Demanding change for a sustainable future

Scientists are warning that we cannot wait to take action to combat the climate change crisis. More than 11,000 scientists from 153 countries say that urgent change is needed in the way we live our lives, and it is the young generation that is joining them to insist on transformative change.

Sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg has emerged as a motivating leader for young people around the world. After taking solitary strike action outside her school, her convictions have mobilised a series of global school strikes which have taken place on Fridays in over 2000 cities worldwide. It is estimated that nearly 1.5 million young people from around the globe have participated in these events.

In September she spoke at the United Nations Climate Summit, confronting the inaction of the world’s politicians with a striking condemnation: “How dare you?” Her emotional speech provoked a chain of reactions worldwide. While many were very positive, others were critical and even personally abusive about her Asperger’s syndrome, OCD and selective mutism. Her response: “That basically means I only speak when I think it’s necessary. Now is one of those moments.”

Some adults have attacked her for virtue signalling, histrionics and empty rhetoric and they accuse her of terrifying children with exaggerated claims about the threat to the planet’s survival. However, Greta doggedly points to the science.

She is not wrong: research indicators show that climate change poses a very real threat of rising sea levels, increasing temperatures and extreme weather events.

Terrifying statistics are emerging. According to the UN Environment Programme annual report issued in November, global emissions must fall by 7.6% every year from now until 2030 to stay within the 1.5C cap on temperature rises necessary to prevent dire and disastrous consequences.

Meat consumption is one threatening contributor to climate change. A study last year by researchers at Oxford University found that the meat and dairy industry produces sixty percent of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions and cows produce about forty percent of the annual methane budget. These factors, as well as others, such as deforestation and a rapidly increasing population, do not just damage our environment, but threaten the planet.

In November, scientists wrote in BioScience: “We declare clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency.”

Political leaders and policymakers around the world have a responsibility to act through education, regulation and taxation to help change behaviour. On a local level there are many ways in which individuals can assess their habits and make changes that contribute to the global effort. Consuming less, reducing waste, and responsible recycling is easy, as is cutting down on meat consumption. Changing habits, such as simply switching off lights, walking or using public transport can all make a difference.

Gwyneth Angel
December 5, 2019