our actions will make a difference. If we aren’t prepared to change it might be worthwhile wondering what future we will wake up to.