by Richard Joy
10th August 2021

Now, I don’t want to vent my frustration in a social media blog but, frankly, it’s a bit difficult to stop myself.

The IPCC report declares that the climate change emergency is ‘code red for humanity’ and suddenly the media and politicians are rushing forward to warn us that things are getting serious. But will anything happen as a result of this latest assessment? After all, the IPCC has been publishing scientific evidence on the threat of climate change for decades.

Usually, the reports coming out of the IPCC cause few ripples in the public consciousness. The IPCC goes about its task in a measured and responsible way. The mass of evidence is weighed carefully and predictions of the more extreme scenarios are generally avoided. There are probably contributors to IPCC reports that have given themselves hernias as they attempt to restrain from launching into predictions of an apocalyptic future. But now, the report has been through all the internal processes that ensure it is scientifically based, rather than alarmist, and the report is, well, let’s be honest, pretty alarming.

The IPCC have been highlighting the threats of climate change since 1988 but we haven’t really been paying attention; not the politicians, not business, certainly not us, the consumers and voters. Yes, of course, there are amazing people who have tried to raise awareness of the linkage between the actions of our daily lives and the damage to the environment. Yes, there are organisations desperately trying to operate in sustainable ways. Yes, there are people who are changing their lifestyles to be more environmentally responsible. But if you look at the big indicators, those with the big red flashing lights; CO2, methane, extinction of species, desertification, collapse of soil fertility, the picture is bleak and it’s projected to get worse. Much worse.

The history of our response to climate change is a sorry catalogue of inaction, prevarication and too little too late. My book, Unsustainable, offers a personal perspective on the multitude of factors that cause this inertia: why political leaders have failed to mobilise the necessary response; why the corporate world has dragged its feet and why individuals live in hope that maybe it won’t be as bad as the evidence suggests. It also considers the capabilities that will be required to deliver an effective response and investigates whether such capabilities exist. Underneath the whole discussion is the recurring theme of what a future society might look like and whether we need new economic theories to guide us towards a sustainable world. But who will determine our vision for society and the economic theories that underpin it? Who decides and who benefits?

So, what happens now? We could all become angry and demand action from our political leaders but maybe, instead, we should just wait. Perhaps we should watch to see what the politicians do at COP26?

Here’s a suggestion: while you are waiting, have a look at the COP26 website and search for reassurance that the governments of the world have got this covered. Look on the UN websites and check if there is a grand plan to get us out of this mess. And, in particular, check the websites of the political parties to see if our politicians are advocating changes to the current global economic model. Maybe there is a strategy to transform to a sustainable future. Maybe I’ve been missing something. Maybe it’s all going to be alright. Perhaps I don’t need to get agitated and frustrated after all.

Richard Joy is the author of  Unsustainable, the urgent need to transform society and reverse climate change, It will be published by Bristol University Press on 15 October 2021. Richard is actively involved in environmental politics and during 2019-2020 he worked with a task force advising on policy options for green growth, headed by leader of the Liberal Democrats Sir Ed Davey.


Unsustainable cover

Unsustainable: The Urgent Need to Transform Society and Reverse Climate Change by Richard Joy is available on the Bristol University Press website. Order here for £15.99.

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