As part of our #CoolerPlanet series in the run up to climate talks in Paris (COP21) in December, Ronagh Craddock, a campaigner with Restless Development and UKYCC, explains why we can’t just leave tackling climate change to environmentalists. The #CoolerPlanet series is publishing new perspectives from young people all over the world on how climate change is affecting their lives.
Last night I had the pleasure of attending an event in Newcastle to celebrate diversity in the workplace. Tomorrow I will be helping people with physical and mental health difficulties enforce their rights. Today my focus is climate change. We could easily be fooled into thinking that these issues have nothing to do with one another – that we must pick one cause and stick to it – leave climate change to the environmentalists. I think that approach is a mistake. These issues are all interrelated so we have to respond in a holistic way.
For me, climate change is a human issue. It is not about saving the planet – the planet has been through a lot. It’s been through an ice age and it came out the other end just fine. Climate change is about whether the species of today – people and animals – will survive. Society gives a false impression we are superior to the rules of nature. We forget that we are a very dependent part of a fragile ecosystem, and we haven’t been around long at all in the history of our earth. Our existence on this planet is extremely fragile.
I care about climate change because it threatens people’s existence – lives and livelihoods – every day. Farmers are unable to grow food because of it, families are forced to leave their much-loved homes and communities when they become climate refugees, and lives are lost to extreme weather events. Climate change is the single biggest long-term threat to humanity, and it is undermining any progress being made on human rights, security and development. Excluding climate change from those conversations is therefore illogical.
Climate change has everything to do with equality and diversity. Not only are women disproportionately affected by climate change, but more generally those worst affected are the most marginalised and vulnerable in society – those furthest from power. That doesn’t just mean people in the Global South. In the UK for example, flooding homes are a much bigger problem for people with less financial resources to adapt and rebuild their lives. Conversely, big business largely won’t be the first to be affected by climate change, which explains their lack of urgency to respond.
Climate change is about democracy too; why are our governments making decisions that are not in our collective interest? Why is it so difficult to influence our supposedly democratic government? And why do fossil fuel companies have so much more access to decision makers than civil society?
As a young person I am often called naïve. I am told that I don’t have a grasp on the ‘real world’ and I am being unrealistic about what is achievable when it comes to climate change. I disagree. Naivety is believing that we can carry on with the status quo and everything will be ok despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Naivety is burying our head in the sand and making arguments against renewable energy on the basis that it is not economically attractive. Regardless of the fact that renewable can be economically feasible, to be blunt, economics is no use in an uninhabitable planet.
The fossil fuel industry spends over £30 million per year lobbying the EU to protect its vested interests. In the US they outspent green groups 22 times lobbying the Obama climate plan. I decided I had to take action on climate change because I am not prepared to stand by and watch my future be auctioned off to the highest bidder. I also feel a responsibility to speak up for future generations who don’t yet have a voice to ask ‘What about us? What were you thinking?!’. I have no idea if I will have children of my own in the future, but if I do I want to be able to tell them wholeheartedly that I did everything I could to tackle this problem. We have a responsibility to try. There are solutions available – we have to use them. We cannot be intimidated by the scale of the problem and the inconvenience of the solution. To quote Mandela, ‘it always seems impossible until it’s done’.
That’s why I am going to Paris this December – where the UN will be holding climate change negotiations (COP21). Governments from more than 190 countries will meet in Paris to achieve a global agreement on climate to keep global warming below 2°C. Worryingly the current plan is far from the level of ambition needed – as things stand we are in for a temperature rise of at least 3°C (science tells us 1.5°C will be devastating for much of the world). The system of voluntary pledges that the UN is using to agree this deal is far from adequate – experts warn that the pledges as they stand will cause ‘disastrous warming’. It is our job as a civil society to build the pressure and political will to make this agreement as ambitious as possible. My message to negotiators is that they have been negotiating my entire life and time is running out – we must act now. I will also be reminding them that my generation and those to come will have to live with their decisions, so it is only fair that we are listened to.
But we can’t and won’t stop there. We have learned that this is too great a problem to leave to governments alone because if they let us down, as they have done before, the consequences are too great. Fortunately there are so many incredible people who have already started creating the world we need through incredible tangible solutions like community renewable energy. What’s more we can collectively make a significant impact through lifestyle choices like cutting out meat – we just need the willpower. The task is for us all to commit to this journey of transition regardless of what happens in Paris. We don’t have a choice. And we have to work with committed and socially responsible businesses who can help make our vision a reality. We can’t keep climate change in a separate box for environmentalists and dust it off once a year when UN decides to hold a meeting. We have to recognise that climate change permeates every other issue we are talking about on a global, national and community level. Our policies and lifestyle choices must reflect that.