Our first thought was to reduce CO2, but this is really a mechanism, essential, and difficult enough, but still a mechanism, for what might be a better goal - to prevent climate catastrophe. This is a broader target, and for that to work we need to define catastrophe, define our preferred alternative, and understand the path to that to that target future.
We already know that the Earth is heating up, and even if we simply stop everything overnight we have to take into account the time delay between producing CO2 and feeling the heating effect. The CO2 we generated yesterday will heat the planet some decades from now. Even then, we are witnessing a catastrophe as we speak, with current climate conditions killing land and ocean species on a huge scale. We cannot prevent a catastrophe that is already happening.
What we are looking for is a combination of mitigation, making the change as small as possible, adaptation, living within the new environment, and recovery, leaving the earth with self managing stabilising systems that give hope for the future. We won't be able to put everything back the way we found it, but it has to be the ultimate goal. To do these things we certainly have to urgently make changes to the way we live to reduce further CO2 pollution. We also have make changes to the way we live to reduce and manage the fight for resources that will happen. And we have to make changes to the way we live to reduce the chances of any repetition of this carelessness with the earth systems that keep us alive.
I've divided this up into three areas.
This covers the physical and practical changes that are needed. This might include:
- Change our agricultural practices to work with nature and to use the beneficial side effects, such as CO2 storage, that healthy soil and managed food growing ecosystems can provide.
- Allow re-wilding to provide an essential buffer against biodiversity loss and flooding on the one hand, and to provide services such as pest management, pollination and atmosphere control on the other.
- Reduce our transport needs by focusing on local food and local manufacturing.
- Change the way we build and use houses, offices, factories and warehouses to use heat storage, balanced ventilation and solar input.
As a society we need to make ourselves more resilient and understanding of the situation we find ourselves in. Perhaps we might need to:
- Educate ourselves to improve our personal resilience and to allow us to thrive in a low energy society.
- Change the financial system to directly support everyday life and development in a restructured society.
- Restructure businesses to focus on their nominal business rather than finance, to make care for the environment a priority, and to consider the society in which they are embedded.
- Ensure that products are designed for long life before repair might be needed, and that they are repairable when required.
- Ensure that products are re-usable and recyclable.
- Develop habits within all of us for making the best use of anything we buy.
- Focus on energy products (batteries, wave power, solar heat power) that do a job well enough on available mineral resources without worrying about competitiveness against other products that are cheaper but use materials that are in short supply. More generally, we need to price in future availability of mined resources, either explicitly, or by design and purchase criteria.
- Reduce emphasis on 'the market' when looking for solutions to any of the above.
The goals I've listed in the previous sections are direct actions with clearly identifiable benefits, either for mitigation, adaptation or recovery. The life envisaged should be eminently liveable and rewarding, but, and there is always a 'but', getting there from here will be painful. Corporations will need to be encouraged, of course, and we sort of know how to do that: seed funding and taxation, for example, as well as blunt instrument legislation. Corporations are used to this. People will need to be encouraged, as well, with a different set of tools, some of which will have unpleasant side-effects. We need to remember that an individual's ecological footprint depends on their circumstances: roughly, this correlates with how well off they are. It is going to be important to ensure that the costs fall in the correct places, so that the less well off do not end up paying for the extravagance of others. Balancing all of these things is a matter of politics.
We need to examine our political structures to see how difficult, or easy, they make the changes we need. Many of the changes above will need government support, perhaps funding, new laws, centralised technical advice and so on. Above all, the government must be seen to be fair and trusted.
There are clearly many areas that will need expansion but my point is that there is a lot to do, these things all interact to some extent, and people will have very strong opinions. This is not something to be dealt with by individuals acting alone. What we really need is mechanisms for these to be discussed, bought into and implemented. I'm going to be heading towards the political part of the discussion, but first we need some context. Let's start with the role of the citizen.
Expanded the political area to include redistribution required to reduce impact of uneven generation of polutants.