In 1306 King Edward I became the first British ruler to ban the burning of coal, disregard of which was punishable by death! In subsequent centuries other monarchs, including Elizabeth I, attempted to do the same because of coal smoke’s toxic effects on the air. Their success was limited however.
More than 700 years later our government is facing an identical predicament. Following the signing of the Paris Agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions, decision makers (generally not now kings or queens) are required to enact binding legislation which will lead to the phasing out of fossil-fuel burning from 2020. The consequences on the guilty will no longer be the death penalty but they will be catastrophic for life on the planet if not enacted.
So far since the COP21 Summit last December the signs of progress in the UK have not been too positive. The undermining of the renewable energy industries by tariff removals has been extremely discouraging. The government’s subsidisation of ‘fracking’ is very questionable. Grants for home insulation are being lost and there appears to be no new law-making on the cards to progress either greener transport or greener homes.
The same is not true in other countries where investment in solar, wind, hydro and biomass technologies has been unprecedented. From Germany to China, from the USA to India, from South Africa to Brazil, there is a massive transition taking place which does inspire a low carbon future.
To address climate chaos, already affecting millions, more consistently we need to be motivated to live differently and to live collectively. People living in boxes, travelling in boxes and entertained by boxes with no connectivity may well be heading for oblivion. We have become a successful human race through cooperation, creativity and conviviality – not consumerism or competition. We are not individuals but should rather be people in relationship – with one another, with the Earth and, for some of us, with the divine.
But we should not wait for others to act. It is imperative that we take grass roots action and continue to press politicians and businesses to move towards a greener world. We are in a position of having to continually challenge our leaders and decision-makers in order to protect the future. We cannot let them – or ourselves – off the hook. And civil society, including faith and belief communities, have a huge role to play in this.
In recent TED talks both Al Gore and Christiana Figueres (see links to watch the videos) have spoken movingly and positively of the actions that can be taken to keep global temperatures down to a rise of 1.5o Celsius. Indeed, the latter considers what was an impossible international task has, since Paris, become an unstoppable global movement.
However, there is no room for complacency. All of us human beings have to break our dependency on oil and as a result we can create a more sustainable, regenerative and fairer society. Young children do not have to suffer from poor air quality or climate-induced hunger or become environmental refugees.
There is a different way forward and it begins when we stop thinking of Earth and people as separate, and when we challenge thinking that divides humanity into ‘us’ and ‘them’. We are all on this planet together, irrespective of tribal, national or cultural barriers. If we view ourselves as citizens of one common home with finite resources to share with one another, we will change ourselves and not the climate.
All best wishes – Martyn