What are YOU giving up?

by Michelle Golder

Yes, you. You may have noticed; the world is facing an existential threat called climate change. It's the dragons and the white walkers together from Game of Thrones. It's the death star zeroing in on our planet. It's Sauron, reborn, with ten thousand benighted Saruman's (Sarumen?) carrying out his apocalyptic agenda. This is real, it's happening now, and you, since you're reading this, are probably a hobbit (the wizards are busy magicking up new renewable technologies and trying to re-invent nuclear). That is, you're a mostly harmless and well-intentioned person, but you feel small and helpless in the face of a scary and confusing problem. You don't want to be a hero, you feel ill-equipped and unready, and if you're honest you've been trying not to think about it, but you're starting to realise you really don't have a choice. It was your fate to be around at this crisis point in human history.  As in all the best stories, the path has chosen you. Your job is to travel it with a good heart.

Thousands of people are already trying, in lots of different ways.  To give one small example, I belong to a group called Zero Waste Heroes, set up in the UK by Rachelle Strauss. Their goal is to aim for a zero-waste life, and some determined souls take it as far as “family cloth” toilet hygiene (yay them?)

Many of the members though, including me, are nowhere near that level of zero-wastiness. Still, everyone in the group has made steps to reduce their consumption of the energy and goods (because unless it grew in your back garden it cost fossil energy to make) which are destroying our world.  I've given up flying, and significantly lessened my use of single-use plastic, factory-produced foods, meat and dairy, cleaning stuff and hygiene products, like fabric softener, hair conditioner and anti-perspirant (who knew? I never needed them).  I switched to a green energy supplier, guard the thermostat beadily, wash clothes in lower temps, and take fewer and shorter showers.

I'm not looking for kudos. Through sheer luck, I was born into one of the two regions (USA and Europe) which have contributed almost 50% of the atmospheric carbon currently blanketing the planet. If you’re now saying, wait, China, remember that carbon dioxide lasts at least a hundred years in the atmosphere. Though China is currently the biggest single emitter, due to its large population and rapid industrialisation, we started spewing fossil fuels a long time ago. Worse, the US still emits on average more per person than almost any other country, thanks to big houses, big cars, big office spaces, and an addiction to factory produced foods including way too much meat.

Given what we’re up against, my little sacrifices are clearly not enough.  Which is why I felt so peculiarly sad when I saw the example of this young couple, with their impressively meagre 30 days of waste.

Marcel and Blanca with all the waste they produced in 30 days. Picture used with their permission.

Marcel and Blanca with all the waste they produced in 30 days. Picture used with their permission.

They tell me this wasn’t a sacrifice, it’s their normal routine, and saves them time and money, and I know that’s true, because anti-perspirant is freaking expensive. But there are other worlds of heroism they and their little piles represent. Worlds of beautiful, young faces, radiating kindness and resignation, who don’t know if they should have children, even if they want to. Who devote their free time, as these two do, to organising for systemic change. Whose "hope" for the future is that there is one. What more are they going to have to give up, years after my generation is gone? That’s what makes me sad.


But, the road goes on, and we were talking about you. I'll be honest, the title of this post is clickbait, because I don't really care what you're giving up right now. I’m sure you are doing your bit, but the truth is, it's what you and I are prepared to support in the near future that's really going to make a difference. Groups like the Extinction Rebellion and the UK Green Party and America's Green New Deal and many others around the world are gathering popular support and demanding political action and very soon, I hope, you and I are going to be asked a big question. That question is going to involve, in some form or another, a complete revolution of our economic system. It will involve a vote. It may involve changing your job or the way you do business. It will almost certainly cost you money and time. It will probably require a lot of additional and unfamiliar work – including any or all of:  local food production; participating in community energy schemes; changing how we travel; or becoming involved in new forms of public decision making.

It will also demand a complete rethink of our notions of fairness and justice, both within and across nations. Because if the better off among us try to shrug away our own share of the burden, know what others will say to that question? No.

And it's essential that we all say yes. Yes to a new,  circular, regenerative economic system, where everything  produced can be repaired or completely recycled. Yes to a massive, fair, global investment in climate change mitigation and preparedness, include funding research into all the technologies and regenerative systems that can help us. Yes to valuing the natural world as it should be valued - as the source of all life, the weaver of the web we live in and on, our father and mother.  

The writer Mac Macartney recently visited Cambridge to talk about his book The Children's Fire, based upon an indigenous peoples' concept that decision making should focus on protecting the children to the seventh generation. "A civilization is doomed," Mac said, "when it stops caring about its children." If we say no to the changes our world needs, that’s just what we are doing. Telling our children, and our children’s children, that we just don’t care.

I can't tell you the shape of the future. We're all in the process of making it. My personal (thanks again, Tolkien) dream is something between the Shire and Rivendell – a world where birds, bugs, children and animals, wildflower meadows and mushroom scented forests, all co-exist with beautiful green cities where art and positive (like magic!) technology flourish. To get there, I believe, we have to pass through a difficult and painful transition, like the one women go through when giving birth. But I remember how I felt when I'd passed through that transition and held my only child in my arms. I'd have done anything to protect him. So I’ll tell you what I’m not giving up. Hope.