The president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, was interviewed on Radio 4 this morning. He was responding to Typhoon Haiyan, and while he was clear that particular weather ‘events’ can’t be attributed to climate change, he claimed that climate change is making these extreme events more frequent. He said, “Category 5 typhoons used to be referred to as once-in-a-lifetime events. We’ve had two in the last month.”
The thing that nearly made me choke on my porridge was when Mr Kim said that Bangkok could be underwater by 2030. That’s just 16 years away. He said, “This is not something for our grand-children’s grand-children. This is something we’ve got to face by 2030.” Kim argues that we need to invest in prevention – that every dollar invested in prevention will save three dollars – and that we need to tackle climate change now. He said that we must focus on what we agree on and take action right now and stop arguing about climate change.
It makes me feel I’m in cloud cuckoo land, fussing about light bulbs and cycling and other little ways of cutting the amount of carbon burnt on my behalf. Maybe that was our task in the 1970s and 80s. Now we need to do much more, and quickly. Not only do we need to cut our fossil fuel use by a factor of 20 – unimaginable! – but we also need to start talking urgently about how to live well in a world that is changing rapidly – a world where many of the major cities and islands will soon (16 years?!) be uninhabitable unless you’re a fish.
I recommend reading Bill McKibben’s book, Eaarth.
His basic idea is that it’s like being in a sci-fi story where we’ve landed on an alien planet. As is so often the case in these stories, it looks somewhat like earth, but it’s different and to live there will require ingenuity and imagination. He calls this new planet Eaarth. McKibben suggests a number of strategies for making a good life for all on this new planet – living lightly, carefully and gracefully.
One big strategy is to decentralise. Power generation is one good example – moving away from large generating stations (whether fossil-fuel or renewable) and their inefficient distribution lines, and installing small, local and renewable generators. Food production is another good example where many of us can grow some food, whether individually or in groups, rather than relying on industrialised agriculture, which is increasingly inefficient (“It takes ten calories of fossil energy to produce a single calorie of modern supermarket food.” (Michael Pollan, quoted in Eaarth p.157)).
McKibben says a lot more than this – read the book! It’s very good.
The big message is we need to change; we need to change a lot; we need to get going with the change now; and we need to do it together. We need to work for, as WWF puts it, “A world with a future, where people and nature thrive.”