I just watched National Geographic and Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie “Before the Flood” today, and I have to tell you, it was hard to watch.
Probably almost as hard as watching Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” from 10 or more years ago (which, by the way, I avoided watching until just a year or two ago because it was such an upsetting topic – way to stick my head in the sand, eh?)
And I wonder if that ‘hard’ and ‘upsetting’ feeling about climate change has something to do with why we aren’t doing more about the problem more quickly.
Are we dragging our feet because it’s just too big, too scary, too hard?
Because we feel small and inconsequential, and we feel helpless?
It’s hard not to be scared and feel overwhelmed when reports like the WWF’s Living Planet Report says we’re losing animal species at an unprecedented rate through our own actions. See WWF’s Living Planet Report summary video here and their website for more of the bad news.
During Before the Flood, one of the (many) things that struck me was how different China and India are responding to the issue of climate change and renewable energy.
The Chinese have set huge green targets to clean up their hyper-industrialised nation, and have made this a political and social imperative. I think this is because, in China, air pollution, as a direct result of burning coal and fossil fuels to power their industry (which, by the way, is where we get pretty much ALL our STUFF), the people are being affected on a daily basis.
That is to say: their lives are DIRECTLY and NEGATIVELY impacted by the use of fossil fuels. Therefore, they have more to gain by changing the way they operate than by remaining the same.
Reducing pollution will be a massive improvement to their way of life.
In the second case, India is looking at America (and by extension, other western nations) and saying that they will use fossil fuels as long as America does, because it’s cheap and they need the electricity to reach so many impoverished people, and “if you’re not willing to switch off fossil fuels, why should we?”
Now, that’s unfortunately short-sighted of India, but at the same time, it’s understandable of them to reject the “do as we say, not as we do” obligation that America aims to impose on them. After all, if we have the money and technology, why do we not also have the will to implement? And why, therefore, should be expect that anyone else should do what we won’t?
I think this is partly because in the western world, such as America, Canada, Australia, and many other places, we experience the opposite of what those in China are feeling.
We do not feel the direct negative impacts of what we do to the climate through what we consume; we don’t get sore throats and feel sick every day – at least not yet. Our water isn’t completely fouled, and we have more than enough food to eat. We generally have fresh air and a view without smog. Our everyday lives are protected, and we feel disconnected from the devastating floods, famines, and challenges faced by those in impoverished and developing nations who are on the front lines of climate change.
So, I think when we’re being asked to change the way we live we react as though we are being asked to give something up. Perhaps we feel that we have more to lose than to gain.
But what if we re-framed that way of thinking?
What if we looked at what we have to gain instead?
Still my favourite social change cartoon.
What do we do now?
10 years ago, we all changed our light bulbs, and patted ourselves on our collective backs.
Turns out that wasn’t enough.
So, now what?
I believe it is those who consume the most, those that are the most affluent (both individuals and countries alike), that actually have the opportunity to make the greatest impact.
By doing things like choosing renewable energy suppliers, by living off-grid or using solar and water more efficiently, or by investing in new technologies like electric cars, ethical clothing companies, choosing to support farmers markets and local food sources, and so many other daily choices, you can make a big impact without diminishing your own lifestyle. And, by investing early, you pave the way for those new businesses and technologies, influence the marketplace and help bring these things closer to everyone through the mass market.
Check out Katanning Eco-House, Ella’s off-grid home, where she lives a perfectly normal life, but has an almost net-zero carbon footprint as an example of how you don’t have to live in an austere tiny house to be an environmentally conscious citizen.
Here’s a few of the suggestions on what you can do made throughout the movie, with some editorial of my own:
support the implementation of an effective carbon tax
reduce your meat consumption, or consider where you meat comes from, or switch from beef to chicken
(I don’t want to start any kind of ‘meat is murder’ debate here. I eat meat, I have vegetarian and vegan friends and family, and I work in a town and industry that relies on livestock as a key part of the agricultural and economic system. But the fact is, livestock production in some parts of the world is destroying the environment. I’m pretty sure we don’t need to cut down rain forests to raise cattle, and that we need to take time to consider this as one of the many impacts we, as humans, have on the planet.)
switch to sustainable energy sources
get involved, get informed (check out The Story of Stuff for some of the most useful explanations of complex problems I’ve seen online. May I suggest starting with this video first?)
talk to others about climate change and the solutions – don’t bury your head in the sand!
vote for candidates who take climate change seriously and offer solutions
and nationally, and internationally, we need to set the example and help developing nations transition to renewables before they get any deeper into this mess
because of the overwhelming problem of fossil fuels creating massive carbon emissions.
So, if you had to pick only one thing you could do, get connected to renewable power first and foremost.
Oh, and by the way, Al Gore says we should be optimistic, and when you see the countries that are being progressive getting 100% of their energy from renewables already, maybe we don’t have to be as afraid of this problem, because the solutions are within our grasp. See the video “The Case for Optimism in Climate Change.”
And Laura Tenenbaum, NASA climate change scientist suggests we look at climate change not as a big scary monster but as a challenge that we can overcome, because challenges inspire us to stretch and grow, to ‘Dare Mighty Things’ – especially when it feels hopeless. See her TED Talk here: Game On, Climate Change. Game On.
So, if you’re ready, please watch the movie, Before the Flood here:
And explore the Before the Flood website for more information.