“There’s an issue here, I think, where lots of people are assuming a right over these things, I think people have got a bit confused about ‘rights’ issues, ‘we all have a right to cheap flights, or cheap alcohol, or cheap meat’ but these things are not rights, and actually where they’re detrimental to society as a whole I think we need to look at them.” Marcus Brigstocke, Question Time 26/11/09
Yesterday we saw the president of the COP15 summit resign, in the past few days we’ve seen rich countries try to rescind on the legally-binding Kyoto protocol, promises on critical deforestation (20% of global emissions) destroyed, and little to no progress on what is widely considered the last chance for our world to act as one to limit the potentially disastrous effects of man-made climate change.
So this looks like the question that we may have to ask now:
What do we do when it fails?
What do we do when our governments let us down? When the representatives of our world stand and suggests that they can conceive of the damages of the 1-2% GDP necessary to prevent run away climate change, but not in the 5-20% that no deal is likely to cost us. When they have lost sight of the fact that these petty discussions about money amongst developed countries for whom ‘growth’ has become synonymous with ‘good’, should be nothing to all the deaths, refugees, famine, drought, flooding and severe weather events that are taking second place to the pounds the dollars the yen, the made up values, traded through the air.
It may be up to us.
This may not be a bad thing. What has been less publicised (and much more persecuted) is the open sustainability forums and communities in Copenhagen, the 60-100,000 protestors walking through London, placards held high, the several thousand councils and organisations, schools and businesses, and tens of thousands of individuals who have signed up to 10:10, and the recent survey that revealed 75% of British voters believe “world leaders are on an important mission at the climate change conference in Copenhagen” (source).
I have spoken before about how I believe it is time for us to reclaim grassroots politics, to change top down political posturing into bottom up action. And I don’t mean the important but inactive protest actions of closing down power stations or stalling shipping routes (I do think these kind of media events [there’s no denying that’s what they are] are very valuable in raising issue awareness). What I mean is us, all of us, generating positive personal and community lead actions to reduce our own emissions, and to encourage others too. 75% of us currently support a deal in Copenhagen. People are always moaning about the ‘Nanny State’. Well now it’s time to grow up. Now it’s time for us to take responsibility for our own methods of living. Let’s return to a true meaning of ‘rights’.
You do not have a right to cheap flights, to travel, to meat in every meal, to fizzy drinks, or to change your wardrobe every season. These are luxuries. Unsustainable ones. We need to break the bonds that capitalism has sold us. Your rights are to equality, to lack of persecution, to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being, to life and liberty. You do not have the right to impinge on the rights of others. Our growth driven profligacy is doing just that. Food riots, climate refugees, flooding, this is happening now. Governments can legislate – and it is important that they do so – to curb the emissions of big business, of public services, and of energy policies, but if they don’t, we still have the power to affect change.
Here’s a human right for you:
“Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.” Article 29, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (though shame on them for the gendered language)
The greatest battle we face on climate change is lifestyle. We could cover 1/3 of the UK in wind and solar farms, combine that with tidal, hot rock, offshore wind power, and nuclear power plants along the whole of our coastline, we would still fall seriously short of our current energy consumption levels (Source). Because we’re not just talking about electricity here, we’re talking about heating, transport, manufacturing, agriculture, how and what we eat, gadgets, where consumables and clothes come from, how we throw them away, how we shop, what we expect from our food, our holidays, how we do our jobs. It all uses energy, it all contributes to the emissions that we, as a nation, and a world, have to cut.
And that really is down to us.
Up until the last 30 years we did not eat meat more than a couple of times a week – we have become reliant on oil based pesticides and fertilizers, on systems of farming that are eroding key nutrients and biodiversity. We ship our food over here, process it, transport it, transport ourselves to purchase it and then transport and ship away the 1/3 (one fucking third!) of it we waste (inedible food waste can be recycled too). 54% of UK transport emissions come from cars, 35% of global emissions are from agriculture and changes in land use (deforestation). These are things we can change.
“British consumers must cut down on meat and dairy produce, reduce their intake of processed foods [and bottled water] and curb waste. […] These are the three priorities identified in a report by the government’s independent advisory body on sustainability, the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), which calls for radical changes in patterns of consumption.” (Source)
Reduce, Reuse, Recyle. Consumerism can be a democracy, we vote with our wallets; buy clothes that last, make smaller portions, mend things, travel less, walk to shop or buy online, take public transport, campaign to make it better, run programs at community centres, petition and force change upon local government. Support local renewable energy projects, invest in them, insulate your home, install solar panels for heating water, photovoltaic for generating your own energy, raise money for funds to support households that can’t afford simple measures like reflectors behind radiators, turn your gadgets off at the socket, buy tech that lasts longer, that you can upgrade, and that is sustainably produced and low in energy to use, encourage businesses to use tech to work more sustainably, put on jumpers and carpet your houses, eat less meat and dairy, avoid bottled water, petition your council to provide water fountains, eat more and local fruit and veg, buy fish from sustainable stocks, buy better, more expensive meat, less often.
Destroy the supermarkets, like they are destroying world food stocks. Processed food increases the energy used by – and decreases the energy value of – food and drink, it’s also making us unwell. Consider how many children you have, consider what you feed them, how you clothe them, and how you teach them to cook and live. Make your change, and do it realistically, sustainably, find new pleasures, and ways in which it does not make your life less liveable. We work hard, time is finite, so we also need to divide the workloads of our households more fairly. We need to reject the lure of fashion, of consumerism, of junk food, to provide cooking lessons at school, life education, and to provide people on low incomes with the means with which to feed their families well, shopping at a market is cheaper than at Tescos or Lidl, sometimes all it would take is an hour of childcare, or a veg box scheme with recipes.
Reduce your emissions as much and as soon as you can.
That’s what we do when they fail. We fight the battle for them.