Despite years of exposure to climate science, I do not believe we are headed for a total societal collapse Rebecca Huntley
L:On Friday, The Guardian published an article titled “The world is on the brink of “irreversible” climate decline“. This was not a Greta Thunberg or Extinction Rebellion quote, but the central message of the three UN agencies.
They found that “there is no credible path to 1.5C” and current pledges for action, even if fulfilled, would lead to global warming of around 2.5C, in other words a catastrophic climate collapse with devastating consequences for surrounding societies. globe.
I read the report, but admittedly I skimmed it and went on to read an article about the latest federal budget and a story about a boy who survived a storm drain. Not because I don’t care about climate change (on the contrary, it’s a personal and professional passion of sorts), but because since I got involved in the climate movement, I’ve read countless reports like this.
I am not immune to the message. I just know I can’t do the work I need to do unless I treat this information in a special way. Specifically, like once, a floor-length taffeta dress I once bought for a formal event; it hangs in my wardrobe as a reminder, only worn occasionally but I can’t relax or do any real work with it.
It requires functional denial stretch pants.
I’m often asked why other people outside the climate movement don’t immediately react with alarm and take to the streets when they read headlines like this. They may actually be immune to the message. They may not pay attention to the UN. But more likely, not answering them is a very human response.
To experience fear, we must observe and register a threat such as the sight of a predator. This will then activate our fight or flight response. Climate change seems to defy almost all evolutionary and cognitive incentives for urgent action.
Of course, the extreme weather events we’ve seen in Australia and around the world are as tangible a threat to us as a terrorist attack or a virus. But to see these floods and fires in the same vein, you have to make the connection that this is climate change created by humans, not just Mother Nature doing her thing.
In other words, our reptilian brains have not evolved as fast as our ability to develop technologies that can change the planet’s environment in 200 years that took millennia to develop.
The good news is that my research shows that over the past few years, many of us have been seeing these climate impacts as signs of impending disaster. One in three Australians are concerned about climate change and would describe it as a “crisis” that requires more government attention than any other issue. And we can see how quickly electoral politics can change around climate when we compare the 2019 and 2022 federal elections.
But the research also shows that opinion is still changing slowly, perhaps 1% for each extreme weather event that occurs. Floods and fires alone won’t make us all climate champions in the time we have left.
Call me a wild optimist or a semi-delusion, but despite years of exposure to climate science, I don’t believe we’re headed for total societal collapse any time soon. I still believe in the ability of groups of dedicated people to work together to change the odds in our favor.
But I also have faith in capital to move quickly and decisively. It’s already happening. When the corporations that fund politicians realize that there is more money to be made in climate action than climate denial, we will all be amazed at how quickly things can happen.
And that brings me to my constant concern now with the collapse of society above. my concern is not that it is “the end of the world as we know it”. It’s more like “the end of the world as we would like it”.
We must move quickly to accelerate climate action solutions. More renewable infrastructure and, if we are to meet our domestic energy needs and replace coal and gas as exports, large-scale renewables such as the proposed Sun Cable and the Asian Renewable Energy Hub. More, not less mining.
My concern is that in our rush to solutions we forget the views, values and needs of those who will be most affected. Communities where people working on fossil fuels are concentrated. Those who are geographically, socially, economically or culturally disadvantaged when it comes to taking advantage of all the benefits this energy revolution has to offer.
Communities that have been and will be hit again and again by extreme weather, drought and water shortages. And First Nations communities are fighting for a real say when it comes to renewable energy projects after decades of fighting fossil fuel companies.
My worry is not that the Australia of the future will look like Mad Max. What’s more, it could be a more charitable version of The Hunger Games.
Again – call me wildly optimistic or half-cocked – voters and communities have the opportunity right now to shape the nature of this energy revolution we’re already living through.
It’s not just about wind farms and green hydrogen, the social disadvantage of which is worse than in our fossil fuel heyday. It means we need to strengthen the voices and choices of the people who are most exposed to climate impacts and most at risk if we simply act fast and justly forget.
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