By Elizabeth Dangerfield
Not by burying our heads in the sand. Not by waiting for everyone to be reasonable and listen to the evidence. Not by leading from behind. Not by appeasement. Not by believing we can have our cake and eat it too. Not by waiting for technology and science to save us. Not by business as usual and hoping that adaption and resilience will be enough to get us through.
We can only win the war on climate change through courage, conviction and a willingness to change. We can only win a war on climate change if we recognise that wars don’t wait until we are all ready to fight. We can only win the war on climate change if we are prepared to make all sorts of sacrifices now in order to secure a better future. Indeed, if we do it right, our future could be better than our current present!
We have been capable of great feats of courage, determination and self-sacrifice in the past and we need to dig deep as individuals and collectively do the maximum that needs to be done to save ourselves, to save our future and to save the planet. We need to be the best humans can be.
My parents were 19 and 17 years of age, living in England when the Second World War broke out. They were young and full of possibilities, just starting off on their own lives. I can only imagine the dread that they must have felt when war was declared.
Many people in Britain did not want to believe that war was coming. Who would? They went about their daily lives hoping it would all pass over. Politicians tried to broker deals with Hitler, they thought he was a reasonable man. They wanted “peace in their time” and deluded themselves into thinking that things weren’t that bad, and it would all work out in the end, even if they did need to appease Hitler a bit. So, they turned a blind eye when he invaded another country – the German nation needed living space after all!
Some British people, especially members of the aristocracy and wealthy elites, admired Hitler and thought his kind of regime might do Britain good. They hated the working class getting a bit uppity and threatening the old and proper order of things. They didn’t want to face up to the truth of his real nature and some, particularly in America, saw an opportunity to make money selling arms to the Nazis.
Fortunately, some people in Britain, such as Winston Churchill, saw what was coming and tried to make the best preparations they could for the inevitable war. This was difficult without the total support of the government and the people and it meant that it was very touch and go as to whether the war would be won by the allies.
Once war was declared everything changed for my parents as it did for everyone else. My father went off to France as part of the British Expeditionary Forces and only barely escaped with his life in the Dunkirk evacuations. My mother became a Red Cross nurse in Birmingham which was heavily bombed during the Blitz.
On top of the dangers of war ordinary life changed dramatically. Because of the huge spending on the war effort, so necessary for survival, there were shortages of everything. My parent’s wedding cake was made of cardboard. Rationing of food and petrol was severe. Most of the men were off fighting and women had to step into their shoes, on farms, in factories and many other professions. Accommodation was hard to come by as so many houses were destroyed by bombing. Families were separated and many people killed and injured. But people kept calm and carried on despite all the hardship and suffering. They had too, the other choice was to give up. To give up everything they valued.
Of course, we are facing a world war now. It is the war against climate change and we need to mobilise. If we lose this war the results will be much more horrendous than that of the Second World War. That is such a painful truth that most of us don’t want to face up to it, and I can’t blame people for that but ignoring this horrible fact, or shooting the messengers, will only make it worse, much worse. The only thing that I can think of that would produce a worse future for us would be a nuclear holocaust or a large meteor slamming into the planet. If you don’t believe me look up the likely impact of 2, 3, 4 degrees of global warming conflated by tipping points.
Our war on climate change is also a war on the degradation of the biosphere by humans. To save our planet as we know it, we must do both. The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services report in 2019 provides overwhelming evidence, from a wide range of different fields of knowledge, that the health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever, and that we are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.
It called for immediate transformative change, at every level, from local to global, to address this pressing issue. Such transformative change means a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values. This is the same change that the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2018 report indicated was urgently required in order to keep global warming to 1.5°C. A business as usual approach means that very soon that goal will be unobtainable. Nothing, but an attitude akin to being at war on climate change will make us make the necessary sacrifices required to achieve that goal. Transformative change is just that – life-changing, like war.
The only trouble is that nobody wants a war. A war is very inconvenient, nasty and disruptive of our comfortable way of life. Not many of us want to undertake transformative change although more of us would be prepared to concede that we are facing some sort of climate emergency after the recent bushfires.
But there is a danger that those people who have become concerned about climate change because of the bushfires, those who think that global warming is a serious problem but are not motivated to become personally involved in taking any action about it, will become disengaged from the climate emergency as everything settles down.
In fact, evidence suggests that some people who are concerned about climate change (as opposed to those of us who are positively alarmed by it), those who are cautious about the issue, or even disengaged from it, get turned off by too much doom and gloom about its likely impact. Rebecca Huntley’s research shows that “attitudes about climate are informed not by an understanding of science, but by world views, values, political identification, social and cultural conditions and gender identity”. Age also is a big factor. Older people are generally more conservative and less likely to change.
To change these attitudes, we can participate in a myriad of conversations where we respectfully listen, knowing that people’s views on climate change have more to do with how they live their lives, their life experiences, expectations, values and prejudices, than science. We can give some the facts about climate change, knowing that many people are more likely to be convinced by a focus on how climate change action can benefit society.
And transforming our society to deal with climate change can result in a large number of benefits. There would be less pollution, to begin with, that would make us healthier. Our health would also be improved by our more plant-based diet as we eat less meat, especially from animals fed on grain, and because we would be walking and cycling more. As we shift to electric cars our world would be quieter, cleaner and easier to get around. Cities would be much more pleasant places to be in.
We would waste much less, recycle and repurpose much more and share much more. Our environment would improve not just for us but for all living things. Ecological friendly tourism would be a big drawcard. We would appreciate what an amazing world we live in. Our more modest consumption would mean that we would not be driven to earn more and more in order to buy the biggest and latest of everything. This would reduce work stress and give us more leisure time.
Many jobs would be generated from the renewable energy sector and other innovative solutions for addressing climate change. We would move to more innovative and thoughtful ways of mining, agriculture and manufacturing that would not cost the Earth. We would build transitioning from old ways of doing business to new ways of doing business into our economic model. And we would work in partnership with others to achieve our ultimate goal – a sustainable, vibrant and egalitarian future.
Independent MP Zali Steggall has emphasised the positive in a private member’s bill on climate change she is going to introduce to the Australian Parliament on March 23, 2020. She is asking for a conscience vote on the legislation which covers:
- A positive response to the challenges of climate change
- National plans for adapting to climate change
- National plans for reducing greenhouse emissions and
- Transparent monitoring, reporting and accountability
Of course, it seems when it comes to climate change many MPs don’t have a conscience at all. They are only interested in the here and now, avoiding change at all costs, and demonising any opposition. It is these ignorant, self-interested climate deniers that refuse to heed the risks of their obstruction of action on climate change, that we must challenge vociferously in our war on climate change. We need to call them out.
In the meantime, let’s hope Zali’s legislation gets through. If it does it will be a step forward for reasonableness. But it is the third part of Zali’s legislation that is the most important because it is absolutely time-critical – national plans for reducing greenhouse emissions. For some reason, fundamentally human nature I suspect, many people cannot grasp the concept that there is a deadline for saving the Earth. We are looking at ten years in which to do something concerted and effective to reduce emissions. The years are ticking past and the climate bomb is ticking fast.
The reasonable, conversational approach to change is a very time-consuming process and many of us have been doing it for years and years, and if someone is prepared to have an open discussion, we will continue to do it. However, we simply do not have the time to wait until enough people are convinced through this incremental process. We have waited far, far too long; patiently, reasonably, hopefully, to the point where many of us think it is already too late.
In lieu of a million conversations we need charismatic, authentic leaders who can speak to people on our behalf and convince them to follow a path of transformative change that will address their concerns, but also help them face the reality of climate change with courage, and seek solutions with determination. For it would be deceiving to say that we can tackle climate change without having to give up anything although we can inspire people to think that their self-sacrifice today may lead to a much better future for our children. It was certainly what inspired my parents.
We don’t seem to possess a Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, or Nelson Mandela. At the moment, our most prominent flag bearers are a 17year old girl and a 93year old man. I look for charismatic, intelligent, well-informed leaders in Australia and I cannot find them. I go to demonstrations demanding action on climate change and the only truly inspirational speakers I find are the young people who are still at school. Who do you think can inspire Australians to want to fight to address climate change, to transform our society, to make a better future?
In the meantime, if we don’t have a single leader who can speak up loudly, clearly and persuasively about the need for urgent action on climate change we can have a million of voices speaking as one. As part of the School Climate Strike movement involving millions of people around the globe, 300,000 Australians gathered at climate change rallies around the country late in 2019. There were lots of ordinary Australians amongst the protesters who called for the Federal Government to commit to:
- No new coal, oil or gas projects
- 100 per cent renewable energy generation and exports by 2030
- Funding for “a just transition and job creation for all fossil fuel industry workers and communities”
The Government ignored them. We need to see if the Government can ignore 600,000 protesting people or can describe a million Australians protesting as a fringe movement. All of us who are alarmed by climate change or concerned about it, need to voice our worries by turning up to the next climate change rally and the one after that, and the one after that. We should not leave it to others to fight the fight we all need to fight.
Every one of us needs to step up in the war against climate change!