Thinking it through

The selfish approach to climate change

I didn’t do it, it’s not my fault, why should I change? I don’t buy much, I don’t waste much, I don’t use much, so why should I do anything? It’s the oil companies’ fault. It’s the government’s fault. Even if I do anything, it won’t make any difference. I’m just one person.

Yes, I’m just one ordinary person. But when lots of ordinary people get together, they make change happen. I’ve seen lots of ordinary children and youth in marches bringing attention to the problem of climate change. I’ve seen lots of ordinary people get together to help others during the Covid pandemic. And I know lots and lots of ordinary people get together to help during humanitarian crises.

Climate change is bringing more crises to humanity. Weather is more extreme and less predictable. Whatever problem anyone had before, climate change can make it worse. My house isn’t well insulated; heating it more in the winter and cooling it in the summer are the options that need least effort. But the cost of heating is getting unpredictable. The cost of cooling will also be unpredictable. Unless I put in some effort.

I can put some effort into working more hours to earn more money to pay for heating and cooling. Or I can put some effort into improving the insulation in my house. Or maybe I can put some effort into calculating how affordable solar panels are, given the rapid rise in fossil fuel electricity costs. What will be the best option for me? What will make my life more comfortable? What will make life more comfortable for my family? Directly, in how warm or cold our home is, and indirectly, in how much we can afford other things after the cost of electricity, gas, or oil.

I’m not thinking about other people, just me and my family. That’s where I must start because that’s where I will make the most difference. And if I choose to insulate my home, or if I choose to get solar panels, I will also actually be helping other people. That’s because the insulation or the solar panels will reduce how much carbon I am putting into the atmosphere. And if my choice is to work more to afford to carry on buying heating and cooling, I might choose to switch to renewable energy.

I’m just one ordinary person, and I’m taking a selfish approach to climate change, but I can make a difference after all. If I get together with all the other ordinary people who can also take a selfish approach, we can make a difference together. We can all do something for ourselves. We can all take a selfish approach. We can end up changing the climate together. We can give me, my family, you, your family, us, and all our human family, a better life.

The Inconvenience of Climate Change

Better forecasts can tell us when there will be storms, where hurricanes will track, and at what time river levels will peak, but they won’t remove the inconvenience of the damage, costs, food insecurity, disrupted lives, and dislocated communities. We humans have changed the climate as a result of our actions, and this is causing us all huge inconveniences.

The problems humanity already had, such as droughts, famines, tsunamis, and crop failures, are all made worse by climate change. This also applies to inequalities. The inequalities that already arise from colour, race, and gender differences for example, means people affected are also less likely to be well placed to cope with the impacts of climate change. Women are more affected than men, since women, globally speaking, typically do not earn as much as men, do not have the time away from the essential tasks of caregiving, home upkeep, and food-provision, and have not usually been in positions of influence.

This presents greater inconvenience for women than for men. But I believe women are best placed to deal with the inconveniences of climate change. Surely not, after what I’ve just described? Well, I believe women already have a deep understanding of inconvenience and an incredible ability to manage it. Women, approximately half of the population on the planet, will usually have periods for around half of their lifetime, up to about 40 years’ worth.

Imagine bleeding every few weeks. How inconvenient is that? Imagine not always knowing when that bleeding will start, how much there will be, how painful it might be, and whether you have the resources to deal with it. That is inconvenient at the very least. Maybe this seems easy to cope with in a country with fertility management pills, period products that are easy to buy, treated water is readily available, and flushing toilets are commonplace. Nearly half of the world does not have access to safely managed sanitation. Around 6 in every 100 people do not have access to any sanitation facilities at all. That is more than inconvenient.

And yet, women cope. Women deal with inconvenience on a regular basis. Women do their best to deal with inconvenience in ways which minimise any impact on other people. And, in growing a child, birthing a child, and breast-feeding a child, a woman undergoes even more inconvenience to her body and her life (and what joy this often brings). Women are used to inconvenience, women are used to coping with unpredictability, inadequate facilities, and the sharing of their resources for the benefit of another human. So, I believe women are in fact well placed to find ways to deal with climate change.

But we need to make the most of this, for all our sakes. Wherever, and whenever we can, we need to support women to have more opportunity to employ their honed ability to cope with inconvenience. Climate change affects us all, but its effects on women are amplified. Let’s truly enable women. I think it will make climate change less inconvenient for everyone.

Less than eight years

Some people are natural planners. They have their lives mapped out and know where they want to be over the next five or ten years. I think of myself as someone who likes to be organised, but I’ve never had plans which went more than around two years ahead. And then the pandemic curtailed my plans to within a horizon of about two weeks. Now I’m looking ahead years.

What do you expect to happen over the next few years in your life and family? In our family, sadly, the signs of ageing suggest that the oldest person may not be with us in ten years’ time. This will mean a big change for us all as we adjust and help resettle a sibling who is unable to live alone. We have children and a nephew who will be through their education and hopefully established in their chosen careers, and another niece and nephew who will be nearing the end of secondary education. Fingers crossed that all the other elders in the family will still be going strong.

Maybe you can anticipate some similar stages over the next five to ten years in your life? Maybe you hope to get settled with someone and start a family? Maybe your dream is to move somewhere else? Are you looking ahead to what the climate crisis will mean to you over the next few years? Are you thinking about what small changes you can make that will help you achieve your plans?

Scientists advising the United Nations and our government have looked ahead. They have shown that we must cut carbon emissions to keep the rise in global temperature to no more than 1.5 degrees to avoid even worse climate change. If we don’t, we face worse flooding of our buildings and farmland, more often; longer spells of life-threatening hotter weather; storms that are more intense and more frequent, dislocating people from their homes; and the impacts of unpredictable weather on our food supplies all over the world.

To try and help avert this, Shropshire Council has declared a Climate Emergency and set our county a target to be net zero in energy use by 2030. We have less than eight years. In less than eight years we need to adjust our energy supplies and usage to meet this net zero target. We need to be capturing as much carbon as is emitted by the fossil fuels we use to heat, cool, light, power and drive us. It’s not much time, is it?

But we can do it. Every small change we make adds up. We can achieve net zero by reducing how much carbon our lifestyle emits, changing to non-carbon emitting energy sources, and offsetting our emissions with carbon capture. There are things each of us can do, no matter what age, or what our means (although I recognise that people in cared-for settings likely have fewer options).

Eight years ago I could not have foreseen all the major changes, personal upheavals, and sacrifices that have happened in my life, but I know I am better for them. I believe the same will be true of all the changes we have to start making now. We will all be better for them, and so will our planet.

Thank you, Me

You know that feeling of relief when you manage to get out of the house on time because you put your clothes out ready the night before? Or that feeling of happiness when you can sit back and relax for the rest of the day when you’ve done your chores? Or maybe for you it’s a feeling of satisfaction because what you have to do today is made easier by what you already did a few days ago?

Well, I think that in any of these situations we can look back and thank ourselves for having planned ahead. We can appreciate our earlier efforts which have made our present moment better. And we can be glad that we have that skill of knowing that what we do today has a knock-on effect on our life tomorrow, and beyond. We can thank ourselves.

Having got the hang of planning ahead and being able to thank myself for it, I wonder if I can look further ahead, maybe years ahead, and do things today which I can look back on with appreciation and be able to say ‘Thank you, Me!’. I want to see if I can plan and make changes which will help the climate emergency, so that I can look back and be glad that, at the very least, I tried to make a difference.

It might not work, but I think it’s worth a try. If lots of us can make small changes, maybe by eating a bit less meat, or buying a bit less stuff, or by driving a bit more gently, then I think we will be able to reach a point when we can look back and be really grateful for what we did.

Or do. Because I find the best thing to do is to make a small change today. Keep going with it. When it’s a habit and I no longer have to think about it, I can try another small change. All the small changes add up. All the small changes that previous generations made – to have refrigeration, fitted lighting, central heating, smoke-free cooking, to have any powered machinery or gadgets in the home, or to drive motor vehicles, for example – all added up to the lives we live today, and to the climate emergency we face.

And now our changes happen faster – we upgrade technology, we buy new clothes, new shoes, new things, we get the latest version, we want the shiniest, the most expensive – we are being encouraged to strive for whatever is in the adverts promising us we’ll feel happier by having them. We’ve all fallen victim to them but there’s no use in blaming ourselves, or anyone.

Some people’s decisions have had much bigger impacts than mine, but my decisions have had much bigger impacts than people who live in other parts of the world. We’re all in it together; we’re all facing the consequences, even if they aren’t visible right on our own doorstep. So, because I care about myself, my family, my community and my global humanity, I want to do what I can now so that I can look back and be thankful.

I may not be able to do as much as my neighbours, but I might be able to do more than someone who lives in a cared-for setting. Every small action makes a difference and I know that every day I do something, for every week that I try, and for every year I look back and see that I did my best, I can be glad. Because, that’s all I can do, and for that I say, Thank you, Me.