TL; DR:Climate change is a threat to human existence; 800 cities around the world (and counting) have declared it to be an emergency; don't panic, but get excited by the vision of a beautiful future world if we act now; talk about it and actually do something (suggested actions listed at the end of this post).
I have a confession to make: I've never taken the environment that seriously.
If you know me in real life, this may surprise you. I mean, I grew up switching lights off and wearing a jumper instead of turning on the heater. Turning off the tap when I brushed my teeth, putting food scraps in the compost and using the recycling bin. Eating a plant-based diet and buying my clothes at op shops. But I'm not special. You probably did most of those things too.
While I would always pick a bamboo toothbrush over a plastic one or biodegradable packaging over plastic, I saw these options as "nice" things to do. Cultural choices that marked me out as alternative, forward-thinking, a cut above mainstream consumers of plastic and meat. I never really felt as though my choices made a tangible difference. I've always enjoyed plenty to eat, access to hot water and electricity whenever I wanted, relatively clean air and the luxury of putting my rubbish in the recycling bin and never seeing it again.
As a professed lover of animals, I could have worried more about sea turtles or the destruction of rainforest habitats for tiny creatures. As a professed lover of people, I should have been more concerned about global food shortages, increased natural disasters and rising sea levels threatening coastal communities. But I couldn't really bring myself to care.
I am wholly selfish, in that I didn't start to care about the climate emergency until it started to feel like an emergency for me.
If that's you too, that's okay. We're in the same place. But it's time to let it go, leave old attitudes behind, and get serious about making a difference. Because we're facing an emergency.
What do you mean, "emergency"?!
At the time of writing, 800 cities around the world (including the one I live in) have declared a Climate Emergency. This declaration is essentially a commitment to put climate change at the front and centre of policies and plans for the foreseeable future, but it doesn't oblige the council to do anything in particular. Some have been criticised for making empty declarations, while others have made concrete commitments such as setting reduced emissions targets or promising to lobby federal government.
Why are they doing that? Because climate change is now recognised as a threat to human life and the continued existence of our species. Hotter summers and colder winters, natural disasters of increasing frequency and severity, coastal flooding due to rising sea levels, and breakdowns in global food supply are already costing human lives in developing countries--and in our own. Some scenarios predict a breakdown of civilisation within decades as countries go to war over resources, while one particularly disturbing paper assumes that social collapse is inevitable and calls us to consider how we're going to survive it. (I'm not linking to this one, for a variety of reasons.)
It's easy to dismiss the two sources I just mentioned, because they've come from a smaller institution and a solo scholar (not that that invalidates them) but what about this totally legitimate report from the United Nations that was covered by a highly reputable independent news organisation - FIVE YEARS AGO? There's now a pretty good consensus that we have maybe a decade to limit climate change before we have unprecedented levels of catastrophe on our hands.
At this point some of us want to deny that it can be that bad--believe me, I'm right there with you--but here's my response to apathy about the "emergency":
There is no downside to doing all we can to shift our culture away from practises we know to be harmful to the planet, as quickly as we can. If there is a possibility that the scenario is as bad as the worst-case scenario, it's not worth the risk of ignoring it. Regardless of the trajectory of climate change, we have the potential to create a beautiful future world if we act now.
Okay, it's an emergency. What do we do?
1. Take a deep breath. The first rule of emergency response is to stay calm. There's absolutely no way to know for sure what the future holds, so there's no point worrying about it. Focus on taking action in your corner of the world and in ever-expanding circles of influence.
2. Focus your energy and work smarter, not harder. Research the most effective actions you can take, and set boundaries around your time and energy so that you're not distracted by relatively empty gestures like swapping plastic straws for paper ones, or buying milk in glass bottles.
Related: "We're all going to go down with our keep-cups in our hands."
3. Talk about it. Tell anybody who hasn't heard about the climate emergency, so they know what we're dealing with. Then start talking about what we need to do. Talk to your friends. Talk to your council. Talk to the organisations you are part of, the retailers you frequent and the institutions you work and study at. We need to build momentum on a national conversation around the climate emergency. Talking spawns ideas which lead to effective action. Every voice added turns the volume up on the demands we make of our leaders. Just start talking.
Related: Has your council joined the Cities Power Partnership? It's easy to encourage them.
4. Actually do something. It's one thing to share a facebook post about how the government needs to act on climate change. It's another to write to your local MP, or join a peaceful, legal protest to demand federal action. It's one thing to shake your head over our government's reluctance to transition to renewable energy sources, another thing to just change your home electricity to a renewable supplier. While you're at it, you could move your money out of fossil fuels and take the challenge to adopt a climate-friendly diet right now, while we're waiting for technology on these issues to catch up. Individual action seems small, but the impacts are exponential as you live out your example and show others what's possible. Every change you make personally is a step towards shifting our culture as a whole.
Thank you guys for caring. The climate crisis is a Big Scary, but we're in this together. Let's gooooo!