I get frustrated with people talking about the consequences of climate change as being some far off disputed theory. We are already seeing the consequences, it is just that they are affecting the group of people we have become so used to ignoring, the poor and marginalised.
The Human Impact report from the Global Humanitarian Forum states that climate change is leaving 300,000 dead every year (that’s the equivalent death toll of a 1000 September 11th). In addition the report states that 325 million people (that’s 4 times the population of the UK) are already seriously affected by climate change. This could be through serious weather events, rising sea levels or desertification which can bring hunger, disease and poverty.
Climate change is already, and holds the potential to increasingly, hamper our efforts to tackle poverty, malnutrition, human rights abuses and many more very worthwhile aims. For anyone who wants to see any change in the world that affects humans, tackling climate change has to be your number one priority.
Where to start? Without wanting to sound like a cliché and quote Gandhi, start with yourself. An average person in the UK produces 9.8 tonnes of CO2 per year (compared to just 0.2 tonnes if you live in the least developed countries). It is one of the great ironies that it is the developed world who is predominantly causing the problem of man made climate change through a system which has systematically screwed over the majority world (everybody else) but it is the poorest “bottom billion” who are disproportionately suffering.
Of course, due to the above mentioned ignoring of the poor and marginalised, we (the minority rich) refuse to except that our actions are causing such levels of human suffering. Why would you think about this? It is a horrible thought. But let’s not beat ourselves up about it. Most people, are not acting maliciously, it is an unintentional impact. We can see that when ordinary people are given easy and accessible ways of reducing the harm their actions have they tend to take it. Fairtrade is a good illustration of that. All we need is for people to associate their actions with the suffering we can see occurring because of climate change (or being extenuated because of climate change). It won’t fix the problem but it will start the wheels of change rolling.
Action doesn’t have to be painful. There is no beards, bare feet and beetroot involved in turning your thermostats down by one degree (and saving 10% on our heating bill). Sadly though, this by itself is not enough. Any environmentalist who tries to convince you a sustainable future in the next 100 years is all skipping through fields and cycling in the sunshine is either misleading you or exceptionally stupid (I wouldn’t rule either out).
We need to reduce our personal carbon footprint. Not just one or two of us, but all of us (well the 5% who make up the “developed world”). Some things will be better (hopefully), some things will be different and some things will be worse. What we need to do though is stop hiding our heads in the sand and do something.
Firstly, work out your personal carbon footprint on one of the many on-line counters. If you are normal, it will come out around 8-12 tonnes of CO2 a year. If (like me) you are a “greeny” (technical term) it will come out 4-8 tonnes of CO2. The startling truth is that we need to be aiming for 1-2 tonnes of CO2 per person per year. This is a big drop by anyone’s standards. If you are already below 2 tonnes and live a relatively normal life then tell people about it. For everybody else, start with the easy things; change your electricity supplier, turn your heating down, get solar installed etc. None of this hurts.
I know people do not want to change. I know people do not want to think about the thousands of people dying, going hungry, loosing their homes and suffering but we do not have a choice. If we do not act now, we will go down in history as the generation who monitored unprecedented levels of suffering but did nothing about it. The scale of the current problem is only going to escalate. We are not prepared to deal with the looming crisis.
I do not consider myself to be an environmentalist because I like the environment. From my own personal perspective I couldn’t give a shit if the Panda was extinct. I do care though about people. I care about the thousands who are currently dying, the millions suffering and the billions in the future who we are leaving with a pretty bleak outlook. At the moment the consequences seem foreign, but it is only a matter of time before they are on our doorsteps.