Climate change is real, and is already having devastating impacts on our planet, our wildlife and on humanity. The future looks dire, and it’s an understatement to say that climate change, alongside, and including biodiversity loss, is the challenge of the century. This said, we are not just doomed yet. We do have a short window of opportunity to act, in order to slow down the effects of climate change and, perhaps, in the future, reverse some of them. The task seems overwhelming and cynics, deniers, and doomsayers may be discouraging, but this is what we can do.
It all comes down to ‘mitigating’, ‘adapting’, and, yes… ‘surviving’ – but surviving ‘ethically’. At our individual level, but also as members of different communities, at local, national and global levels.
Mitigating, in the context of rapid climate change, means actively and decisively changing the way we live, to reduce the direct and indirect amount of carbon and other greenhouse gases we produce. Mitigation can mean using new technologies and renewable energies, making older equipment more energy efficient, or changing management practices or consumer behaviour.
To mitigate at individual level, we can:
- Assess our own life and identify where we can reduce the most the direct and indirect amount of carbon and other greenhouse gases we each produce.
- Plant trees and native plants.
- Grow our own food.
- Eat organic, locally produced, sustainably produced food.
- Reduce food waste.
- Stop, or drastically reduce, eating meat and dairy, or at least source them from an organic local farmer.
- Reduce (consume less), reuse, repair, recycle our goods.
- Stop, or drastically reduce, traveling by plane. If we fly, offset our emissions.
- Stop, or drastically reduce, using a personal car. Walk, cycle, use public transport, car-share if possible. If driving, use a fuel-efficient car.
- Improve our home’s energy efficiency and save energy at home by using LED lightbulbs, turning lights and appliances off when unused.
- Buy efficient appliances that use less electricity.
- Use, or switch to, a genuinely sustainable energy provider for our home.
- Install solar panels and/or wind turbines.
- Reduce water waste, install water tanks and improve our water usage.
- Use only sustainable cement and sustainable concrete.
- Change our superannuation funds provider to one that does not invest in fossil fuels industries, and, preferably, invests in genuinely ‘green bonds’.
- Inspire our (grand-)children through our actions to live carbon-free.
- Ensure our (grand-)children understand, respect and coexist peacefully with nature.
To mitigate as local, national and global communities, we can:
- Engage in collective action to ensure accountability from government and businesses, including through citizen lawsuits.
- Governments, alongside global corporations, are amongst the most powerful actors on the planet – make them accountable!
- Vote for political parties that support genuine policies aiming at decarbonising our societies.
- Push for, and support your council and national governments to declare a climate emergency. Remain aware that these may lead to counter-productive or eco-fascist policies (where restrictions on freedom cannot be justified by the purposed outcome) if done by ill-intentioned political bodies.
- Volunteer, donate or otherwise support institutions that aim to decarbonise our societies.
- Join divestment campaigns and push for any investments our university, workplace or pension fund make, to not include fossil fuels.
- March with, or support, grassroots communities such as School Strike 4 Climate, Extinction Rebellion, that are pushing for decarbonized societies.
- Support a genuine carbon tax, which revenues would be invested to finance the transition, including the most vulnerable and those losing their job, to a decarbonised world.
- Push for a drastic reforming of our subsidy system, so that instead of rewarding fossil fuels and agro-industries, subsidies and investments support renewable energies, sustainable farming, land regeneration and waste management.
- Push for public and private institutions to be assessed against their willingness and efforts to reduce their carbon footprint. High executives’ performance appraisal and subsequent payments and bonuses should reflect these.
- Push for, and support actions, for proper management and effective disposal of our refrigerators and air conditioners, as their cooling chemical (HFCs) “have 1,000 to 9,000 times greater capacity to warm the atmosphere than carbon dioxide”, and as “90 percent of refrigerant emissions happen at end of life, effective disposal of those currently in circulation is essential”.
- Support family planning and girls’ education as “better control of the population size would reduce demand for energy, food, travel, buildings and all other resources on the planet”.
- Study the solutions to climate change put forth by Project Drawdown and choose which solutions we can support at our level.
- When age-appropriate, gently help (grand-)children learn the realities of climate change, and encourage them in their own empowering actions.
- Inspire others to make changes, not lecture them.
There are often synergies and overlaps between mitigation and adaptation. For instance, planting trees in urban areas or restoring a peatland has both mitigation and adaptation benefits. While mitigation measures may have benefit for the whole of the planet, adaptation is often most relevant at the local level. We adapt to the changes in our specific environment.
Adaptation, in the context of rapid climate change, means acknowledging that reducing carbon emissions is no longer enough to halt the effects of climate change, and that we still have to adapt to a warming world.
To adapt at the individual level, we can:
- Let go of our wishes about what our life should be like, and embrace the life we are actually living.
- Adopt an open mind and a flexible mindset.
- Research and embrace the concept of resilience, i.e. developing our capacity to bounce back even after being hit by a dramatic or catastrophic event.
- Consider the possible impacts that climate change may have where we live: how our life, our family and friends, our home, our work, our access to food, to water, to an income, to health, may be affected by intense or repetitive natural disasters such as floods, droughts, bushfires, hurricanes, etc. Prepare for these impacts. The Australian National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility provides useful and digestible information about practical adaptation, which can be accessed here. This website also provides useful ideas to adapt our homes to climate change.
- Consider how may our life, our family and friends, our home, our work, etc. be affected by a temporary or permanent cessation of public or private services in our areas, including access to food, water, health, school, electricity, waste management, internet, communications, and security. Prepare for these disruptions.
- Learn and share local and traditional knowledge about our environment. Integrate indigenous climate observations and resilience mechanisms in our practices.
- Learn about, and understand, the ecosystems of the location we live in (biodiversity, water cycles, soil quality, air quality, etc.), and how they can be affected by climate change.
- Learn about, and practice permaculture or other comprehensive, sustainable, food production systems.
- Change livestock and aquaculture practices, change cropping practices, patterns, and planting dates.
- Consider that climate change will increase the likelihood of conflicts within and amongst societies, and prepare for it (I will write more about this in another post).
- Learn first aid and remote first aid.
- Learn how to use plants and wildlife for medical purposes.
- Learn about and recognise the merits of ascetic practices.
- Keep ourselves informed about climate change.
- Acknowledge that, according to the Parent Guide To Climate Change, “[t]his generation of children will need to adapt to faster and more wide-ranging changes than we have ever seen before”.
- Learn and share our learning with our (grand-)children, and remain open to their ideas.
To adapt as local, national and global communities, we can:
- Build self-sufficiency, not as individuals or family units, but as local communities. Our societies will be more resilient if self-sufficiency is practiced at community level rather than individual level.
- Build and maintain strong bonds with our communities. We all belong to multiple communities: family and friends, work colleagues, neighbours, familiar strangers, school groups, other parents, sports groups, etc. We can build our communities’ resilience and ours by adapting together.
- Ensure that community participation by politicians in local adaptation planning and implementation is genuine and includes all possible viewpoints, including those of the most vulnerable.
- Identify the most vulnerable around us (those who are poor, sick, disabled, injured, living alone, single parents, elderly, migrants, etc.) and, with our communities, include them in the local adaptation strategies. Provide safety nets, distribute food and food surplus, ensure access to water and sanitation, vaccination and essential public health programs, including reproductive health services and medical emergency services.
- Learn about, understand and support relevant local, national and international policies and actions that may affect our local ecosystem adaptation needs. As the 2014 IPCC report on Adaptation Needs specifies, both ecosystem-based adaptation (such as coastal and wetland maintenance and restoration, to absorb or control the impact of climate change in urban and rural areas) and technological options are necessary.
- When it comes to ecosystem-based adaptation, consider pushing for ecological conservation and restoration, increasing biodiversity, afforestation and reforestation, bushfire reduction, green infrastructures (shade trees, green roofs, etc.), controlling overfishing, ecological corridors, seed banks, community-based natural resource management, and more.
- When it comes to the use of technologies, study and consider promoting traditional techniques and methods, genetic techniques, efficient irrigation, water saving technologies including water harvesting, conservation agriculture, food storage and preservation facilities, building insulation, mechanical and passive cooling and renewable technologies.
- When it comes to engineered and built environment, study and consider building sea walls and coast protection structures, flood levees and culverts, water storage, improved drainage and sewage works, flood and cyclone shelters, storm and waste management, transport and road infrastructure adaptation, floating house, adjusting power plants and electricity grids.
- Engage in respectful awareness raising, community outreach, political engagement, and educational programs for disseminating knowledge about adaptation options as well as for helping to build social capital that is critical for social resilience.
- Push for, or maintain early warning and response systems to any possible risks – environmental or societal – to our communities. In other words, we need to remain informed about the world around us, to anticipate and plan for changes and disruptions.
- Learn about, and explore different economic, regulatory and political adaptation options, as these may have a much wider impact on our societies than changes made at individual levels. This means engaging in debates and decision making related to carbon taxes, insurances, disaster contingency funds, land zoning regulations, water regulations, disaster risk reduction, property rights, protected areas, fishing quotas, national and local adaptation plans, water, forest and landscape management, etc.
- Ensure schools, universities, vocational training institutions and educators at all level of learning understand the realities of climate change, and prepare children, teenagers and adults for it.
Adapting to the effects of climate change is essential to face it, but the 2007 IPCC report nonetheless recalls that if “many early impacts of climate change can be effectively addressed through adaptation, the options for successful adaptation diminish and the associated costs increase with increasing climate change”.
Surviving, in the context of rapid climate change, means acknowledging that there is a very real possibility that human life is in jeopardy, that we may face disasters of cataclysmic proportions in our lifetime, so we need to prepare for it. Surviving ethically implies making deeply considered choices about how to live, and how to die.
Ethical survival starts from the premise that my family will never be completely safe if my neighbours are unsafe. If my neighbours are hungry and they know that there is food in my house, I will not be safe. This holds true at every level of human organisation. My community will not remain safe nor secure if the communities around us are hungry, sick, angry, or need to move out of their location. My country will not remain safe nor secure if the populations of the neighbouring countries are not.
Ethical survival is also based on the premise that we don’t know when and how each of us will be affected by climate change. Yes, some people in certain geographical areas will definitely be hit harder than others, but ultimately, all of us could become climate refugees. This can help us think about how we would like to be treated by strangers if we have to beg them for help one day.
Ethical survival is envisioning, anticipating, preventing, preparing for, acting, and responding to life and death situations in ways which are considerate of others. It is driven by the willingness to live together and as such, it focuses on building connection and meaningful relationships with oneself, others and nature. It acutely understands that those ‘others’ may be aggressive and may constitute real threats. As such, it understands that protection from these may be necessary. It is therefore not naïve nor built on some sort of exalted attainment. Yet, it can see clearly that the authors of these threats are also insecure, even when they themselves cannot see it. As such, ethical survival chooses to prevent, manage and respond to these threats in ways that are effective, but considerate.
To survive at the individual level, we can:
- Consider the possibility that we may not die of old age. This, of course, is a truism, but in a world of climate change, it takes a new, tangible, meaning.
- Consider the possibility that all of the people we love may not die of old age.
- Consider the possibility that all of what we love, including nature, wildlife, pets, culture, food, music, work, arts, knowledge, books, technologies as well as ways of living, traditions and discoveries, may disappear or be so fundamentally altered in the coming decades that we may not experience them in the same way.
- Consider the possibility that our efforts in ‘mitigating’ and ‘adapting’ to climate change might not lead to our intended outcomes.
- Consider the possibility that our efforts to survive may be of limited or even no purposes in case of ‘runaway climate change’, where the global average temperature increases rapidly and inexorably all across the planet due to cascading tipping points and feedback loops.
- Give time and space for grief, and respect the emotions that may arise. Understand that we may go through stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance of the situation we are confronted with. Respect that everyone, including children and teenagers, grieves differently and not everyone will go through all of these stages.
- Should we need it, seek the support of your community, and/or, of professionals.
- Deeply look at our life as we currently live it, and consider making changes to be in alignment with a new, profound, understanding of life and death.
- Build redundancies in our lives, so that if one aspect is affected, we may rely on alternatives. For instance, by being both connected to the grid and having our own sources of energy. Or by sourcing food from diverse origins, such our own and from different farmers. Or by keeping hard and soft copies of important documents and cherished pictures. Or by earning money from different livelihoods rather than having a main job.
- Consider that while being rich may allow to better prepare for climate change in the short term, in a collapsed society, ‘old’ money may not be worth anything. Also, consider that others’ perception of one’s wealth may be counterproductive to his/her security.
- Based on the environment we are in, identify the different worst-case scenario that we may be caught in, and build skills for these.
- Knowing how to access shelter, water and food are essential, but so are people-skills, i.e. how to communicate persuasively but without being confrontational, or how to negotiate.
- Learn people skills, including deep listening, non-violent communication, and non-confrontational negotiation skills.
- Learn to live frugally.
- Learn how to build shelters regardless of the environment we are in.
- Learn how to find water in our environment and rendering it drinkable.
- Learn how to find food in the wild.
- Learn how to communicate when technology fails.
- Learn basic medical skills and study the Where There is No Doctor handbook.
- Learn and share these skills with our (grand-)children.
- Choose a location to live depending on the environment at a specific time. Settling down in a given location; retreating from it and relocating to another place when the situation requires it; or being constantly on the move, all have pros and cons. None of these options should be discarded beforehand as we may have to resort to all of them in our lifetime.
- Be aware of the possible false sense of security that hard security (living in a bunker with weapons and barbwires) provides. The protection of a bunker will be relative if it gets flooded, if the crops outside die off, or if hordes of hungry people try to get in because there is food inside.
- Be aware of the bunker mentality, where one gets so disconnected from their environment that they are not able to read it accurately anymore, leading to poor decisions.
- Remain fit and healthy.
- Learn self-defense skills. Consider learning aikido, which is a martial art that allows one to defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury.
- Consider that you may be confronted to a situation where you would expose yourself to danger to save someone else’s life.
- Learn crowd-control skills.
- Learn to extend love and compassion to all, including to those who seek to harm others.
To survive as local, national and global communities, we can:
- Gently encourage others to confront the possibility of their own ending and of life as we know it, because of climate change.
- Hold others in their grieving.
- Consider that even though some people, some institutions, some countries, are more to blame for the situation we are in, we are all confronted by climate change. Engaging in violence or supporting violence may lead to an escalation of violence. We are in it together, we need to learn to survive together. This is not aimed at reaching some exalted attainment: it is based on the idea that we need to develop radical habits of coexistence.
- Consider that humanity, and life as we know it, may not survive this century or the next, so our efforts should include leaving the planet in such a state that future life will not be jeopardised by us. This means, for instance, cleaning radioactive nuclear sites and waste.
- Ensure that our societies consider the fate of those who depend on us, including parentless children, old people, people in care, incarcerated people, and animals kept in locked-in spaces including zoos.
- Consider that establishing a community – and then sustaining it through disruptive events as well as daily routine – may be far more difficult than finding food, filtering water or building a shelter. (I will explore community dynamics in another post).
- Ensure and maintain the security of our communities through ethical means. (I will develop this point in another post).
- Engage in radical acts of kindness. This means getting out of our comfort zone and truly seek to respect, engage with, connect, forgive and help others, even those we disagree with, even those we don’t like. (I will also develop this point in another post).
- Understand and develop respectful relationships with public service providers, in particular, the police, medical, paramedical, fire and rescue institutions and armed forces. Some readers may not be comfortable with this, but consider that they could be your first responders in case of an emergency.
- Become ethical compasses in our communities.
- Listen to views that diverge from ours and take them into account when making decisions that affect others.
Although the ‘surviving’ part of this post may be difficult to read and potentially disempowering, it does not aim to undermine the two previous parts. Being lucid and honest about the possibility of our own end because of climate change does not mean that we will do nothing about it.
It’s also worth remembering that no one is perfect. No one is able to achieve all of the points listed here on their own. The thing is we don’t need a few people to achieve these perfectly. We need billions to do them imperfectly. But clearly, there is a sense of urgency, and the earlier we work on these, the better.
Some analysts warn that one danger that adults may face in the coming years or decades is falling victims of acts of violence perpetrated by angry, confused, desperate, revenge-seeking youth. This may never happen and we are not there yet. However, children and teenagers are already – and legitimately – asking adults ‘what have you done to prevent climate change?’
We better have good answers.
(Note that this post remains a work in progress, and we will be continuously improving it. Your ideas are most welcome. We will explore in more depth in future posts the concepts of ethical survival and of ethical community security as well as the necessity to engage in radical acts of kindness.)