From Climate Anxiety to Climate Therapy
The UN climate report is 100% anxiety - here's a small antidote of hope
We should all have read the UN IPCC climate report by now (try saying that after a few drinks). For those of you who missed it, presumably because you were too busy sticking fingers in polar ice caps to reverse melting - human induced global warming is a fact - one that has led to alarming increases in wind (don’t go there), rain, heat, extreme storms, flooding, drought and sea level rises. It’s a whole potpourri of meteorological bedlam.
We understand the climate challenge by now. If we don't keep global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels we risk creating a planet with unbearable heat and sea level rises that threaten every coastal community. This would usher in food shortages, the collapse of biodiversity and a possible extinction level threat. We are currently at 1.07 degrees above where we should be and breaking 2 degrees by 2050 looks pretty much baked in.
As if this was not bad enough, the IPCC climate report tells us that every additional 0.1 degree of warming further accelerates the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. (Good to know). Currently we’re adding 0.1 degrees of warming every handful of years, which is environmental gobbledygook for oh f*** we’re about to hit the wire! And that means WE have to make changes this decade.
It would be remiss not to point out that we could be looking at the end of mankind. Sorry about that. While nature might welcome this, we have a vested interest in trying to find a real roadmap out of the mess. And we need to get on with it because things aren't getting any better. Last year was one of the hottest on record. This year emissions are expected to pop back to record levels and scientists tell us that just 3% of the world’s land remains ecologically intact with healthy populations of its original animals and undisturbed habitats.
So, this UN IPCC climate report is not just unintelligible to most mortals, but also so utterly depressing that it’s more likely to create mental health issues than any of the lockdowns Covid threw at us.
It’s time to change tack. We should move the debate beyond this interminable climate anxiety and look at the solutions. Being mere mortals we have examined five of the most likely fixes for climate anxiety that, done by enough of us, should return us to a period of climate calm.
We have to reduce emissions and get better at capturing and storing carbon in the right places, rather than letting it escape into the atmosphere which only adds to the heating problem. We also need to use the laws of gravity to identify a handful of possible solutions that will make most of the difference - then focus hard and fast on rolling them out.
Here are 5 macro-solutions to the climate problem, that combined, could get us there:
‘Renewables’. Renewable energy has relentlessly defied predictions - particularly wind and solar - but the list is growing to include green hydrogen, nuclear and heat pump. Renewable costs are continuing to fall on a year-to-year basis, while oil, gas, and coal from new sources are significantly more difficult to extract, which will cause carbon-based fuels to rise in cost. We are in the middle of the greatest energy transition in history. Economics make its arrival inevitable: Clean energy is less expensive. There is a growing list of renewable energy approaches and a greater amount of energy supply is green. But countries need to accelerate the transition through industrial policy, incentives and licenses. The future is renewable and a full transition will make a sizeable dent in carbon emissions. Momentum is in our favour and much can be achieved by 2030.
‘Electrification’. We are also in the midst of an electrification revolution as vehicles, boats, planes, garden tools, work tools and heating systems make the switch from fossil fuel to electric. Most nations net zero plans are centred around renewable energy plus electric vehicles. A growing number have introduced plans to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by, or before, 2035. Other countries should follow the lead. Market forces and incentives could tip the balance by the end of the decade. Lower income families should be supported through the transition. Governments also need to power electric grids with renewable energy and accelerate the rollout of charging stations.
‘Replacements’. As we get clearer about the most polluting resources and materials that feature in our products and services, a growing number of entrepreneurs are developing sustainable alternatives - which we call ‘replacements’. For instance, we know that concrete and tarmac are major polluters. There are a number of alternatives that are carbon neutral. We need to develop similar green replacements for paper, pulp, building materials, roof tiles, animal feed, food, clothing, packaging and more. Expect green replacements available for most offending materials and products by 2030. ‘Replacements’ include investors changing strategy to back climate responsible investments. Governments can accelerate the transition with fines or health warnings for the worse incumbent polluters - but in the end it will be up to us.
‘Rewilding’. Rewilding has come a long way in the last 30 years. It is the most holistic solution to the biodiversity crisis. Large scale rewilding can be utilised to restore vast wildernesses, restoring habitats and wildlife populations. Smaller-scale, or mass market rewilding help us to return gardens, parks, verges and smallholdings to nature. Rewilding is the best mechanism for storing carbon in the ground and in our seas - where it should be. Two thirds of annual emissions are absorbed this way. We need to rehabilitate our soil and water to absorb more. A number of countries are setting targets for nature restoration. Some argue that thirty percent of land needs to be rewilded. Twenty percent would be a good start.
‘Lifestyle’. There are a modest number of lifestyle changes that we, as a society, can make to reduce emissions and store more carbon in the ground. Everyone can plant trees in their garden and community spaces. And forget Movember - No Mow May is the new hip. We can eat a little less meat and buy less single use plastics. We can all recycle waste. These are short term changes that can be nurtured through good media stories, education and government influence. Longer term we will have to be persuaded to buy electric vehicles, green homes and wildlife gardens. If such a cultural revolution can come about this decade we could find ourselves in a better place by the 2040’s.
Success and survival will depend on each of us taking action. You too!
As we learn more about climate change and the approaches required to reverse the worse effects, it gets clearer what we need to do about it - so long as we embrace the science and focus to accelerate humanities path to survival. We need to harness our positive energy doing what it takes to get the graphs measuring global warming to flatten out - and maybe even fall one day!
The roadmap and timing is down to us. But there is a way out of this mess. At least we know more about what works. We might finally switch the narrative from climate anxiety to climate therapy and our effectiveness at tackling the climate crisis.
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