‘As an individual, what can I do?’

Dutch legal challenge

Dutch climate activists mount legal challenge

Climate Change, Ocean Acidification, loss of biodiversity…none of the interconnected macro-level challenges facing humanity has featured in the current UK election. Peter Wadhams, Professor of Ocean Physics at Cambridge, along with 10 colleagues, had a letter published in The Independent on 17th April urging urgent action. The mainstream parties continue to talk about all the other issues that interest them, seemingly unaware of the gravity of the situation facing humanity. The future of our public services or the size of the national debt may be important issues, but in relative terms they are utterly trivial in comparison to these macro-ecological challenges.

At school in 1971 I was studying sea level rises due to climate change, and started to wonder how London and all the other low lying cities of the world might be simultaneously evacuated or protected, along with the entire infrastructure such as nuclear power stations. Tricky to say the least! At that time these were the musings of a schoolboy. The latest climate science is pointing to this happening in a frighteningly short timescale. For at least the last four and a half decades I’ve been concerned about these issues, and sporadically active on various fronts. The question has always been ‘as an individual, what can I do?’

There seem to me to be three paths, political, activist and lifestyle. I’ve been trying all three for a very long time, so let me reflect on their relative worth. Let’s start with the political. The mainstream parties have always been pretty hopeless. I’ve been a Green Party, and before that Ecology Party empathizer, supporter, voter and often a member since the founding days in 1973. I’ve never voted for a candidate who has even got their deposit back, let alone got into Parliament. It has at times been a pretty dispiriting experience, and there have been times when I’ve given up on politics. In a democracy it is a numbers game, and most people are simply not interested in engaging with these macro-ecological challenges. Of course the Greens never were a single issue party, but the understanding of these challenges and the scale of the changes required does underpin their thinking about everything else, unlike with any of the old major parties. It has been very heartening to see the quadrupling of Green Party membership over the last year, and in a few constituencies, but sadly not mine, the chances of victory on 7th May are looking very encouraging.

So if creating meaningful and rapid change through party politics has been frustrating, we could try activism. Again I’ve been involved in a rather sporadic way for decades. I’ve supported Friends of Earth, Greenpeace and a host of other campaigning groups for many years. The internet has allowed new forms of activism, through groups such as Avaaz, the potential of which I get pretty excited about when I see some of their most successful campaigns. Many local communities have Transition Towns or similar groups. I do quite a few talks to these types of groups. Great people: concerned, spirited, passionate. I wish a few cabinet ministers and leading business people would join us sometimes, but they never do. They seem to inhabit a different universe. I’d certainly love the opportunity to present one of my talks to them!

Some activist groups resort to the courts. A group of Dutch citizens, along with Prof James Hansen, are taking the Dutch government to court for inaction on climate change. Inaction to protect humanity from climate change is an infringement of universal human rights. If a precedent is set in Holland it could have interesting ramifications globally.

Many environmentalists focus on individual lifestyle choices. CRAGS or carbon action rationing groups was one such path; others advocate vegan or local food, pacifism, prayer or meditation. Many of us in the 1970’s thought a return to the country, growing our own food, building our own houses and perhaps living communally were vital steps. Some people still do. I tried all manner of experimental, consumption minimizing lifestyles, for a while even living in a cave! Now I see individual lifestyle choices as still important, but certainly not enough on their own.

On a daily basis how each of us chooses to divide up our time into these various spheres of activity, and balance it all with the many other demands on our time, such as work, family and health, is of course a very personal matter. However you personally decide to take action, Good Luck! Onwards, Together!

Letter in Independent http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/letters/letters-climate-change-time-is-shorter-than-we-thought-10182804.html

Dutch Legal Action http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-32300214

My next talk is in Wellington Shropshire, Tuesday 9th June https://www.richardpriestley.co.uk/events/