The report from the IPBES should have grabbed headlines and held them. It warned a million species are at risk of extinction, ecosystems are under threat of collapse and vested interests are holding back progress. The authors demanded immediate action in language seldom heard in academic papers. We, the people, should have been up in arms, demanding our politicians took action.
Instead, the report vanished beneath a tonne of column inches dedicated to the birth of a baby. By the next morning the press all but forgot the dire warnings of catastrophe as the British People clung to a piece of “good news” that, for a brief moment, united a deeply divided country. Only 3 papers carried it on their front pages, the rest thinking the imminent collapse of our environment barely worthy of mention.
The reaction was almost expected
For those of us who keep tabs on these thinks it’s perhaps unsurprising. Over the past month there have been a succession of gloomy reports finding their way into the wild, each more depressing than the last. From the Committee on Climate Change to The World Bank to the OECD, each has poured bad news on bad and build the ever more obvious picture that we humans are not-so-slowly trashing our world.
Sadly, the response from our politicians has been pitiful. The ruling Conservative Party trotted out an oft repeated line climate change was a priority; measures were being looked at “urgently” and repeated the dubious eco-claims about progress and commitments and how wonderfully everything was progressing. The Opposition passed a motion where Parliament declared a “Climate Emergency”, something the Government ignored and was quickly forgotten.
With so much bad news piling up its easy to become despondent, to nurture a growing sense of futility. Yet there are reasons to be optimistic that we can at least delay the impending doom long enough for firm action to be taken.
Villains becoming heroes
In the world of business, the same companies we lambast for avoiding tax and paying low wages are making strides towards reducing their impact. Packaging it being reworked with less plastic and more recycled materials. Paper straws have replaced plastic. Products and ingredients are being sourced from sustainable sources in ever-increasing numbers. Even the Oil & Gas Industry, rightfully attacked for its contribution to our problems, is increasing investment in renewables and cleaning up their operations.
These “big corporations” changing their behaviour is essential to correcting the wrongs of the Industrial era. Like super tankers on the open sea, their size and momentum takes time to turn, so we need some patience while they change direction. Meanwhile, buzzing around them, are small, nimble start-ups, local companies and micro-businesses catching the first ebbs of the sustainable tsunami. They’re innovating with reusable sanitary products that reduce landfill, paint companies buying ingredients from nearby farms to cut down transport emissions, grocers eliminating packaging by getting customers to bring their own containers. Each is a small innovation that quickly adds up to become a larger impact.
Changes are emerging in politics. In the US the “New Green Deal” has put a response to climate change firmly on the agenda of a country that has stepped back from addressing its contribution to pollution in recent years. In Europe a debate has resurfaced on whether to dispense with the endless pursuit of economic growth in favour of a focus on environment, wellness and health. Away from the destructive binary choices of the UK, environmental credentials are rising up the list of factors voters consider when choosing their candidates.
Never give up. Never surrender!
While it’s easy to look at the next report and feel a sense of dread and fatigue, resist. Look at it not as a dire warning the world will end, but as a question levelled at every politician, every company and every one of us:
“This is still happening. Why haven’t you done something about it?”
Image credit: Minneapolis Public Works. Used under a creative commons licence.