THERE IS NO PLANTE B. Global climate change strike - No Planet B - Global Climate Strike 09-20-2019

Photo by Markus Spiske / Unsplash

The climate needs you to start engaging again

When all of us are looking down the barrel of a rapidly warming climate, reinstilling our individual responsibility is actually revolutionary.

In the short months that we’ve seen of 2024 so far, climate news has been particularly grim. 

We know now that 2023 was the hottest year on record, with average global temperatures pushing above the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold of warming that would limit the most savage effects of climate change

The United Nations’ weather agency, the World Meteorological Organisation, has sounded a “red alert” about the record-breaking amount of greenhouse gas emissions that the world witnessed last year. 

According to the organisation, there is a “high probability” that 2024 will be another record-setting year for global heat. 

Scalding ocean temperatures have seen the planet’s most extensive coral bleaching on record. 

And researchers have warned that the Arctic could lose all of its sea ice – by 2035 at the earliest. 

It’s clear that the urgency with which the world has to address the climate crisis is rapidly mounting. Research keeps indicating that 2030 will be a definitive cut-off point for the world to have decreased emissions by at least 50% in order to mitigate the most catastrophic effects of climate change. Which is to say, humanity has six years to act on a significant enough scale in order to course-correct the future of our planet. 

Most Australians are already well acquainted with the dangers of a rapidly-warming globe. We live in a country battered by natural extremes of heat, drought and storms and in recent years, we’ve also borne witness to disasters propelled by rapid climatic change. In late 2019 through early 2020, those on the country’s East coast watched in horror as curtains of bushfire smoke drew over cities and towns while 17 million hectares burned, 33 people lost their lives, and 3 billion native animals were killed or displaced by the blazes. Then in February of 2022, the biggest flood in modern Australian history saw waters rise to over 14 metres in Lismore, pouring into thousands of homes and killing four people. However, when it comes to actually engaging with climate messaging in 2024, so many of us are turning away. 

This is totally understandable. Engaging with the same apocalyptic messaging over and over again is exhausting and particularly so when so many of us are still grappling with the more immediate woes of a compounded cost-of-living and housing crisis. Since mass protests were seen around the world in 2019, there’s been a deadening of energy to act on the climate simply because so many of us feel like we have bigger fish to fry. There’s also a strong possibility that too many of us feel too disempowered in the face of the enormous changes that need to happen in our energy systems and economy to truly slow the climate crisis. Certainly, it’s true that the planet is going to need to see broad and revolutionary policy changes on levels that feel thoroughly beyond our reach as individuals. But staring into the reality of the next six years, we have to try and remember that the climate crisis needs all of us to act, too. 

Climate change messaging has become tricky to craft in recent years and there are a few reasons why. Firstly, the news is so consistently dire that it makes many of us feel like tuning out entirely. Secondly, we may have been led to believe by news around climate litigation and activist movements that clever people are shouldering the burden of change while we’re free to sit back and watch it happen. And lastly, so much of the information that we’re now receiving asserts that the individual has no place in climate action, instead, the notion that only governments and oil giants can alter the course of our history has been drummed into us. It’s time to push back against all of this. It’s time to remind ourselves that we all have a role. 

The truth is, whatever action it is going to take to alter our future will require every single one of us. The concept of acting on climate change has always been fairly off-putting because it requires short-term action for long-term gain, which is both difficult to conceptualise and ultimately feels… annoying. But for those of us in the Global North, it’s past time to start normalising changes in our behaviour and making certain sacrifices. I know it sounds trying but these don’t have to be wild overhauls of our lifestyles and everything that we do should feel within our means… but it does have to become a priority again. 

We have to use our votes, increase political pressure, and take action with organisations when we’re called on (and even when we’re not) – we know that. But there are also ways to ensure that each of us are acting in our own lives for the future. Opting for financial institutions like banks and super that refuse to invest in fossil fuels, swapping out buying fast fashion for ethical or vintage shopping, choosing sustainable or refillable beauty and cleaning products, making a conscious decision to eat less meat, wasting less vegetables and fruit, all of this can amount to massive impact. 

Fossil fuel companies are responsible for the emissions that are choking our atmosphere – but we can’t absorb that message without underscoring the role that our spending, behaviour, and decision-making plays in their success. The environmental movement needs multifaceted efforts, including broad intergovernmental policies and mass social change. Taking our individual responsibilities seriously means reckoning with issues like our wild overconsumption – like needless bits of plastic or the 15 kilograms of clothing that Australians buy on average every year, only to later dump in landfill. It’s easy to feel like we’re absolved of our sins when we feel like nothing we do actually matters – but it really does, not least when we’re talking about actions like buying clothes when the fashion industry is responsible for about 10% of global CO2 emissions every year. 

The notion of shifting our behaviour shouldn’t exactly feel like a drudgery, either. When all of us are looking down the barrel of a rapidly warming climate, reinstilling our individual responsibility is actually revolutionary. By feeling out our own power, we can rediscover ourselves and our communities. It’s easy to look at activists and politicians inciting change at the highest levels and conclude that they’re the only people capable of making a difference but we have to quieten that voice. Doing whatever we can, with whatever talents or resources we have at our disposal, within our own communities, breaks us out of a sense of paralysis and doom. It’s energising to understand that we all have a role to play and it can bring others a genuine sense of hope to witness the people around them participating, even in the smallest ways.