It’s us stupid
Those who are expecting some great outcome of COP 26 that will miraculously save the planet from climate change in a period of thirty years are likely to be deeply disappointed. The first COP in 1995 was held in Berlin and the record over the last 25 years has seen greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise on a global scale and inequality increasing at a similar rate. Poverty, hunger, lack of proper sanitation, gender inequality remain as issues where we still need great changes, but the threat of climate change hangs over the globe like a dark cloud about to descend and envelop us. To protest against the politician is to submit for the politician likes nothing better than to convince you that they are the one who will produce the answer like getting a rabbit out of a hat.
Does this mean that another meeting of political figures will leave us all wringing our hands and shaking our heads in despair? Well, there is no need to react in that way. We have the answer if we understand the simple idea that ‘it’s us stupid’.
Take a look at global emissions of greenhouse gases and look at some of the sectors that are the highest emitters. We know that agriculture is one of the largest sectors and yet we have the answer to hand. For the developed world it is simply to eat less meat, eat more legumes, more vegetables and more fruit. Reducing beef consumption is the prime target, the burger, the steak or the rib should not be consumed in the quantities we do at present. If we all reduced the burger intake to one a week and ate at least two non-meat meals a week we would probably have a greater impact than anything likely to be achieved at COP26. The action does not end there, for in countries like the USA and UK there is massive food waste, at the farm, the supermarket and at home. Up to a third of the food produced is estimated to be lost as food waste. Our diet and our food habits are as great a problem as using fossil fuels for transport. The answer lies in our hands and we can change.
We might easily forget that what we wear also affects greenhouse gas emission and the fashion industry is a global effort devoted to persuading us that we need more clothes, and new clothes for each season and for each year. Although there are efforts being made to recycle clothes we should consider how they are produced. Many synthetic fibres originate from fossil fuel products, coal, oil and natural gas, and so boost the fossil fuel industry. What if we were all to choose cotton? Unless it is organically produced then we are looking at an industry as dirty as driving diesel trucks with vast amounts of artificial fertilizers and pesticides being used together with a very heavy demand on water. Even with organic cotton the processes of bleaching and dyeing use great quantities of water and the chemical waste is often discharged to watercourses. There are alternatives that could be used for many fabrics. Hemp, linen and bamboo can be grown without the use of fertilizers and without the use of pesticides. These fibres are also more suitable for recycling. That does not mean we should abandon cotton, wool or silk, which could be considered as carbon neutral and can also be recycled, but we should consider how we grow the cotton, and remember sheep if used for meat has an environmental cost. There are fashion houses that support the use of organic cotton, and others who are looking at recycling and zero waste. We can choose to support these if we wish. Our clothing and fashion habits are our own, they will not be changed by the ‘blah blah blah’ of politicians and we must start to accept our own responsibility.
We cannot all have an electric vehicle overnight, or have a public transport infrastructure overnight, not all of us are fit to cycle or walk to work. However, we can all make changes to help reduce fossil fuel use in transport and speed up the transition from fossil fuels. We have an addiction to fossil fuels that was illustrated recently by the panic dash to the gasoline pumps in the UK as if we were a nation that could not survive without a gasoline fix immediately. Do we really need to use a car to shop seven days a week, or to drive our children 800 metres to school, and where is the sense in driving a kilometre to the local gym to exercise when more could have been gained by running to the gym?
The massive amount of waste sent to landfill is also a reflection of our habits. We ‘talk the talk’ about recycling and reducing waste but if we are honest then a look at what we are discarding shows just how wasteful we still are. Our bins contain single use plastics, masses of polystyrene, food waste where there is no local composting facility, and other items which reflect our habits. Even where there is recycling we are being encouraged to generate waste at an alarming rate. One has only to purchase a mobile phone and within months we are being encouraged to buy another and upgrade to a ‘new model’. Stores that allow us to bring our own containers for some dry products such as beans and lentils, or wet products such as liquid detergents can be supported, just as using our own cups at coffee houses is often an option. We can choose to support these businesses and avoid those who use lots of packaging. Our habits determine our emissions.
If we start taking action on a scale needed to mitigate climate change what will happen to the farmers, the supermarkets, the fashion industry, and the automotive industry? They will adapt and survive. The production of beef and other meat is achieved by using large subsidies from taxation. These can be reduced and the money usefully put to use in reforestation and restoration of soils.
Whilst I admire young people demanding action for climate change I would remind them, and all activists, that the power to bring about change lies in our own hands and not that of the political figures who will pontificate in Glasgow at COP 26. We have a wonderful opportunity to write our own agenda for COP 26 and we can achieve the goals of that agenda.