It is just over ten years since Climategate gripped the global warming debate, a time when many climate change sceptics were seen with wry smiles on their face. Was it true, global warming was not happening? Scientists were wrong? And, had there been a great global warming cover-up? Thankfully this was all dispelled and Climategate disappeared from the media almost as fast as it had appeared. The sceptics retreated, their beliefs were side-lined to the climate change denial forums, blogs and comment platforms. Yet, ten years on they are still there. Why? Is there more to it than simply denying global warming and climate change?
In 2009, we relied pretty heavily on understanding science to understand the meaning and consequence of global warming. For us mere mortals, the subject of global warming and the outcome of climate change seemed like it was someone else’s problem. Were the scientists correct? And, did it even matter? Now, ten years on we have the facts, we see the global catastrophic evidence of climate change: floods, fire, habitats lost, ecosystems destroyed, people displaced, yet, the deniers and sceptics still remain. Just a week ago, I was reading an insightful article by Matt McGrath on BBC News, talking about how climate change is impacting the Marshall Islands, in the Pacific. And, as usual, at the bottom of the piece there was the opportunity to comment. Last time I looked, a day ago (from writing this), it had received 2893 comments. These comments, which range from denial to acceptance, concern to comedy, do raise some interesting questions. With all the facts, figures and catastrophic evidence, are the climate change deniers, excluding the professional toxic trollers, not simply, change deniers? People wanting to live life well, where the fear of change outweighs the rationality of knowledge? And, whatever the answer to that, although many of us don’t deny climate change, can we really say that we, too, are not change deniers and sustainability hypocrites in some way?
Change creates uncertainty, which unburdens that ever so human emotion of anger, and instead of looking at sustainability to build circular lifestyles it has the ability to build vicious circles of conflict. As change appears to be so confusing, isn’t it time we set out a new path of sustainability? This path needs to accept that we have come a long way since Stephenson, the Wright Brothers, Benz and Ford and somehow, we have to grasp our achievements on one hand and innovate with the other, and we have to do this within a realistic timescale. Governments show there is no consensus on that time, the current election in the UK has the political parties arguing that change (e.g. cutting emissions) needs to happen by 2030, 2045 or even 2050. Look at this on a more global scale and it becomes even more confusing: Trump, China…
Then we have the activists telling us to change now, tomorrow is too late. We have teenagers kicking ass, retired folk being arrested on the streets for believing in their cause, and we still have the toxic platforms led by climate change deniers. Instead of the name of sustainability moving us forward we end up in this circular conflict zone, a place of hate and disbelief. Do both accepters and deniers use fear to convince the uncertain? On the one hand if we don’t change we are all doomed and on the other, the deniers tell us that global warming is just a tool of governments to raise taxes, for the rich to become richer and for scientists to have a job.
I want to live my life well and the thought of accepting the demands of climate change is daunting. Our lives have to change. But can we give up or even make the radical changes needed to the life that we so dearly enjoy? And, I am fearful of the changes to our lives that the climate crisis is demanding. I must at this point inject a note of my belief. I am not a denier; I fully believe and accept this is a real and evidenced crisis and if we don’t change, our planet may well be on the edge of extinction. Oh no, I have just used fear to put my point across! But I am, fearful of change. You really mean I have to stop flying, give up eating meat, scrap the diesel car that I was told was a good idea, join the Green Party, and wear clothes made from plants… not to mention every other change we need to make…? Oh, and this has to be done by…? Well, yesterday would be good!
Well, I don’t actually believe this message promotes sustainability, it leaves too many people behind and it lacks such an important emotion that we all need to reclaim, compassion. The way the scientists were treated in 2009 was outrageous, the way comment platforms become so toxic is frightening and the words used to describe campaigners is absurd. Sustainability doesn’t need anger, it needs consensus. You only have to look at the lack of consensus to realise that the changes being demanded are not going to happen on the scale required. Yes, we all need to play our part to certain degrees. I don’t have a diesel car, I am a member of the Green Party (and I love it), I do try my best to live a sustainable life and I have a business that promotes sustainability, but I can’t go so much further so quickly. Does that lack of change make me a denier? No, it makes me human.
As a person who wants to protect our planet AND its people, I firmly believe that profit is a vehicle to progress this. But we need a new, workable path for change. What is that path? What does it look like? It is a path that is truly sustainable and engages the pillars of sustainability, one that encourages us all to step forward incrementally. Humans have made amazing achievements since we learnt to industrialise and think freely, we now need to think fairer. Yes, that will mean a different method to business-as-usual, and surprisingly it will also mean we have to embrace hypocrisy. Change can only happen if we are hypocrites. It is nigh on impossible for us not to be this way. As I write this, I am wearing cotton, I have plastic everywhere and very soon I am flying to Italy for Christmas to be with my wife’s family. Yet as you know, I work in sustainability… I am a hypocrite because I am making changes but at the same time, I want to live life well. We still have a chance to combine living well and protecting our planet and its people, we just need to find the right path – to change the habits of a lifetime.