Last night I attended a great, packed meeting with three inspiring speakers and one clear message: the problem of climate change is looming faster and more dangerously than ever. Our planet is in the condition of a gravely sick patient. It's too hot, its circulatory systems are full of toxins and its bloodcells - plants and animals - are dying off in droves. Unfortunately, the vector for this disease is us - humanity.
The planet's immune system is kicking in, with storms, sea surges and droughts threatening almost everywhere. The consequences are terrifying, but the fear doesn't seem to be working - the UK government has just made inexplicable cuts in renewable energy resourcing while at the same time reducing tax for the oil and gas industry, while the average person continues to stick their head in the sand and carry on as if nothing was happening.
But it doesn't have to be this way. We do know what we need to do to tackle climate change, and step one is revolutionising our economies. And you know what? That will lead to all sorts of amazing and exciting things that we can all look forward to. So here's my go at listing 10 fantastic results that will follow from taking on climate change.
1) It will restore huge parts of the earth to a state of beauty and peace we can all enjoy
It turns out, planting forests, restoring wetlands and fenlands, cleaning rivers and lakes, and protecting the ocean, are just what we need to do to prevent further climate change. These are the planet's vital organs and given the chance and a bit of time they will heal the damage done. Too much carbon in the atmosphere? Give that job to the trees and bogs, which pull carbon out of the air and fix it in their tissues. We could make the world like we imagine Eden to be again. Green, quiet, teeming with life. And wouldn't that be cool?
2) It will make the earth into a giant wild animal park
Well, maybe not exactly. But if we get number 1 right, it turns out that will encourage all forms of life. Imagine going to your local wetland, forest or rewilded meadow - and everyone will have one of those, because we can make little havens even in the middle of cities - and spotting critters like otters, kingfishers, foxes, hawks and butterflies by the score. We might even get some species that have died out back - imagine if lynx, elk, beavers, maybe even wolves - once again roamed the UK!
3) It will make the world more equal
One of the problems of our current economic system is that it relies on a widely spread-out method of making stuff. Raw materials are bought cheaply from one place, shipped to another and with huge amounts of energy changed into processed materials, which are then shipped elsewhere (more energy lost) to be made into parts, which then go to a new place, and even the eventual finished product is often sent elsewhere for packaging before it's finally shipped and trucked to its point of sale. This wasteful process has allowed businesses to shop across the globe for the cheapest labour they can find, and that's resulted in economic disaster for many communities.
What's more, that labour is often cheap because the people involved live in unregulated societies - societies that have not yet solved the problem of protecting workers or the environment. So by exporting labour, companies move their manufacture to places where they are freer to pollute. And that's not good.
Once we tackle this problem though - and there are lots of ideas on the table for that - it will create new jobs in ALL communities. We'll have new, more localised ways of making stuff that give more people meaningful work and control over production. Big companies won't be as free to make money hand over fist without any regulation and the rest of us willl be much better off.
4) We'll be healthier
Pollution is deadly. Air pollution is one of the biggest killers in the world, and water pollution is just as bad. But it's not just those that will be better once we tackle climate change. We'll also need to change the way we eat. We'll all eat less meat, and no factory farmed meat or dairy, cause, sorry folks, those are some of the biggest contributors to climate change. Funnily enough, though, eating more veg, and healthy proteins like beans and pulses, nuts and mushrooms, is just what the doctor ordered for reducing rates of cancer, heart disease, and scads of other conditions. And the added bonus here will be:
5) Fewer domestic animals will suffer
We need to face the ugly facts. Factory farming and many other commercial farming practises are cruel. Someday we will look back at the things that were done to domestic animals like cows, sheep, pigs and chicken and be as shocked as we are now at medieval torture or burning at the stake. We'll never eliminate all suffering, for humans or animals. But revising the way we produce food will help an awful lot.
6) There will be lots of amazing new technologies
Renewable energy technologies like solar and wind power are improving almost every day. And that's going to drive prices down down down! So, in the long run, power will be cheap, and beautiful (I just don't understand people who don't like a windmill), and quiet, and fun and timesaving (no more battery changes once little solar panels are on all electronics) and clean. What's not to like?
And that's not all! Technology can potentially help us produce more organic food, or grow building materials or even electronic devices in our back gardens. And transport? Imagine no lorries on the roads - they've all been replaced by giant, silent airships that can transport massive payloads for relatively tiny amounts of energy.
7) We'll be more connected with our communities
One of the most exciting ideas I've come across is the Circular Economy, which is beautifully described by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation here: www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy
A circular economy is based on the idea that we reduce waste to zero. Everything that's made is either re-used, repurposed, repaired or recycled. How do we do that? For one thing we expand on things that are already starting to happen. Heard of Repair Cafes? They're get-togethers where you bring your broken toaster or laptop or trousers with a broken zipper and some local genius fixes them for you. For free. The idea is that at some other time you might share a skill or some goods of your own. Can you help someone make a website? Cook cupcakes? Learn a language? Join the sharing economy and start reaping the benefits. **
8) We'll be fitter
I actually think the bicycle is one of the most amazing inventions humanity has ever come up with. They make you fit and burn calories! They're fast! They're quiet! They can be made inexpensively, or tricked out to become ultra-hi-tec wonder machines. They come in shapes and sizes to fit everybody, of almost every degree of ability. Bicycle cargo innovation keeps getting better and better. And you can make them from bamboo!
And don't even get me started on the mental health benefits. The carbon neutral world of the future is going to be full of gorgeous people on gorgeous bikes and personally I can't wait.
9) We'll be happier
Folks, we got sold down the river. Too many of us have become wage slaves, tied to mountainous debt we've taken on to buy expensive junk we don't need and that isn't making our lives better. Just by buying less stuff, and being part of a new culture that doesn't value somebody by their car or their bling or their taste in handbags, we're going to resdiscover all the beautiful things that humanity is so good at. Like conversation. Storytelling. Music and dancing. Creativity. Togetherness. Growing stuff. Falling in love.
10) We'll reduce conflict
Global warming is not going to hit all the places on the earth equally. But it's wrong to think that places like the UK, which may find its growing season extended and enjoy warmer summers, have therefore dodged a bullet. It's the countries which currently have the least developed infrastructure and in many cases some of the world's biggest populations that will be worst hit, and if you think we have a refugee problem now imagine what it's going to be like if somewhere like Bangladesh becomes unlivable. And the conflict that outcomes like that will cause is already rearing its head and is not going to wait for the worst effects to escalate. So if we want to avoid war, and all the unimaginable horror that goes with it, we need to act now. For a more equal world. A more beautiful world. A new world.
Guys, I could go on. There are many other benefits to tackling climate change. But we won't see them unless we all make the commitment to change NOW. Commitment to pressuring our governments to make zero carbon now policies, to start big, positive conservation programmes for our forests and wetlands and oceans. Personal commitment to eating less meat and NO meat that isn't sustainable, to using renewable energy where possible, to reducing our consumption and eliminating waste. Commitment at our workplaces and social places to speaking up about what's going on and how we all have to be on board.
Be brave. We had the good fortune to be alive at a time of revolution. Our lives, and what we do with them, really do matter.
Michelle Golder, Pivotal Director and Ordinary Person
** Other ways the circular economy is happening:
- Swishing groups - people get together to swap clothes.
- Toy, tool or sports libraries - you don't really need the drill. You just need the hole. So why does everybody on your street need to buy a drill? Community resource libraries will save people money (see number 3, above) while saving the planet.
- Find out more about Cambridge's own Circular Economy here: circularcambridge.org/