In this post, I try to explain not only why we all need to wake up now, drop what we have in our hands and spend some time and energy on figuring out how each of us can reduce carbon emissions with more than five percent every year, and very soon make a complete stop to burning fossil fuel into the atmosphere, but also how we can do it. It is a personal journey for each of us. It is about believing in ourselves, taking responsibility, and about defending our human dignity as parents, or as future parents.
I remember in the beginning of the 1990s when I began telling people about the Internet and about how it would change our lives. Seriously, nobody believed me then.
“The what-kind-of net?”
People thought I was saying the Indian Net.
I wrote articles and I talked, and I created home pages and pioneer web-projects, but everyone would just smile at me and say “yes–yes, that’s fine, Mik,” but really — I could tell that what they were thinking was: “You need to calm down and get realistic: No one is ever going to be wanting to sit by a computer screen and read their newspaper. Stop blowing this internet-prophecy of yours up to more than it is!”
I felt they just didn’t get it.
Today I know they didn’t get it.
Why is it that I am now, once again, sitting with that same feeling?
Much too few seem to understand what is coming.
I see it everywhere I turn.
I hear the respected American climate scientist Michael Mann tell us that the speed of the ice melt is so great that vulnerable low-lying island states may have to be evacuated… not in the end of the century, no, within a decade — far quicker than anyone had imagined.
I hear about a new report from the world’s largest professional services firm, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, where they write: “We have passed a critical threshold. Now one thing is clear: businesses, governments and communities across the world need to plan for a warming world — not just 2 degrees C, but 4 degrees or even 6 degrees.”
According to their report, even if we were somehow able to double our rate of de-carbonisation, we would still be on track to hit a 6 degree increase by the end of the century. 6 degrees, in case you haven’t heard, is equal to a devastating climate catastrophe.
The only chance we have to hold temperatures to 2 degrees increase would be to come up with a six-fold reduction in carbon emissions.
I read an article in the Danish newspaper Information which tells me, this was three days ago, that according to experts the countries’ carbon emissions must be halved by 2020. But that is not happening.
Another article in the British paper The Guardian the same day headlines: “Large rise in CO2 emissions sounds climate change alarm”.
Yet another report talks of sea-level rise of more than nine meters above the present, unless atmospheric CO2 is reduced to levels “similar to those of preindustrial times.”
Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University, tells the Associated Press on 8 March 2013, that what we are witnessing is simply the “single most self-destructive act humanity has ever undertaken”.
And so on.
I could continue with headline after headline after headline. The news is everywhere.
Except in the mainstream media.
Obviously, as I have listed here, there are a lot of people around the planet who also hear those alarm bells ringing.
According to Pricewaterhouse Coopers, last year, despite the economic slowdown, we saw a reduction of carbon emissions only 0.7 percent, which has been typical of every year since the turn of the century. A reduction in carbon intensity of 5.1 percent per year is needed if we are to meet the target of limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius.
In other words, even though hundred of thousands are joining campaigns and petitions and doing so much, it is far from enough. We are not achieving that reduction in carbon intensity which we want to see.
Obviously because too many people are still saying, “Should we be worried? We can’t worry all the time. We have to get on with our lives”. I don’t understand how people can NOT be worried.
When I open a Danish newspaper, even Weekendavisen, which I consider Denmark’s probably most informed and intelligent newspapers, along with Information, I don’t find a single alarm bell ringing. I see stories about the new Pope, and that a new guide over Michelin-restaurants is out, Easter is on its way, someone is having a birthday, and a new Bookkeeper Certification is coming to Jutland. Nothing about the carbon emissions, or what we need to do, and how we can do it. Not a single word.
Am I going crazy? Is something wrong with me? Why am I thinking about nine metre higher sea levels, when everyone else is thinking about what to do and where to go and who to meet for their Easter holiday?
Chit-chatting along as if nothing were wrong is, I guess, quite normal when reports and news of this kind and magnitude avalanches on us. Apathy and depression doesn’t get us anywhere. And after all, so far we have only seen a few floodings, hurricanes and extreme weather incidents. We move on. We focus on the positive. The near things in our day to day lives.
But what I find strange in particular is: how can trained journalists who can read and write and have access to the information sources keep make newspapers and tv-news that keep chit-chatting along? Why aren’t anyone putting their foot down and saying: “folks, time is up. Here is why. We all need to pull ourselves together now!”?
If all the public subsidies in the fossil-fuel industry were moved to subsidise renewable energy, we’d have solved a large part of the global carbon problem, according to a UN report from February 2013. How absurd is that piece of information!?
Is it simply because our public money, taxpayers money, is used wrongly that we have this problem of a climate catastrophe confronting us? Who has decided that the oil industry should be subsidised? Can we not fire these politicians who have been in charge of these decisions? How many journalists around the world have spent some time and resources on digging deep into these kind matters and then revealed their findings to the public?
I mean, this depressing stream of climate news is not my hallucination — this is not something I make up. Just like the coming of the Internet wasn’t, back then in the 1990s. But people look at me as if I have gone lunatic. On Facebook, they ‘un-friend’ me because they don’t want to see any more of my climate-“cry wolf”-posts.
The five stages
I saw another article lately, which explained to me that what is happening to me is that I am going through the classical stages that a sustainability bloggers apparently must go through. According to this article by Joe Romm, there are five stages which any climate activist goes through. They are:
Joe Romm of Climate Progress explains:
“After depression comes a serious effort at bargaining. Climate hawks try to figure out what they can do to stop the catastrophe. Taking actions and making bargains at a personal level and a political level — depending on their level of activism.
Then comes anger. Once you’ve been at this for a while, you get very very frustrated by how little is happening — by the status quo media, the many anti-science politicians, and especially the deniers, the professional disinformers.
Finally, you end up in a kind of denial. It just becomes impossible to believe that the human race is going to be so stupid.
Indeed, my rational side finds it hard to believe that we’re going to avoid catastrophic global warming, as any regular Climate Progress reader knows. But my heart, in denial, is certain that we will.”
New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert argued nine years ago in her book ‘Field Notes from a Catastrophe’ that governments have the knowledge and technologies to prepare for such disasters but choose to ignore the signs until it is too late. She summed up this form of denial Joe Romm talks about when her three-part series, ‘The Climate of Man,’ famously ends:
“It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.”
Hold it there for a moment.
No, don’t! Move on quickly!
I’m just a newcomer as a ‘sustainability blogger’, a climate activist. Only a month old. Even so, I feel as if I have quickly been through most of the stages. Currently, when I sit late a night and read the news on the Internet, I find myself in Stage 4, and I use that anger as a driver that makes me do things, take initiatives, speak up. Stage 4 made me create this blog.
When one feels that the government, whichever government, is not really doing the thing to preserve our dignity, then we should allow ourselves to get angry, or outraged, said social activist Stephane Hessel who recently died at 95: “Dignity of human beings has to be defended,” was his mantra.
This question of stopping carbon emissions — how we deal with it or allow ourselves to ignore it — is about my dignity as a human being, most of all as a parent. Which is why I refuse to go into that fifth denial stage.
My attitude is that if we are warned that carbon emissions must be halved by 2020 to avoid a catastrophe, then that is what we got to do.
Let’s just get on with it and get super-practical: How do we do it?
Believe me, when I get the adrenaline-level up, there is a lot of things I can do that I didn’t think I could do.
There are also a lot of things, I can live without, if that is what this carbon-problem requires from me.
I can first of all begin to follow that long list of ideas that I’ve been listing up for myself over the last weeks.
But of course, my problem remains that if I do this all alone, or together with 10,000 other spirited anti-carbon activists, it won’t improve anything. Except that I’ll be cutting some expenses in our house hold budget, maybe.
To have an impact on our atmosphere, I need to have the rest of you out there with me on this.
So that is the real challenge.
It is also why I am not leaving you alone, and why I am posting this as an e-mail to my friends, family and colleagues.
What I really want to tell you is that this is where initiatives like the Transition Network comes in strong. It is a movement, it is creating real change in thousands of communities around the planet, and it has been doing it since 2006.
I find that inspiring.
Anger cannot be the driving force for us collectively. Common sense must be the driver. Simple math.
Do the math: how much will it cost us to go fossil free now compared to how much will a climate catastrophe will cost humanity in the years to come?
Coal and oil = illness and death
Emissions from coal power plants are seriously bad for your health, according to new research. European medical NGO the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) says European governments are spending close to 43 billion euro per year on treating patients whose illness can be linked with emissions from coal power plants.
43 billion euro a year invested in renewable energy would not even be an expense to society — it would just be common sense, saving a lot of people from a lot of suffering.
Previous studies have come up with some startling figures for the health toll from coal emissions: 13,200 people are estimated to die per year in the US, with over 100,000 deaths per year in India due to coal plant emissions.
I live next to a busy street, and every day we inhale car exhausts containing a range of toxic substances that can have a serious impact on our health. A new study published in the weekly journal The Lancet has found that the pollution cars emit is now one of the fastest growing causes of death in the world. 3.2 million people died from air pollution in 2010, which is up from 800,000 people ten years earlier.
Why are we so addicted to oil consumption? Wouldn’t it just be nice if the cars on our streets were all electric, and our power plants were all powered on renewable energy?
As far as I am concerned, it makes common sense.
With the words of gofossilfree.org, it boils down to that it is wrong to profit from wrecking the climate. And it is wrong to use public money to subsidise the fossil industry.
The other night, we met with two people from the neighbourhood, and decided to start a local steering group for a Transition Network in the area where we live, Transition East Geelong. And we decided on three activities we’ll be organising in the coming months. Things that make people get together, meet and talk — about the environment, the climate, and the rest, but at the same time, in an action-oriented manner.
I’m hoping it is possible.
The draft poster you see here was sent for approval with Earth Day already the day after our meeting. (NB: It’s only a draft.)
So right now, my list of phases looks like this:
5. Resilience, action and common sense
— with constructive, hope-building, local activitites of change which are connected to a global movement with people that have the same attitude.
American president Obama was good when he spread hope in the world with his ‘Yes we can’ campaign. We need to go out that path, saying: Yes we can: We can cut emissions by half in seven years. Of course we can.
If that is what it takes, then that is what we will do.
It is not a question, it is an obligation.
Let’s show each other that it is possible.
Let’s invest out time in this.
We have no time to waste on unimportant matters any longer.
Allow me to share with you a personal experience. As an example of why I am convinced that we can allow ourselves to be angry, and persistent. Why there is hope, even when the experts say that there isn’t any. Why it matters to stand up against an overwhelming ‘judgement’ by experts who tell you: “It can’t be done. It is already too late.”
In 1993, I had a health problem, and it looked bad. I went to the doctor who told me that I had an inflammation in the intestines, that science has not yet understood this disease and as such, there is no cure for it. It is chronic, and it will only get worse. Around 0.0002 percent of the population in Denmark suffer from it. World-wide, more than 200,000 people.
Over the next three years, I learned that the doctor’s prediction turned out to be correct: it only got worse and worse, and the medicine, hormones, had less and less effect. As the matter of fact it made me sick in itself.
Those were the first days of the Internet, and I started searching for alternative advice. I found a Canadian woman who wrote about a diet which could help, though doctors were certain that diet had no effect on this disease. The diet basically said to avoid all sugar. Specific carbohydrates, in particular factory-produced white sugar.
In the summer of 1996, I was so sick that my doctor had signed me up for an operation to have my inflamed intestines removed. I never showed up for that appointment. Instead I started on the diet. And a website. It turned out to work. Six years later, I had not had an inflammation for years, and the counter on the website quickly passed its first million. Doctors kept insisting that diet had absolutely no effect on this disease, and I was being ridiculed in the Danish magazine of the patients’ association for people with the disease.
We were an international group of people connected via the Internet who involved ourselves in a kind of “information guerilla warfare” against ignorant doctors and the sugar industry. Today, some 15 years later, much has changed in that respect. Science has admitted that we were right, and the health authorities’ official diet advice has been changed around. Carbohydrates are out.
My intestines are healthy, and there is hardly a week where I don’t get a thank-you letter from someone who was helped by the diet-website we built.
When people call me I tell them that it is not only about the diet. “This is about that you begin to take responsibility for your own body and its well-being. Don’t think that the doctors have a quick fix for you. They don’t. Your future is in your own hands, and you need to understand that. You need to spend time on this. This is about taking time — lots of time — out to focus on this.”
That is my story. I was hit by something which at the time felt like a terrible condemnation. I came out on the other side as a stronger human being who had learned a lot from my experiences.
Yes, I live without sugar today, and no, I don’t miss it. Just like I will not be missing the oil, or the coal. And I am prepared to go on some years’ ‘diet’ to show the experts that human beings are capable of achieving remarkable results, when only they set their mind to it.
Who, then, has an obligation to convince citizens of this planet that we need to set our minds on this? I believe it is an obligation of the story tellers of our time: The news readers and talk show tv-hosts, the journalists, the media people, the bloggers, the authors, the rappers and singers, the stand-up comedians, the artists and cartoonists, the intellectuals. And of course, the scientists (though they are getting desillusioned from having already told the same story over and over again). That is where the new story must begin.
In a recent poll of 1,660 sustainability and CSR experts, 81 percent of them saw activism as central to further progress.
Does the planet need a fossil free transition period or an emergency carbon crisis marshal law? Bring it on! Once the lights are flashing, we can overcome so much more than we thought we were capable of.
If you have more time, here are some ideas from a newcomer among the climate activists as to what we could do.
“The World Bank, the International Energy Authority, the IMF, every national science body on the planet, every state meteorological authority on the planet and even the Pentagon and the Australian Defence Force are agreed that human-forced climate change is a serious problem.
Yet the fossil fuel lobby still uses the same tactics (and many of the same PR agencies and ‘Think Thanks’) as their friends in the tobacco lobby to spread disinformation and doubt about this problem.
This is not just a few smokers dying early, this is about the future of farming, and hence civilisation, on this planet and these dimwits are more concerned about the profits of coal and gas companies…?
Some strange, strange people inhabit this Earth”
Excerpt of a note on Facebook by Jeff Poole, 3 April 2013