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Responding to climate breakdown

Climate breakdown is upon us. That’s a fact. And with every passing day, our ability to do something about it diminishes. It’s also painfully obvious that this isn’t something we can leave to our political leaders to sort out. We all need to take action. And we need to take it now.

As levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases continue to rise and global surface temperatures increase, the catastrophic impacts of climate change become ever more apparent. Extreme weather events, wildfires, floods, droughts and species extinctions are daily headlines.

And that’s with only one degree or so of global warming. Imagine what things will be like if we hit two degrees of warming. Or four. All of which are within the bounds of current scientific projections. (In fact, you don’t need to imagine it. Just read The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells.) And that’s only looking ahead to 2100. The warming won’t stop just because the calendar’s hit a round number.

It would be nice to think that we can somehow reverse climate change and its impacts. Or that we can reach for some easy technological fix. But we can’t. This isn’t to say, though, that we should just give up. It does, however, mean that we need to take action on a number of fronts if we’re to avoid the most severe environmental, economic and social consequences of the damage that we’ve wrought on the planet that we call home.

Firstly, we need to mitigate climate change by continuing to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that we produce. It’s easy to convince oneself that there’s little point cycling to the shops if Americans insist on driving everywhere in supercharged V8 trucks. But the fact remains that every litre of oil we don’t burn and every gram of CO2 we don’t pump into the atmosphere will make our future that little bit less bad.

Secondly, we need to find ways to adapt to the impacts of climate breakdown that we cannot prevent. This will include changing how we live our lives, from the food that we eat to the ways in which we earn a living. We may need to grow different crops, design our houses in new ways and develop more locally-based economies. Some of the changes we’ll need to make will be easy. But others will require us to change the way we think and to revise the expectations that we have for our lives.

Thirdly, we need to develop our capacity for resilience in anticipating, preparing for, responding to and recovering from climate-related shocks. We need to reduce our vulnerability to the consequences of climate breakdown that we cannot mitigate and to which we cannot adapt. We need to be able to ‘bounce back’ from them with our physical, economic and social infrastructure intact. This may mean ‘retrofitting’ existing aspects of society, but it may equally mean redesigning them with greater resilience in mind.

(As an aside, resilience is commonly seen as part of climate change adaptation. But I – and, I’m pleased to see, a growing number of others – think that it really needs to be considered as a separate element of our response to climate breakdown.)

There are, furthermore, different scales at which we can take action to mitigate climate change, to adapt to its effects and to enhance our resilience. I’ll write more about these at some point, but I think it’s worth mentioning them here. Because it’s easy to feel helpless, when in fact we’re not.

We can all, for example, take action at the personal and at the household scale. With a bit of thought and collaboration, we can also take action at the community scale. This community-scale response to climate breakdown is, in my view, especially powerful. (I’ll write about my own efforts in this regard in another blog post at some point.)

We can also take action at regional, national and international levels. This is obviously more difficult, as our political leaders have demonstrated so amply over the last few decades. But it’s not impossible. And there’s much that we, as individuals, can do to help bring it about. (I’m always open to more ideas here, so do drop me a line with your suggestions.)

Climate breakdown is upon us. But we can still take action to mitigate, to adapt to and to become more resilient in the face of its effects. We do, however, need to take action now.

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Image: Markus Spiske on Unsplash





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