The Environment

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Wendy Cotton

Environment  Editor

The Last Days - Climate Change and Prophecies of Doom

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As I sit to write the final draft of this article I have been reflecting on my journey since the first meeting around Celia’s dinner table when she revealed her idea for the magazine and invited me to be involved to write about my passion for the environment. My initial excitement about being part of such a great project and working alongside such incredible women has changed somewhat since then.... I am still absolutely thrilled to be involved but the niggling doubts about my environmental 'credentials' and the validity of my options has, at times, been excruciating. But, knowing that I am not alone in this and feeling a deep gratitude for the opportunities that are now available to me has given me the confidence to take the leap and share my thoughts, using this page to introduce people and ideas that offer insights and solutions in this extraordinarily significant and challenging time.​​​​


   
The evidence supporting human induced climate change is irrefutable, enormous and potentially overwhelming. In the face of a constant bombardment of negative news about the environment, it’s understandable to deeply feel that sense of being overwhelmed, reach for the delete key or TV remote, and to look for the familiar comfort of denial. If we can sometimes struggle to come to terms with what the inevitability of death means to us as individuals, how can we begin to engage with prophecies of the "death of the planet" or threats to the way in which we currently live?


















 



































 
In a different way Paul Kingsnorth (3) in his recent book “Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist” reflects on alternative approaches. The book charts his disenchantment with the environmental movement that he once embraced and argues for a renewed balance between the human and nonhuman worlds.    
 
As I have been researching the forecast impacts of global climate change I have, at times, had to dig deep to retain my positive outlook. During my first MSc lecture we were warned to be prepared as previous students had sometimes struggled to come to terms with the enormity of the challenges ahead that would be revealed as they embarked on their studies.  And for me, Sunday morning reading in bed has taken an interesting new direction as my partner has had to learn to cope with my enthusiasm for sharing my new found, sometimes terrifying, knowledge!
 
So, in the spirit of positivity, I am sharing a few thoughts on how maybe we can move beyond the sense of being overwhelmed and begin a journey which may have an unseen and positive impact on our individual sense of wellbeing (and could end up saving the planet).
 
Fundamental to beginning to face the enormity of the potential impact of climate change, is to acknowledge the abundance of the choices available to the majority of us here in the UK. I recognise that choices will be much more limited for some but for most people they do exist, to a greater or lesser extent. They may not be the choices that we want and we may feel that they are difficult to implement but they are, nonetheless, choices. Acknowledging the truth of our choices may be difficult but it offers the potential to liberate us from constraints which may exist mainly in our minds.
 
A recent academic article considered a broad range of individual lifestyle choices and calculated their potential to reduce greenhouse emissions in developed countries. The four recommended, widely applicable  and high-impact (i.e. low emissions) actions with the potential to contribute to systemic change and substantially reduce annual personal emissions were: having one fewer child, living car free, avoiding airplane travel and eating a plant-based diet. These choices may be too big for us but any kind of reduction, from taking time to arrange to share car journeys or choosing to be meat-free on some days will have a positive impact. 





 








On a different scale one of the most obvious and significant areas of choice that we have is as consumers. We have a choice about the extent to which we want consumption to be part of our lives and we have a growing number of ways to access innovative alternative ideas, products and initiatives. An interesting way to approach this is to look at how our current way of living measures up –the WWF Footprint Calculator or the Greenpeace Plastics Calculator are good places to start. I admit to being a bit horrified when I did the plastics calculator a few months ago but it encouraged me to think about my choices and have enjoyed seeing how many ways I can find to reduce my use of plastic. My favourite thing at the moment is a nifty collapsible coffee cup which fits in my handbag and I get ridiculous kick each time I use it instead of a throw away cup. A small step maybe but as Vincent Van Gogh said “Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together”.
 
My continuing journey of learning to live in peace with myself has the release of fear at its core and embracement of unconditional love at its heart. Oh, and lessons in Releasing My Inner Trollope from Celia – more of that in the next edition…………
 
 
 
1 Richard Priestley http://www.richardpriestley.co.uk/
 
2 Gabrielle Walker REFORMATIONS 20: CLIMATE CHANGE
Hay Festival 2017,  Saturday 3 June 2017 available to download from https://www.hayfestival.com/p-12472-gabrielle-walker.aspx
 
3 Seth Wynes and Kimberly A Nicholas 2017 Environ. Res. Lett. 12 074024 The climate mitigation gap: education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aa7541/pdf
 
    

The message of the environmental movement over the last 40 years has often emphasised the challenges ahead in terms of loss.  Loss of biodiversity, loss of species and environments, loss of polar ice etc.​
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The evidence is clear, but has the way it’s been communicated undermined our ability to tackle the problem? The message of the environmental movement over the last 40 years has often emphasised the challenges ahead in terms of loss. Loss of biodiversity, loss of species and environments, loss of polar ice, etc. This message has often been accompanied by calls to respond to the looming crisis by giving things up, often the things that we have worked hard to achieve or which feel fundamental to who we are and the way in which we are perceived by others.
 
I’ve been interested in the environment for a long time but have felt a deep uneasiness at being part of any movement which has fear at the core of its message, no matter how important the issue or how real the threat. This is perhaps why I was so drawn to a series of lectures which were advertised as “Global Problems, Global Solutions” run by environmental activist Richard Priestley (1) in 2012. I found his positive message about the innovative ways in which people all over the world are meeting climate challenges, exciting and uplifting. His talks and message have enabled me to engage with the subject in a new
way.

Many long-standing environmental activists are now realising that prophecies of doom are not helpful in encouraging the changes in behaviour needed to tackle both the causes of climate change and the negative impact of the growing world population on the environment. Some are also choosing to focus on the potential for positive impacts of living in closer harmony with the natural world and realising the benefits that this can have personally and collectively. I was thrilled to hear Gabrielle Walker (2), climate scientist and strategist, reflecting exactly what I have been feeling in her talk at the Hay Festival earlier this year arguing that “it’s time to stop focusing on disaster and start pouring our energy into imagining - and creating – the promised land. Because fundamentally the planet doesn’t care what we do. This is about saving ourselves.” The talk happened just as President Trump announced that the US may be withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement - to the horror of most of the audience. However, the news also prompted one of the few discussions on climate change during the UK general election and immediately many US states and 61 city mayors said that they “will adopt, honour and uphold the commitments to the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement” bringing the subject to the centre of political debate. 
Fundamental to facing the enormity of the potential impact of climate change, is to acknowledge the abundance of the choices available to many of us here in the UK.  Acknowledging the truth of our choices may be very difficult but it offers the potential to liberate us.​​​​​

My favourite thing at the moment is a nifty collapsible coffee cup which fits in my handbag and I get a ridiculous kick each time I use it instead of a throw away cup.