What is climate change?
Climate change is the changes to the usual weather for a particular place. Although the weather varies over time, the rate of warming has dramatically increased in the last 100 years; the average global temperature is now greater by about 1.1 degrees (Feb 22). It is unequivocally down to human-induced activity such as burning fossil fuels, causing an increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHGs) such as carbon dioxide. Light from the sun is irradiated back from the earth and absorbed by greenhouse gases, so as GHG levels rise, temperature rises. Carbon dioxide levels currently stand at 419 ppm (June 2022), a 50% increase from the beginning of the industrial era (18th century). To give some context, this is higher than the last abrupt temperature rise, naturally-occurring at the end of the last ice age 20,000 years ago.
Why does it matter?
A warming climate causes more extreme weather such as heat waves, heavy rainfall and drought. According to the IPCC report cited above, impacts include heat-related human mortality, warm-water coral bleaching and mortality, increased drought-related tree mortality, more wildfires and ocean acidification. These pose significant threats to human life and our ecosystems. Here are two examples:
- The United Nations attributed 88% of 175 registered disasters in the Latin American and Caribbean region within 2020-2022 to meteorological, climatological and hydrological origins. These accounted for 40% of the recorded disaster-related deaths.
- Coral reefs house the highest biodiversity of any ecosystem globally (IUCN, 2021). Essential algae living in symbiosis with the coral and responsible for its vibrant colour leave the coral as temperature rises, known as bleaching events.
Acknowledging climate change
In my podcast conversation with Lor and Jamie Bird, Jamie talked about the range of emotions he felt when in 2019, the seriousness of climate change fully permeated their consciousness. I think their experiences will resonate with many – it certainly did for me. We live in a world where we have daily access to global issues, many of which feel very much over there, making it easier not to worry about them. Climate change for a while perhaps can be kept in this category, but when we are not so preoccupied with other things in our life, it can be then we realise it is very much everywhere and those we imagined were addressing it were not.
When the enormity of the climate challenge comes into focus, it can feel overwhelming. For Jamie, he spoke openly of an array of emotions: shocked, disturbed, anxious, fearful, depressed. I imagine lots of people will feel similarly.
Responding to climate change can vary. One understandable response might be to put those feelings and knowledge in a ‘box’ and bury it in the depths of your mind. Or retreat to the bed covers and stay there. Alternatively, we can find a way to accept it and know we cannot personally solve these intractable problems. It doesn’t mean we can’t do anything. Individually, we can do a myriad of stuff within our control: eat more plants and less meat, walk, use public transport and drive less, take holidays in unexplored places without flying, buy preloved, reduce fuel bills by insulating our homes and align your finances with your values. This list is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully provides a sense of accessibility in which we can all get involved.
In addition to being active on our own or within our family, joining a community group can be beneficial two-fold. In the first instance, it helps to know you are not alone and sharing your climate change experience with like-minded others can be reassuring. Secondly, communities can really get stuff done. Lor and Jamie found their tribes through joining climate groups and their agency by developing art therapy workshops. With Lor being an artist and Jamie having a background in therapeutic arts, they applied their skills and knowledge, enabling people to explore climate change in a non-verbal way.
What works for you?
I believe it’s important to allow people to have the space to feel truly miserable about the horrors of our changing climate. I guess it’s then about managing these feelings so they don’t submerge you in the depth of despair; this might not always be easy.
Everyone’s timeline is different, but once the facts become glaring, it’s time to find ways to live alongside the facts. We are all different, and that’s a good thing, but there will always be others with whom you resonate. It’s about finding projects you feel passionate about and where you can offer something to that group; we all have skills and abilities to help in the quest for moving the dial in the right direction.