Cynical hats off, Christmas hats on

20 December, 2022

Gesche Huebner

Reading time: 5 minutes

It is hard not to despair at the lack of action on climate change, but as it’s December, let’s focus on hope.

Christmas and hope go well together. But climate change and hope sound more like an oxymoron. It is hard not to despair at the lack of reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, at the effects of natural disaster that have been made more likely by climate change; hard not to despair at the levels of pollution, famines, displacement, and at the loss of biodiversity.

But, it is December after all, so cynical hats off and Christmas hats on. I genuinely think that there is scope for hope in relation to climate change. But before I share my reflections, I want to acknowledge that hope and climate don’t sit well together for everyone. So many people have lost their lives and livelihoods because of climate change. Nine percent of the global population live in extreme poverty and numerous people will have experienced some sort of personal loss or trauma which might not leave headspace for climate change or hope.

But for those who are able to, here is why I think we can and should speak about climate change and hope.

1. We have the means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Climate change is not an unsolvable problem. We know how to effectively reduce emissions. Political will is sorely lacking but  we largely have the solutions at hand and need to deploy them rapidly and at scale. It won’t be easy, it won’t be cheap (at least initially) but it can be done. Bill Gates details in his 2020 book “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster”, how we can reach net-zero emissions by 2050. He very much focuses on technological solutions, but we know from other research, notably CREDS’ low-energy demand scenariosOpens in a new tab, that also through reducing energy demand we can decrease emissions significantly whilst maintaining or improving our quality of life. So through a combinations of deployment of – largely existing – technologies and demand reduction we can reach net-zero and mitigate climate change. We haven’t found the solution to the politics of climate change. Geopolitical rivalries, vested interests, incompetent leadership, excessive bureaucracy, a focus on national benefits, etc. create an incredibly complex, opaque system. But still, at least we know it can be done!

2. We can build a better world

Our world is an unjust place – be it  in income, wealth, education, child mortality, health or other indicatorsOpens in a new tab. Also the effects of climate change are unequally distributed with the poorest countries and people being exposed more whilst being particularly vulnerableOpens in a new tab.

But by tackling climate change we can help to create a fairer world. For example, low-income households are disproportionately affected by poorer indoorOpens in a new tab and outdoor air quality. By moving to electric vehicles and creating better infrastructure for walking and cycling, we can dramatically reduce air pollution and hence inequalities in exposure to pollutants. Increasing access to cleaner, more efficient cookstoves in low-and middle-income countries can improve women’s health and might impact on educational outcomes for girlsOpens in a new tab. Developed countries have historically much greater responsibility for climate change and need to shoulder this responsibility. The decision at COP 27 to establish a loss and damage fundOpens in a new tab focused on countries most vulnerable to climate change, was a huge  – and long overdue – a step in the right direction.

3. We all have power

We (not all of us, but many) can start with our own behaviour – especially the way we heat our homes, the way we travel and the way we eat drive up our own greenhouse gas emissions. Switching to a heat pump, not heating empty rooms, turning down the flow temperature of the boiler can all help to reduce emissions from heating. Avoiding flying and driving petrol-powered cars lower emissions from transport. Eating less red meat, especially beef and lamb, reduces methane and CO2. Obviously, our own behaviour is a drop in the ocean and we should not put the weight of climate change on our own shoulders. But simply the act of doing something can help us to feel less powerless, less paralysed by the magnitude of the problem.

Our power extends our own consumption – we can send signals to industries about a change in demand. We can influence others – maybe by suggesting to introduce more meat-free days into our workplace’s or our children’s school canteen; by organizing carpooling; by talking to others about climate change and carbon emissions.

Finally, we also have the power to protest. We have seen high-profile climate change protests in recent years. The Fridays for Future school strikes initiated by Greta Thunberg have mobilised millions of people around the worldOpens in a new tab. Extinction Rebellion (XR) has become a household name in the UK. It is hard to quantify the impact of protests on actual changes in policies and emission reduction – but undoubtedly, they have made climate change much more salient in contemporary discourse.

Don’t talk to me in January – but today I say: Here is to hope, to the future, to the slim but still existing chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees C, and to Christmas!

Banner photo credit: Erwan Hesry on Unsplash