“What’s radical is to write off the fact that change is within our reach”

The quote above comes from Anjali Appadurai, and her passionate speech on climate change. Speaking at COP17 this past December in Durban, South Africa, she outlines what is at stake in terms of climate change and what needs to happen right now.  I have my own ideas of what an ‘appropriate response’ to climate change would be, and it’s very much in line with what this lovely lady so eloquently explains.

This speech gives me chills every time I listen to it, and leaves me wondering if the monumental changes to avert climate disaster are within our reach – as individuals, and as a human society.

Although this might sound severe, I envision an appropriate response to the challenge of climate change to be on the scale of how the world responded to World War II. Even as I write that sentence, I realise there are many people who would think of that comparison as an overreaction. Yet the urgency and severity of the threat, and the need to rethink entire cultural, social and economic systems to counter such a threat, I think warrants such a comparison.

The threat is a worldwide destabilized climate, affecting everything in human and ecological systems. An appropriate response, in my view, would be one that avoided catastrophic climate change – ideally keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius. To keep below the 2 degree threshold it requires, by some estimates, almost a complete decarbonisation of global society by 2050. If you think about all of our human systems globally – from industry to education, health care to recreation, international travel to daily commuting – all of it is underpinned by fossil fuels. Making the move away from fossil fuels without debilitating these systems may be the greatest challenge humankind has ever had to face.

As individuals, how can we approach this challenge?  My partner and I have been reassessing our day to day lives since we’ve moved into a flat of our own – thinking about how our consumption and waste patterns, our recreation, our transportation, and our jobs relate to our environmental and social values. This is an ongoing conversation in our household, one that – at one point or another – bumps up against the limitations imposed by the structures of the society we live in.

These structural limitations are present when trying, as an individual, to make a difference on the climate change issue.  For example, when considering carbon footprint in our household food choices – we have to balance methods used to grow it, process/package it, transport it, and the nutritional value, all within the context of where we are living at the minute (northern England). Although it would be ideal to have thriving local food industries, this is unrealistic given the structures and incentives in place in the UK- namely global trade (cheaper to import from Spain or Mexico), cheap/subsidized fossil fuels (making alternatives to transport seem expensive), current agricultural systems (heavily reliant on fossil fuels), and consumer expectations (to have a global variety of unblemished food all year round). So even though I would love to lead a carbon neutral life, it is logistically impossible at the moment with everything we consume, engage with, and survive on being underpinned by fossil fuels.

Real change will only be possible with worldwide cooperation and a reworking of our globalized systems. Government, businesses, communities and individuals need to think drastically outside the box on this one, and come to grips with the fact that ‘business as usual’ isn’t an option any more.  To make action on climate change politically possible, climate change and its impacts has to become a real priority in peoples lives before politicians and corporations will follow. World leaders won’t make any changes – especially ones that go against the fossil-fueled status quo – without significant public pressure. In this sense, individuals have a remarkably important role to play.

As people who care about our earth and fellow human beings, we need to continue educating people about climate change, inspiring people to take matters into their own hands, and empowering them with the tools to do this. One of the most exciting and positive ways I have seen of late to achieve this, is through a project called Transition Initiatives, or more commonly referred to as Transition Towns.

Simply, a group of people come together in a community, recognizing the dual challenges of climate change and the inevitable end of cheap, accessible fossil fuels. This group responds to this challenge by envisioning how they want their community to function in the future, and then figure out ways to make that happen. This process manifests itself in a variety of ways, each of which contribute to community resiliency, lower carbon footprints, and a lessening of our dependency on fossil fuels. The most encouraging part of this process is the empowerment of individuals and communities at a time where it seems as if our world leaders are paralysed with inaction.

I encourage all of you to check it out: http://www.transitionnetwork.org/ . It’s only one part of the solution, but it is one based in individual empowerment and real gains in community resilience. It’s one positive step amongst all of the disheartening reality of late.

What has  taken me years to realize is that the immense changes we’re facing doesn’t need to be a negative thing. It is an unrivalled opportunity to remake the world in an image that is healthier for individuals, for society, and for ecological systems. With the worldwide economic downturn going into its fourth year, ecological systems in decline, and human systems not faring much better – why not re-imagine our world?

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