Last spring my 9-year old daughter was the only pupil from her school to take to the streets alongside other school children across the country to protest the government’s lack of climate action. Inspired by Greta Thunberg, no less, and driven by a genuine fear for her future, she made a placard and marched through London, accompanied by my husband and me.
As proud as I am of her engagement, it also pains me that my child fears for her future and that of our beautiful planet. As her mother, I’d love to be able to alleviate her fears and assure her that all will be well and that she needn’t worry, but that would be disingenuous. For the science is unequivocally clear: we are heading towards a worldwide climate catastrophe unless we make drastic changes to how we live; what we do, eat, buy, etc. As inconvenient and uncomfortable as it is, Extinction Rebellion is right when they say time is running out. In Britain, the government has only paid lip service to the climate crisis, and their 2050 net-zero carbon target is too little – and a generation too late.
This week saw the beginning of a two-week-long manifestation by Extinction Rebellion across the world, and since Monday, Trafalgar Square and part of Whitehall have been occupied by Extinction Rebellion, a peaceful protest supported by many and criticised by others who complain that the manifestation shuts down traffic and causes a host of inconveniences for those who want to go about their lives as usual.
And, of course, it’s inconvenient when streets are shut down, and you can’t get to your meeting on time, but as the rebels point out, it’s not nearly as inconvenient as a dead planet. Man-made climate change is no longer a fringe opinion but a fact, so why is it that so many of us still resist the message coming from Extinction Rebellion? Why do so many us still feel compelled to rationalise and defend our own considerable carbon footprints?
I know I have tried to justify my own carbon footprint as necessary in order to live a decent life, but in my heart, I know that’s not true. It’s the easy way out; it’s the argument that says that as long as others are flying, it makes no difference whether I fly or not; as long as cows are farmed across the world, there’s no point in me giving up meat, etc.
The more I educate myself about climate change, however, the harder it becomes for me to continue life as usual. As recently as this summer I was convinced that I’d never be able to give up eating meat, but knowing just how devastating meat production is for climate change, how can I keep eating my burgers and steaks in good conscience? Well, the truth is, I can’t.
Saving the earth, and ourselves requires so much more than giving up plastic and going vegan. It demands wholesale system change from top to bottom, it requires us to reassess the way we live, and calls upon individuals as well as businesses and governments across the Western world, in particular, to change what we produce and consume, because our current way of life is simply not sustainable. I’d like to think such change is possible, but I’m not hopeful. I fear that by the time real change happens, it will be too late.
Part of the problem, I believe, is technology. There is no denying that technology has enabled worldwide connections on an unprecedented scale, which is fabulous in many ways, but our ever-increasing reliance on technology has paradoxically left us more disconnected than ever. Disconnected from nature, from community, and from ourselves. We seem to have forgotten that we too are an intrinsic part of nature and that what we do to nature we do to ourselves. Our man-made dependency on technology also means that it is in technology, we seek the solutions to climate change, when the reality is that nature itself holds much of the solution. Geoengineering is not the answer to our problems; reforestation and rewilding are.
As much as it sounds like a cliché, trees are the lungs of the world. Not just trees, but marshes, peats and wetlands all serve as natural carbon captures, yet we continue to rob nature of these precious resources in the name of development and economic growth. Without system change, a complete rethinking of what development means, and a rejection of the current economic system, we will not be able to stop climate change. Yes, it’s inconvenient. But the truth often is.