A guest blog post by Ai Sumihira. Ai is a registered social worker who works in the health sector. She is also a life long climate activist.
I support School Strike 4 Climate because fighting against climate change is the right thing to do. We all know that climate change is not only an issue of the planet heating up, but also a social justice issue. This is the time to act to change and repair the damage we have caused, at least we should stop making it worse for the generations to come. I can imagine that the future may look dooms and glooms from where young people stand, and this may be anxiety provoking. Young people are right. We have to make a radical move for climate now before the earth becomes uninhabitable. Climate is changing, and so should we.
Here are some scientific facts that back up this fight.
Climate change is mostly man-made (Hagedorn et al., 2019). It has been said that during the second Industrial Revolution particularly in the Western world, the environment became a commodity that humans can make money out of, instead of the earth being something to be cared for and respected (Luke, 1999). Post Revolution, the advancement of technology accelerated the level of production, such as transport, electricity, agriculture, and so on. As a result, human society started emitting more greenhouse gases than ever. The greenhouse gases in the air around the Earth trap the heat within therefore, the planet is heating up (Hagedorn et al., 2019; Robertson, Tsai & Lees Watts, 2019).
The IPCC report in 2018 strongly suggests limiting warming below 1.5 degrees, and we have to give it our best shot in the next 20 years or so to do this. Ideally, we should aim to have our society produce zero carbon emissions by 2040 or so (Hagedorn et al., 2019; IPCC, 2018). Otherwise the Earth may become inhabitable- due to, for example, severe weather events, extreme heat, poor food availability and sea level rise (IPCC, 2018).
There are few negative effects already being witnessed in our society. Obvious ones are rising sea levels and intensified extreme weather patterns all over the world. Scientists predicted that the negative consequences of climate change will be the worst in the South Pacific and Asia. Clearly those drastic weather events impact on society, but there are some subtle impacts of climate change too. For example, it has been reported that eight million people are dying from air pollution each year internationally at the moment. Moreover, due to extreme weather, food availability will be less in the future therefore, people who live in the less affluent side of the world would be worse off in the future (Robertson et al., 2019). Some doctors predict that worsening effects of climate change will be severe on Indigenous peoples globally. In sum, climate change is reported to make the existing inequality even worse in our society. And, this is probably the most concerning type of impact that climate change brings in the future.
But, don’t be despondent just yet! It is predicted that there are great benefits taking actions to fight climate change. It may be laborious to change our own behaviours as a collective, but here are some examples of benefits of engaging in the fight against climate change today.
Improve health and wellbeing
From a health and wellbeing perspective, engaging in climate action is a “win-win” solution. For example, what we eat has a significant influence on climate change. It is estimated that almost 40 % of emissions on the planet comes from what we eat as livestock farming produces high level of emissions globally (Robertson et al., 2019). Many scholarly reports, including the latest IPCC report (2019), recommend plant-based diet with less meat consumption for that reason. Needless to say, eating greens is good for you! Eating locally grown greens, but less imported food and meat may be the best way for us to help building a brighter future (Robertson et al., 2019).
Instead of driving your own vehicle, using active transport has a number of benefits as well. Obviously, your fitness level will increase more if you choose to use active transport, such as walking and cycling, while improving the air quality. Active transport will decrease risk of heart disease and lung disease (The Lancet, 2016). Taking a train or buses isn’t a bad idea either!
Healthcare providers, such as hospitals, produce a high level of emissions as well. Our Ministry of Health recognises this, and recently published a guideline for the health sector to achieve more sustainable care for the community and the nation (Ministry of Health, 2019).
Empower Indigenous communities
It is well recognised in the climate studies that the strategies to create a sustainable society very often align with Indigenous values and way of life. One of the important example of Indigenous value is that tangata whenua see themselves as a part of environment (Jones, 2019). I recently carried out a research project with Pacific Island communities in Auckland, and the result highlighted the similar connection to their affiliated islands. Some scholars call this strong connection as “place identity” (Adger, Barnett, Chapin & Ellemor, 2011; Figueroa, 2011), and it seems that looking after their environment comes very naturally to Indigenous peoples. Kaitiakitanga can be translated as “guardianship”, and explains the sense of love and care towards the land they live in (Ellis, Napan & O’Donoghue, 2018). Traditional knowledge is something that has formed over a long period of time across generations, by careful attention and experiences of living with the land (Kelman, Mercer & Gaillard, 2012), using traditional environmental knowledge not only improves more sustainable lifestyle, but also increase resilience against climate emergencies, such as disasters. Incorporating indigenous knowledge is absolutely essential to tackle climate change!
Promote equity and equality globally
Some of the Pacific islands are disappearing due to a rising sea level if we don’t act to stop climate change. It is devastating, particularly for people who are from those islands. It has been reported that the nations that produce the least emissions will get the worst effects of climate change. For example, places such as the South Pacific and South East Asia will have the worst effects of climate change, while their carbon emissions have been very little. Those places also have rich and diverse traditional knowledge, but the current climate experts seem to underrate the knowledge that the local communities embrace (Barnett & Campbell, 2010; Jones, 2019). It has been criticised by a number of scholars that the current climate strategies are far too ethnocentric. Climate strategies in our history, such as Cleaner Development Mechanism from Kyoto Protocol in the 90s, appeared as Global North was developing Global South nations in a way that benefited North by trading emissions. This phenomenon is often called “carbon colonialism” (Newell & Paterson, 2011). Climate change is a result of inequality in this world, and tackling climate change really means that we need to give it a good thought to global equality (Jones, 2019). Just to note, Aotearoa New Zealand is a high emitter, fifth highest amongst OECD counties (Robertson et al., 2019, p.23).
Abate neo-liberalism and capitalist economy
Have you heard of sustainable consumption? It was already predicted and discussed in the UNCED conference in 1992 that consumerism would drive us towards a disastrous state in the future then. This was true, our habit of consuming is actually killing our planet. It was an illusion that was projected by the capitalist economy (Paterson, 2014). We were brain washed that a good life meant having the power to buy more. We have to wake up from this old illusion. Having nice clothes or cars doesn’t mean anything if we don’t have a place to live in, or if we have to fight against natural disasters on a daily basis. Reduce, reuse and recycle. Three R’s are the key to go against the capitalist economy, and to benefit our environment. Some scholars state that climate change is challenging our ability to live collectively (Cripps, 2013). Rejecting rampant consumerism for the sake of the collective good must be a key tenet of climate activism.
Image credit: Chesapeake Bay Program
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