Action 21 and Climate Change – Debunking Some Myths: Part 4

This is the final part (4) in a series of blogs for Action 21.  Part 1 was about how Covid had made Action 21 think about its role within the community. Part 2 is the story of Action 21 and its link to Agenda 21, the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit goals on environmental protection and sustainability. Part 3, outlines how people discount uncomfortable truths and how this can relate to climate science denial. This final part looks at the second two levels of discounting where we know there’s a problem but we feel unable to do anything.

3 – Change Possibilities – Nothing Can be Done

Faced with what appears to be a huge problem, and the overwhelming evidence and agreement that we are changing our climate by our behaviour, it is not surprising that there is a level of denial that now says it’s ‘too late’ or it’s ‘unavoidable’ or that ‘humans won’t be able to change’.

Is there Nothing we Can Do?

To some extent, it is a realistic to take a negative view of what can be done. Even if we stopped emitting all greenhouse gases now, temperatures would continue to rise for decades or centuries. Models and evidence suggest that we have gone beyond the ‘tipping point’. The issue here is less a denial of the facts but more an excuse for not taking action – lack of action that has been felt keenly by the younger generations and was the catalyst for activists like Greta Thunberg and groups such as Extinction Rebellion.

Industrial societies see economic growth as a primary concern and this makes action on climate difficult. In spite of the alarm in the scientific community and declarations around the world that there is a ‘climate emergency’, countries like the USA, Australia, China and others plan to increase their fossil fuel use. While we are told that our forests are the ‘lungs of the world’, we also hear of their increasing destruction.

In the face of such powerful forces, it would be easy to think that nothing can be done. In spite of this, positive action can still be seen at all levels around the globe. Some of these are covered here, for example, but these are a tiny fraction of the efforts being made by individuals, organisations and nations. If it looks like it is not enough to change the major forces – the destructive governments and the big polluters – then it is worth knowing that tipping points can work both ways. In recent years, we have certainly seen a shift that may well result in a cascade of positive actions.

Isn’t it too Late?

A simple answer would be yes. We have not stopped the increase greenhouse gases and the climate has been and will be further changed by a heating Earth. This does not mean it is too late to do anything at all, though. There is a growing (if not as fast as it should be) effort to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Efforts to reduce the rate of change, work alongside preparation for the impact. These include:

  • acceleration of decarbonisation (finding green sources of energy, etc.)
  • pledges to move to zero carbon economies (UK has pledged this by 2050)
  • increased societal awareness and political pressure from individuals and movements
  • adaptation plans such as that published by the UK government.

4 – Personal Abilities – I Can’t Do Anything.

The ultimate sticking point in solving any issue comes down to individuals. A belief that you lack the ability, skills, means etc. to solve a problem makes inaction inevitable. In terms of dealing with climate, the problem seems so immense and out of our hands that we feel powerless and that whatever we do makes no difference.

What Difference Can We Make?

Most people have felt this at some point in their lives. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that not only have individuals made a difference, but that it is the actions of individuals that have caused and continue to cause the problems we face. This brings us neatly back to the beginning of this post and the rationale behind Action 21.

Underpinning the hopes in the original Agenda 21, was an understanding that action should be taken at a local level. It may seem like individual action is the proverbial ‘drop in the ocean’ but many positive actions have an impact, just as many negative actions do. It is the combined effort that makes a difference. A change in lifestyle may seem daunting. Sometimes people are put off because they see one aspect as an impossible task. They could never give up their meat or their foreign holidays. But making a difference often starts with a small change or a reduction in negative behaviour. Ten Simple Ways to Act on Climate Change provides a list of ways individuals can act. The key is a focus on reducing use of fossil fuels.

How Does Action 21 Make a Difference?

Action 21 supports many local initiatives including:

All these are made possible, of course because of our flagship Re-Useful Centre Shop and Emporium which are how most of our supporters know us. What they might not know is that the shop has a very important function. Each year we save somewhere between 100 and 300 tons of usable items from ending up in landfill. Not creating more waste is beneficial in itself, but more importantly, every time one of our customers buys an item which has been donated to the shop, they are reducing their own carbon footprint by extending the life of that object.

There are roughly 40 000 towns and villages in the UK. If just a tenth of them had something similar to Leamington’s Re-Useful Centre, that would amount to somewhere between 400,000 to 1.2 million tons saved from landfill, every year. This represents a significant contribution to reducing our carbon footprint.

Do I Make a Difference?

Simply put, every part of what we do is down to individuals – our staff and our customers. The impact we have is the culmination of thousands of actions take by those who donate their items to the shop and those who choose to buy from us instead of purchasing new. We live in challenging times – for some of us the most difficult of our lives – but challenges are easier to face when doing something positive that benefits others. So yes, you can and do make a difference.

J Nickels