It’s been a long time since I’ve had the chance to sit down and write about the environment and natural world but, of course, that doesn’t mean things haven’t been going on. Most notably perhaps, President Obama rejected the second wave of plans for the XL pipeline – that was good news – but the disaster that was the Durban climate summit also took place, effectively letting leaders fiddle for the next 8 years as the world burns.
In the midst of this my mind has been focused increasingly on the values that are at the root of our lack of ability to respond to this problem maturely and effectively. The buzzword for 2012, like all of the years before it, is ‘economy’. The problem of growth continues to absorb our politicians. Towards the end of last year George Osborne announced that we must prioritise the economy over the environment because a healthy economy was a necessary start point from which to attempt to tackle our environmental crisis. He claimed, in effect, that the most important thing to get sorted was the economy – and that without that we could have no chance of sorting out climate change. The flaw in this argument seemed pretty obvious to me: without the environment there is no economy. I’m not suggesting that climate change is going to completely destroy the environment until it no longer exists, but it is going to drastically change it. The environment is going to become increasingly hostile and then the basis of our societies – soil, agriculture, water – the things that we all really need (not just think we need) will become either damaged or scarce. Economic growth does not even begin to get off the ground without a strong set of natural resources as a base layer to support it. It makes me think of the old native Indian proverb that ends ‘only then will you realise money cannot be eaten…’
This blind focus on growth as the solution to all of our problems, and on the current ‘economic climate’ as the source of all our woes, is clearly missing the mark. But so, still, are most of our attitudes. I remain shocked by the number of people who still seem to think that climate change, somehow, does not apply to them. It is still an issue that they have no responsible role in, for someone else to sort out – a green agenda that only concerns environmentalists. Yet, climate change is already affecting the lives of hundreds of thousands of people – and some figures suggest that if warming continues on the trajectory it’s on (and there is no sign of it stopping), and we reach or exceed 6 degrees, only 10% of the human population will survive. With figures like this it should be clear that climate change is the largest case of human injustice we may ever face. And, I shall be brazen enough to suggest, people who give no heed to climate change yet claim to care about the suffering of other humans are falling into a hypocritical trap. Our main concern on this Earth should be to save our climate. And yet, for some mysterious reason, our heads still seem to be stuck in the sand.
As for our role as responsible causal agents of climate change, we only need to look at statistics to see how negative the effects of individuals in the developed world can be. If everyone lived in the manner of the average UK citizen, we would require more than 3 planet Earths to sustain us. An article I caught on twitter recently stated that by January the 13th the average British citizen has already caused the equivalent of the average Kenyan’s annual carbon emissions. Because of its leading role in Industrialisation, the UK has caused 15% of the emissions now threatening the atmosphere – and although, of course, the current population were not responsible for all of this we are still reaping the benefits and over consuming in an irresponsible and immoral way. We are all responsible for the problem of climate change – and none more so than the citizens of the developed world.
Our value systems seem to have failed us. Our politicians are concentrating on the bizarre notion of infinite growth, fallaciously thinking that if we achieve it, everything else will follow, while the rest of us either refuse to accept the implications of the climate issue and our roles as responsible agents in it, or turn to denial. This might sound like an overly negative blog to kick off the New Year with, but we need to start being realistic. We need to stop closing our eyes to our problems, denying our responsibility, or fixating on other issues. Most of all, for a lasting, positive approach to the environment, we need to assess and alter our value systems so that the planet that sustains us and gave us life is no longer idiotically excluded.