Climate emergency: The time is now
The UK is experiencing its hottest days on record. So far, at its most intense the heatwave has reached 40 C. Inside homes that are uninsulated and not accustomed to such heat, we have been sharing tips on how to keep cool, taking turns to sit in front of fans and filling “hot” water bottles with ice cubes. Meanwhile hospitals have been melting, quite literally, along with roads and train tracks that expand and bend out of shape causing trains to be cancelled.
Aside from damaging infrastructure around 1,000 people in England and Wales have died as a direct consequence of the heat. And yet this is nothing compared to the devastation happening in other parts of the world.
The impact of climate change is irrefutable. If we look at the past (something many climate deniers enjoy), we can see that all the signs pointing towards the end of civilisation as we know it are here. While this message may have sounded alarmist a year ago, there has been a swell of voices getting louder to warn us of human extinction, not before we suffer through extreme, deadly weather events, famine, drought, more pandemics, the wars these will cause and the toll all this will place on our physical and mental health.
Despite all the evidence, action so far has been pitiful. The fossil fuel industry continues unabated and enabled by government tax breaks, and we are inundated with corporations’ “net zero” pledges to be achieved by whichever arbitrary year that takes their fancy.
This means that the responsibility of avoiding climate catastrophe is left to us, the non-billionaire worker humans. It’s too late for small measures – only radical, long-term and widespread action will be sufficient. The good news is that this is starting to happen. At the time of writing, #EnoughIsEnough is trending in the UK – yes, it’s another hashtag swimming in a sea of slogans, but for the first time in decades a campaign is uniting nurses, postal workers, tenants, drivers, carers and everyone on a low income to strike for real pay rises, energy caps and affordable homes.
Throughout August, UK workers from many different sectors are going on strike. In the US, record numbers of people are unionising. These movements are simply asking for a quality of life that has been systematically squeezed by years of flawed economics that put growth and profit before people, which we now know is destroying the planet.
As consumers we often feel powerless, but without us the Amazons and Ikeas of the world couldn’t swell into the giant monopolies they have become. Shoppers, customers, beneficiaries – we must withdraw what businesses covet the most: our money.
The average energy bill has already risen by over 50% in 2022, with another 40% hike possible by autumn. Meanwhile Shell, BP and their peers in oil and gas are making obscene profits to the tune of £2.3 billion a day, giving the sector unfettered power to “buy every politician, every system” and delay action on the climate emergency.
Britain’s Don’t Pay UK campaign is aiming to use mass non-payment to force energy companies to lower their escalating prices. This method worked in the past when in 1990, 18 million people refused to pay the poll tax. In their own words: “Even if a fraction of those of us who are paying by direct debit stop our payments, it will be enough to put energy companies in serious trouble.”
Another example: the fashion industry accounts for up to 8% of global carbon emissions. Polyester is made from fossil fuels and contributes to the release of plastic microfibers into the ocean and the piling up of waste in landfills. Buy second-hand clothes instead of high street fast fashion made in sweat shops where garment workers are treated little better than slaves.
Meat and dairy contribute 14.5% of global emissions. Switch to plant-based alternatives as much as possible. Shop local. Ditch Amazon.
The environmental antinatalist movement advocates for having fewer children or being child-free for the benefit of the environment. In her recent book, ‘Do child-free people have better sex?’, feminist author and philosopher Verena Brunschweiger explores the science behind this and finds that the single most impactful thing a human being can do to reduce emissions is procreate less. Having one less child prevents the release of 58.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, while the second most effective climate mitigator – giving up a gas-guzzling SUV – saves 3.6 tonnes per year by comparison.
“I always show people this chart which shows how much carbon you can save if you don’t have children, compared to not flying, going vegan and living car-free,” Verena says. The more children you have the more carbon emissions multiply, of course.”
Antinatalism is growing in popularity but remains controversial – Verena says she is vilified for her views in her native Germany. But it raises very valid concerns over the quality of life a child born today may experience over the course of their lifetime. Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex has previously said he would not have more than two children for environmental reasons. Singer Miley Cyrus once famously said that “until my kid would live on an earth with fish in the water, I’m not bringing in another person to deal with that. We don’t want to reproduce because we know that the earth can’t handle it.”
Verena says: “We have really big problems like war, pandemics, zoonoses and environmental decline. These are so impactful to everyone’s life, and I just can’t grasp why anyone would bring a new innocent person to all this.”
“The point I’m always trying to get across is that really it’s us in the Western world at fault because we consume so many resources. We actually created the climate change others have to bear, and then we turn away people who come to us as climate refugees.”
Exit the rat race
The timing of the rise of the antiwork movement and the renewed strength of trade unions is not coincidental. Growing numbers of people are realising that without water and vegetation to sustain human life there is little point in attempting to climb the career ladder. Tech sectors in particular are seeing a significant amount of people leave to become climate activists or work on green technologies.
“There is a whole world of professional networks and people who are working in green tech,” says Caroline Dennett, who publicly left her job at Shell this year over the company’s greenwashing. “Many professionals have turned their skills to finding solutions. Recently, having seen how many people are working on this, I have hope.”
Caroline worked as a consultant for Shell for over a decade. To people who work for companies with questionable environmental practices, she says: “If you have the luxury of choice like I had, get out if you can. That will put the pressure on internally. If you have to stay because you don’t have a choice, ask to see the plan. Ask for that plan to be as deeply embedded in the organisation as their safety performances, and for it be tracked and updated.”
The time really is now, or it will be never.