We must stop bargaining with climate change action, and actually act

How many times have you heard these points when talking about climate change?  ‘The government needs to take the lead’, ‘if only we had an international agreement’, ‘What are China doing’, ‘ it’s more expensive’, ‘Technology will sort it out’. 

I’ve heard them over and over again and I’ve even been that person. I’ve wanted to think that climate change isn’t my responsibility. ‘If only I could get others to take action then I’d properly take action myself.’ That was my one.

This is bargaining with climate change – it’s just the same when we’re dealing with trauma. What we’re trying to avoid is helplessness. The evidence points to this being the main cause of inaction on climate change.  And understandably – people actively avoid feelings of despair. This is why climate change has been a taboo subject for so many years.

By externalising the issue we are bargaining for our own responsibility.  That is being extended through companies, insurers, investment companies corporations, local government and even national government. They are bargaining because the action needed is likely to be painful. And we’re doing the same at an individual level.

And that totally makes sense. This is a global issue so how can it be our responsibility?

The fact of the matter is all of us need to take action to cut the unnecessary carbon we’re producing. If we bargain by establishing increasingly complex criteria for our engagement, climate change will be beyond our control in 10-20 years’ time.

Have you ever wondered why there is a major difference between young and old on the issue? It isn’t because young people are ideologists. It’s because middle-aged and older (like me) feel we have to compromise, and therefore we bargain.

Younger people have no other reality, they know there is nothing to bargain with. They just want to see action. It could be argued that when they get older they bargain with for example with a more expensive bill to replace their heating system. But I think for them, it will simply be a morally indefensible trade off, like choosing to fly or not.

It is the perfect recipe for inaction to push a problem onto another party. We’re in that cycle again with the summit on climate change COP. Everyone remains on the edge of their seats to find out if we’ll form an international agreement. Will it matter? Does it mean that we’ll halve global emissions by 2030 to overt runaway climate change? 

My answer may surprise – ‘No – it won’t’. We can’t wait for the machinery of government, business and finance in this timescale, we must take this responsibility into our own hearts and decarbonise our lives.

And let’s be honest. A global agreement won’t make the slightest difference to whether you cut meat consumption, choose active, public or electric transport or install renewable systems in your house. What will make the difference is if we all stopped bargaining about when or if, and simply acted.

Most of us feel helpless when we decide to engage. Knowing a little about climate change it’s terrifying.  You simply don’t want to know more. This is part of bargaining. Most of us dive into the global issue and feel bewildered, lost, perplexed, paralysed by the reality of it. We react by closing down our research, deciding it’s someone else’s problem.

I’ve got to tell you when you do engage, when you decide to make positive changes, the reality is you don’t feel powerless. It’s quite the opposite.

For me I have felt empowered with new knowledge, thinking and understanding of the issue.  I am lucky enough to now see the solutions in my own home, community, food and transport. I have a plan to decarbonise my heating and vehicle. I have solar panels and mostly cycle. I get excited about the technology which can transform my life to be low carbon, and I like it better this way.  I want to tell others.

I’m doing what I can. My life is no longer part of the problem, I am (or people like me) are the solution. That goes a very long way to tackling helplessness. Even I feel that internationally, nationally or locally there is not enough action. But now instead of despair I feel helpful – people simply need to catch up, and I can assist them.

And it does make it a lot easier that we can talk about climate change openly. People genuinely want to learn more – they don’t see it as green nonesense anymore. People don’t walk away or shut down the conversation they actually engage. That is refreshing but people are still bargaining.

I might be a fool for taking action when it’s not the most economic decision at the time,  but that doesn’t matter to me. What matters is that I’m a citizen of the world and that I’m responding to the global problem in the most practical way I know how – in my own life.

I encourage you to stop bargaining. You can move beyond despair quickly, and make some changes. Don’t look over your shoulder but look forward – find more things you can do. Before long you will be talking about life with pride and encouraging others to do the same. You will think tackling climate change is feasible as you will know what the solutions are and like me you will be empowered. 

Tom Beckett is the founder of Better Century and has written numerous other articles about sustainability – see his profile on Better Century and consider joining to get help on create a low carbon, low impact trajectory in your own life. 

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