The public has no realistic idea of what to do about climate change – and nor does the environmental-progressive movement

Dec 24, 2020

Yes, the public is way ahead of the government re climate change.

And not just here in Australia, but internationally, including the US. We can celebrate An Inconvenient Truth, the School Strike for Climate, and Extinction Rebellion for raising the alarm.

However… (and here comes the big gap).

The general public has no realistic idea what to do about it. Indeed, most of the environmental-progressive movement, and faith communities who care (not Morrison’s kind), have no realistic idea of what to do about it.

Indeed, the ‘it’ is poorly conceived. Climate change is the major bugbear (US term), which makes sense given the obvious magnitude and import of climate change. However, it is not the only disastrous trend taking us to ecological catastrophe. Think of species loss, declining freshwater tables, industrial toxins in the food chain – and beyond this the mentality that drives massive investment in the military, with the ever-present possibility of the madness of nuclear war.

I produced a presentation piece called Looming Disasters. It is a tool for one-to-one conversations that bring this home to people.

And I show this cartoon, over and over:

 

You would be correct to point out that the prospect of changing this whole system seems overwhelming to people.

I think that I am correct to point out that unless we mobilise the public will to change this whole system, the civilisation some of us now enjoy has dismal prospects.

CANA (Climate Action Network Australia) pushes protest (Stop Adani), and 100% renewables. However, as New Zealand engineering professor Susan Krumdiek’s Transition Engineering makes clear, there is reason to suppose that at current efficiencies renewable energy, despite its appeal, cannot fully power our globalised civilisation in the style which we are accustomed.

The argument hinges on the physical reality of Energy Return on Energy Invested (ERoEI). How much energy do you get out of a renewable system when we take into account the energy it takes to mine, manufacture, transport and dispose of the windmills and solar panels? It turns out that you do get more energy out than you put in, except for rooftop solar and local hydrogen. This is good! But the amount of surplus energy that we can actually use to power our transportation, air-conditioning, electric vehicles, manufacturing etc is not great.

In the meantime, global CO2 emissions are still going up. Species loss continues… you get the picture. We are in an ecologically emergency now.

What to do about it all?

Well, going forward, collectively we must choose materially modest lifestyles based on elegantly designed durable necessities, with little excess consumption.

This implies slowing the economy, and we would do well to do this on purpose. I envision at some point in the future when there is enough public will for such a thing, that the government of the day will convene an extended think tank – perhaps two weeks – where leaders from all political parties, large businesses, NGOs, scientists, ecologists, artists, systems thinkers, and a few stay-at-home moms think through how to make a phased descent to a steady-state economy work.

You wrote:

I think it’s time for us all to be focussing on the action – practical strategies – rather than “winning hearts and minds”: they are already won!

Yes, we need to ramp up the practical changes! Are you content to just champion that while the larger system of economic growth, population increase, and corporate control of government (as portrayed in the cartoon) – and people’s acceptance of these – continues to drive the larger economic-industrial system that is destroying the Earth?

Greta Thunberg will have reason to hope when she sees that mainstream society is committed to turning things around.

Let’s make it happen!

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