What’s The Guts?
Only Governments can save us from climate change. Don’t get me wrong, anything an individual does to reduce their impact is good. But you can insulate your house, recycle your rubbish, grow your own vegies, use public transport and then undo all that good many times over by voting for National or for ACT or by not voting at all. It is almost impossible for an individual to be truly sustainable because the problems are systemic. In the words of William McDonough all we can do at the moment is be “less bad”.
There is far more that Governments could and should do to accelerate investment in low-carbon energy, housing and transport infrastructure and help individuals to do more to tackle climate change. But they aren’t. Why? Short-term electoral cycles mean that long-term strategies don’t show enough, if any, immediate payback to be politically advantageous. There is limited power of single nations in respect of global markets. Vested interests combine with an ideological distaste of so-called government interference i.e. taxes, subsidies, laws and regulations. The fact that the full effects of climate change may not be evident for decades or even centuries means it is easy to ignore them now. All of these factors make a recipe for doing nothing.
Climate change and environmental protection slipped further down the political agenda in 2008, due to the chaos in the global economy (and in New Zealand by the election of a National/ACT Government). Politicians have become preoccupied with improving public confidence and economic performance in the short-term, as we feel the pinch of the credit crisis, rising prices, unemployment and the economic downturn. But there is no long-term way out of recession unless we build a low-carbon economy.
If a change towards a low-carbon world is going to happen we need to bring about a dramatic shift in the politics concerning climate change. That won’t originate from within the political establishment, or from the private sector. As already mentioned won’t happen purely through individual action either. It will be the result of actions by interest groups which enable people to take meaningful action together rather than in isolation. It will come from a deeply committed and broad social movement who demand action.
Don’t leave it up to the environmentalists
Action on climate change is too important to just leave to the environmentalists. This movement needs to be much broader because climate change affects us all. Climate change is an issue of poverty, housing, health, employment, security, social equality and human wellbeing as well as the environment – it is the definitive social and economic issue of our time. The new movement for action must include community groups; charities; churches and religious groups; unions; transition towns; civil rights groups; students associations; artists, musicians and writers; the health sector; alternative health groups; non-profit organisations; organics groups; cultural and heritage groups; educators, schools and universities; responsible businesses and social entrepreneurs; and so on and so on. The actions of these groups can establish climate change in the public mind and they can deepen commitment and action at community, local and regional level; they can create a movement of people living low-carbon lifestyles and setting an example for others.
Paul Hawken in his book Blessed Unrest makes the case that whilst these groups are disparate in ideology and purpose and non-unified in action their combined influence from a number of fronts will effect change.
So what can you do?
An important role for individuals is to influence politicians and other decision makers who can actually change things. You can do this directly by writing to your local MP or to a Minister. Ask them “What’s the guts?”. You could also write or call your mayor or local body councillor.
You could join the type of group or association mentioned here and ask your family, friends and neighbours if they want to join too.