A soft landing plan
Despite the now alarming evidence of climate change and growing levels of concern around the world, I suggest the chance of a meaningful and binding response is low.
The world’s juggernaut of manufacturing, oil based food production, weapons industry etc. would take decades to rein in or restructure, even if countries can be convinced to gamble with their economies and try. And even in the good times (i.e. now), international levels of cooperation are underwhelming – the Ukrainian tussle being one example.
With nearly a thousand billion extra tonnes of CO2 (relative to pre-industrial levels) already in the atmosphere, even if there were no more emissions as of today, our changing climate is likely to present many countries with a long list of adaptive changes to make, such as remodelling food production to cope with flooding, droughts etc. urban reconstruction – even relocation, after storm events and/or rising sea levels.
Implementing these changes will add another layer of emissions over and above the ‘business as usual’ levels.
Countries will know this and that if they do put the brakes on their own juggernaut and/or don’t make adaptive changes, so as to meet any agreed emissions targets, that there would be associated austerity measures and hardship.
The prospect of a very annoyed population will not appeal to governments, especially elected ones.
So, where should we be looking for the answer?
I suggest it’s to the biggest, quietest elephant ever to be in a room – our own population overshoot.
As James Lovelock rather bluntly said “Those who fail to see that population growth and climate change are two sides of the same coin are either ignorant or hiding from the truth”.
Sir David Attenborough says “All our environmental problems become easier to solve with fewer people and harder – and ultimately impossible – to solve with ever more people”.
Jane Fonda says “I’m scared. I’ll be gone but I am scared for my grandchildren and for the wild animals and for the whole human race”.
Adrian Hayes says “I’ve seen melting ice caps with my own eyes and got very wet in the process, but it’s pointless campaigning against climate change or to “save the arctic” without addressing the root cause behind it and virtually every other environmental issue we face: our unsustainable numbers on this planet. That is the real inconvenient truth”.
The list of rich and famous people who have spoken out about their population concerns, often in urgent terms, is long (and interesting to google).
It includes Einstein, Asimov, Kofi Annan, Prince Philip, Pope Paul VI, Martin Luther King, Jacques Cousteau, Hellen Keller, Michael Palin, Joanna Lumley, Jeremy Irons, Richard Branson, Bob Geldof, Bill Gates, Cameron Diaz and many more.
But with net population gain still adding an extra 1.5 million people to the planet each week, their collective wisdom clearly isn’t doing the trick, or isn’t being heard.
Could there be a parallel with the frog phenomenon, where a gradual increase in temperature tricks them into inactivity, until it’s too late and they cook.
In that overheating pond, frog leaders saying stuff like “I’m really concerned about how hot this water’s getting, guys” is OK, but most frogs have busy lives and what they really need to hear is “Get out of the water now – or you’re going to croak”.
In my view, it would be fantastic if our celebrities did the same and changed their message from ‘general alarm’ mode to a simple action plan like:-
“For the sake of humanity and the other species we share this planet with, let’s all try to have only one child per couple (accidents accepted), regardless of where we currently live”.
The power that fashion and social expectation carry can be remarkable, as can people’s spirit of generosity for a true cause, about which they are well informed.
People may also be attracted to an action plan in which they hold the power, and governments, corporations etc. have the back seat.
I would suggest that as far as options for a benign future go, there appears to be little else on the table and although NZ currently has a bountiful food supply and modest population, Kiwis should be 100% unsmug about this issue.
Any and all countries which start running out of food will have to prioritize food security. In the event that a recession has by then eroded their ability to pay for it, their governments will be under tremendous pressure to look at all options (including less polite ones) to get it.
NZ may well find itself playing the part of “small rabbit with large food basket, hopping through a hungry forest” and if it starts getting dark, rabbit will need to have its head in the game.
For my part, I will try to put the “fashion action plan” suggestion to some of the celebs who have already spoken out.
If you know any tricks about how to contact them through their privacy screens, or would like to help work on this issue in any way, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author – Mike Gregory
Mike Gregory is manager of the Nelson Reuse Centre.
This article was published in the Nelson Mail on 23 May 2015 under the series headed ’50 Shades of Green’.