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You, me and the environment

(A shout-out must go to the podcast “Reasons to be Cheerful” for reminding me that this is very, very worth blogging about more….)

I’ve stood for local council for the Green Party in the past, and done a bit of work for them.  And it was exhausting and frequently stressful, and every time the last ballot was counted I swore never to do it ever again, and it is also and incidentally the right thing to do and I’ll probably muddle in again in the future despite being bored of hummus.

Because let’s face it, climate change is the single greatest crisis of the 21st century, if not the single most important crisis humanity has ever faced.  Unlike exciting, sexy, Hollywood-movie crises, it’s a long time coming and a long time fixing.  There’s no hero solving it with a sword; there’s no easy answers.  The problem is almost too big to think about, and consequently we’re very, very good at not thinking about it unless we really have to.

And we have to.

And as individuals, we’re often desperately trying to find something, anything, meaningful to do against a world that is gently going to the flames.

Perhaps you give to charities?  I’m a big fan of Trees for Cities and the Woodland Trust, and there’s a whole slew of organisations, including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the World Wildlife Foundation covering everything from wildlife conservation to cleaning up our horribly polluted, acidic, abused oceans.

Perhaps you’re into activism?  350 is a global activism organisation championing grassroots activism in local communities, such as opposing fracking in the UK or illegal pipelines across Native American Territories in the USA; there are also going to be a dozen local campaigns worth getting involved in!

Or maybe you’re into politics.  There’s a lot of arguments around this – for example, given it’s an environmental movement, does the Green Party need to have a housing policy?  For me the answer is of course it does.  Because climate change is going to affect housing, the economy, welfare, transport, taxation – everything.  Where are we going to get the money from to shore up our beaches?  What are we going to base our industries on now that fossil fuels aren’t a viable option?  How will we handle migration with desertification driving mass movements of environmental refugees?  These are huge political questions, which are fundamentally going to be changed by climate change.  To say “it’s gonna be bad” is meaningless without talking about the big picture, and big solutions.

Of course, a lot of the time the individual need to act is a stick with which we beat ourselves while heavy industry and the fossil fuel lobby does nothing to change its ways – or actively lies about it’s impact environment, as the recent car industry cheating emissions tests have shown.  It’s ok, we’re told – soon there won’t be plastic straws and plastic bags available at your local supermarket!  And sure, that’s a big step, but that’s got nothing on giant corporations utterly failing to change their ways, and our governments refusing to enforce necessary action, as most hideously shown by Trump withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Forcing governments and corporations to change their ways, rather than to piecemeal poke at periphery things that might minorly change ours, is a huge battle, and it will take voting, campaigning and participating to make the difference.

If, however, you’re still looking for a few other things to do in your life, then there are options….

  1.  Vote.  In a first-past-the-post system I know this can be disheartening, but with electoral turnouts still rarely clipping higher than 50%, and significantly less in local elections, every vote does genuinely matter.  Moreover, membership of political parties has plummetted in recent years; if you’re pissed off with a party, get involved.  Grassroots politics can make a difference, and the history of big, systemic change has almost always begun at the bottom.
  2. Food – DIRE NEWS.  If like me you love your bacon, the calamity de jour is that it’s a stinker for the environment.  I’m still a carnivore, so can’t exactly bang this drum with glee, but yeah… less meat is a thing.  And it’s good for our bodies, damnit.  I’m still trying to learn to love cauliflower, but I try, damnit… I try….
  3. Transport.  You know the mega monster beast truck that you drive to work?  You know how you’re the only person who drives it and the last time it had an actual grand piano in the back was 1998?  I’m really sorry to say it, but this is an ecological nightmare.  A fun, expensive, ecological nightmare.  (If you want to get groovy with this, have a play with some online carbon footprint calculators to see how that’s shaping up…)
  4. Divest.  If have some sort of savings or pension, odds are it’s being invested by a bank or a fund in company stocks and shares.  (I know; my bank hasn’t paid me more than 0.25% interest for years, but that doesn’t mean they’re not making a mint.)  A lot of the time, that fund will be invested in the good ol’ staples of economic reliability – oil and cluster munitions.  Thankfully, there are now a few environmentally friendlier options cropping up, including specialists banks which specifically dodge the fossil fuel/war machine bullet.  Meanwhile, both governments and organisations, including UK councils and unions such as Equity, are under pressure to divest their pensions from fossil fuel companies, starving them of the funds they can use to dig up more oil, or build more bombs.  The theory is simple: if the only thing that corporations respond to is cash, then take the cash away.
  5. Energy supplier.  It is now increasingly possible to get on 100% renewable energy tarriffs.  You have more choice, and it’s finally competing with traditional energy suppliers.  Hate your current call centre?  Maybe consider shopping around.

None of this makes a difference at all if it’s just you and me.  The world is too vast.  But if it’s you, me, your aunt Shiela, her mate Steph, Steph’s favourite uncle, the guy the uncle drinks with down the boozer… if it’s all of us, if it’s a thing that we believe in and work for together – we can change the world.  The only reason it doesn’t happen is because we never quite believe that anyone else will get involved.  But other people are no excuse for us; you can lead, and others can follow, and together we can make a difference.