Climate change: Your money or your life?

“There is no hope without us taking actions. But once we start taking actions, hope is everywhere.” On 11 March, Rupert Read spoke to Ealing Green Party about the climate crisis – and how we might be able to survive it. Ina Ballik reports.

Smoke billowing from a wildfire
Smoke billowing from a wildfire
Ina Ballik

“Your money or your life?”

This is the slogan that Rupert Read opens with, after a minute of silence.

Silence is a powerful way to start a public talk. I’m impressed. More so when I see that every person who came along to listen to Rupert’s insights on the current state of affairs regarding climate change joins the moment of silence. Pause and silence to reflect and grieve, and as a gesture of respect towards the climate change induced habitat and species loss that we have lived through for decades.

Rupert Read speaking at a Green Party event

The tone for the session is set. It’s not going to be another one of these delusory talks that’s aiming to wrap the listener in the warm blanket of comfort, confirming that ‘everything will be fine’ and they can go home and carry on as usual. Au contraire! This talk is going to be provocative and feisty. I like that! No skirting around the issue, no customary British Politeness – just straight forward inconvenient truths.

Rupert states to the audience the crude facts about our disastrous failings in addressing climate change as a global society. The 2015 Paris Agreement is great, but far from achievable, because:

  • Current emission reduction targets are not nearly ambitious enough to stay within the agreed 2℃, let alone 1.5℃ global warming.

  • Nations are pulling out of previous commitments to reduce CO2 emissions or – knowingly or unknowingly – are completely missing their targets.

  • Every nation on earth is still is seeking to grow their economy the ‘old fashioned way’, based on fossil fuels.

  • Villains like Trump, Bolsonaro and similar despicable political representatives were voted into office.

  • The aviation and shipping sectors, amongst the fastest growing sectors in the world, are excluded from the Paris Agreement.

  • Nobody adequately considers the time lag, i.e. the delay between greenhouse gases (GHGs) being released into the atmosphere and their respective warming effect. This time lag has profound negative consequences for humanity. It is currently estimated that the full heating potential of CO2 released into the atmosphere now will take effect in approximately 40 years. That means that our average temperatures during the last decade are a result of what we were thoughtlessly putting into the air in the 1970s!

  • Public media is still giving air-time to climate change deniers, thereby impeding any constructive debates.

The list goes on and on. These uncomfortable truths, dished out by Rupert, come thick and fast now, and I can see frowning faces, growing concern, and in some cases shock. Good!

Because we are facing an immediate existential crisis. We are, obliviously, living in the midst of the sixth mass extinction period. It’s the first time in Earth’s history that a mass extinction event has been brought upon by a living species. That is us, humans. The time to bubble wrap the truth is over. climate activists outside Parliament climate activists outside Parliament

Image: Green Party

By now, I assume, many in the audience are starting to wonder if there is going to be a way out of this described disaster; if there is anything we, humanity as a whole or individuals, can do to stop society ceasing to exist. Will Rupert offer some solutions? The answer is yes; but before he does, he shares three potential scenarios of future life on this planet with us – like a menu with only three options to choose from. And similar to a restaurant menu, the cheapest option is not the best; it’s actually one that most of us want to avoid.

Three future scenarios

Option one is ‘terminal collapse’ – the collapse of society, and all of Earth’s systems. It does not sound very appetising, does it?

Option two sounds only marginally better. The ‘collapse of society, followed by a successor society that can recover from the collapse.’ Wow – I’ll have some of that! Says nobody – at that stage…

But, looking at the past decade or more of political and societal inactions, the question that arises is valid: What is our appetite, as human society, for option three?

Option three: total transformation! This option is by far the most attractive, without a doubt, but it the most ‘costly’. Or shall I better say, it is the option that requires the greatest sacrifices?

Why? It requires the most profound, radical, and unprecedented changes in human history. It requires us to tear up the entirety of our rulebooks that tell us to trust in the political and economic system as we know it.

Like in a five-star restaurant, we are facing the dilemma of wanting the most appealing and highest priced option – but probably we are not willing to pay for it. This said, the chances of attaining this total societal transformation though are not great. We may need to make peace with the fact that despite all efforts, large or small, we will only be able to achieve option two.

We are, obliviously, living in the midst of the sixth mass extinction period. It’s the first time in Earth’s history that a mass extinction event has been brought upon by a living species: humans.

Flood warning sign
Flood warning sign

Ten actions to survive the climate crisis

1. Wake up!

Wake up from the dream that our current society will go on – or better, stagger on – and somehow the situation will magically transform.

2. Feel!

Feel angry, frustrated, sad, outraged, fearful, hopeless, terrified, and acknowledge all these feelings. Don’t suppress them as they are key to building a consciousness of what is actually happening. We have to allow ourselves to let these facts land in our conscious mind before we can take actions.

3. Lifestyle change

If we want people to join us in our movement to fight climate change we need to show some leadership by flying less, eating less meat, reducing our energy consumption and thinking about how many children we will have, if any. Leading by example is the most powerful way to mobilise the masses, and the impact of ‘the one’ can be amplified to the impact of ‘the many’.

4. Build community

Learn how to create model communities, growing food, generating renewable power, teaching and acquiring new skills etc. These skills will be pivotal in determining our ability to rebuild the successor society, mentioned in option two.

5. Transformative adaptation

Redirect the focus from mitigation only measures to mitigation and adaptation measures. We have to be more visionary and be more forward thinking to adapt to the challenges of climate changes, including considerations of worsening effects from time lags in the carbon cycle.

6. Deep adaptation

We have to prepare for the probability (or the certainty?) that our society is bound to collapse and that option three will not occur. In order for a successor society to be able to re-emerge after the collapse, we need to provide whoever comes after us with the goods to do so, for instance by building climate resilient seed banks for future generations to grow crops.

Nobody considers the time lag – it is currently estimated that the full heating potential of CO2 released into the atmosphere now will take effect in approximately 40 years.

7. Change through conventional means

If we want to pave a way for radical political changes we need re-learn that our voice matters, and purposefully use our civic voice in future elections. We need a new ‘Green surge’. Become involved in electoral politics, get involved in the local elections in May 2019 and in 2020, lobby! Will this be enough? Probably not. Is it necessary? Absolutely!

8. Rebel!

Conventional means are not enough – we also need to embrace civil rebellion. Our social contract is broken, with the current political system sending us and our children to death and collapse. We need to consider all means of non-violent rebellion against any legitimate target to fundamentally change society.

9. Talk

We need to talk about climate change. One to one. One to many. Any form of dialogue and exchange is needed to spread awareness and awaken consciousness. It is not enough to listen to lectures and go home.

10. Pause…

Despite the topical urgency, we cannot allow ourselves to rush into doing things without feeling, talking, and assessing how to most effectively become part of the solution.

Cartoon of activists at a climate change protest

Rupert concludes his talk with the same slogan he started with: “Your money or your life?”

Like at the beginning of the talk, everybody agrees that every halfway intelligent person will choose their life, and give up their money. Throughout the talk, however, we heard convincing evidence that we are failing to grasp this surprisingly simple concept as a collective society. Time and time again over the past forty years we have chosen monetary interests over life. It makes one wonder, how come we get it so wrong at global scale?

There is no way that anybody can pay their way out of this. There is nowhere to hide, no other planet.

In this unprecedented time, facing a terrible reality, we do need hope. But the one thing we need more than hope is action. There is no hope without us taking actions. But once we start taking actions, hope is everywhere.

This is an abridged version of an article that was originally published on the Ealing Green Party website.