CLIMATE change is no longer a future issue or a distant one. It is here now, intensifying extreme weather events, threatening food and water supplies and putting our health at risk. Headlines bombard us with an increasing litany of disasters, from coastlines flooding and ice sheets disintegrating to drought in Madagascar and wildfires across western North America.
Record numbers of us are worried about climate change – 66 per cent in the US where I live, 76 per cent in the UK and 84 per cent of young people across 10 different countries. However, the disconnect between now and the future we face grows starker every day. Only around 50 per cent of people in the US and UK believe climate change will have much of an effect on them personally, and even less think individuals can do anything to combat it.
It is no wonder the question I’m asked most often is: “What gives you hope?” We need hope, desperately, because if we believe it is too late, it will be.
The kind of hope we need – rational, stubborn hope – isn’t about positive thinking, but it doesn’t begin with imitating an ostrich, either. It starts by acknowledging just how serious climate change is and what is at risk: the future of civilisation as we know it. Recognising the overwhelming nature of this crisis can fill us with fear and anxiety, and we need to acknowledge these emotions as well.
Here is where the turning point must occur. Will we allow fear to paralyse us or use it to galvanise us into action? Only one path leads to hope. The other ends in despair. It is only our actions that offer a chance of a better future. And when we realise the giant boulder of climate action isn’t sitting at the bottom of an impossibly steep hill with only a few hands trying to push it up, but rather it is already at the top and rolling down the hill with millions of hands pushing it in the right direction, that gives us hope. It isn’t going fast enough yet; but for each new hand that joins, it will go a little faster. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says: “Every action matters… Every choice matters.”
The most dangerous climate impacts can still be avoided. But the window for staving off the worst of these is closing fast. That is why it is past time to deploy the most important force we have: our voice. In the UK, less than half of people surveyed said they have discussed climate change in the past week. In the US, 67 per cent of people surveyed said they “rarely” or “never” bring up climate change in conversation. We may avoid these conversations because we don’t want to get into yet another argument, we are tired of trying to guilt people into green living, or we are simply overwhelmed with doom-filled facts. And I agree: I avoid those conversations, too.
The most powerful conversations begin with our hearts, not our heads. Start with something that is important to you – and them. It could be a place or activity you love, a shared concern or career, the fact that you are both parents, birders, churchgoers or live in the same place. Connect the dots to show how warming is affecting your life, and theirs, today. Bring up practical solutions: from your lifestyle choices to sustainable agriculture to greening cities. Who wouldn’t want to fly on an aeroplane powered by recycled cooking oil, hear about how solar energy is transforming the lives of women in sub-Saharan Africa, or just reduce their own food waste, especially if it would help ensure a safer world for all our children?
The world begins to change when individuals decide it can, and it should – and when we use our voices to call for action where we live, where we work, where we put our money and where we vote. Whoever you are, you are already the perfect person to advocate for climate action. Why? Because you are a human living on Earth.
Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World by Katharine Hayhoe is out now
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