The Climate Emergency demands us to be change makers not change takers
22nd January 2020
David Hunter is a Solicitor with professional services consultancy Bates Wells. He is one of the speakers at a free event at the University of Bristol on 12 March 2020 on Business and Organisational Responses to the Climate Emergency. Register your space here and read on to find out why simply declaring a climate emergency is not enough.
“Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors.” These are the words of Jonas Salk, one of the twentieth century’s great scientists. Until recently, many might have taken this to mean leave your kids comfortably off and don’t embody Philip Larkin’s This Be the Verse. As the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis loom over us though, that responsibility takes on a more existential flavour.
The impacts of climate change will affect everything we do. It contributes to biodiversity loss, will exacerbate water and food shortages, cause mass internal migrations and create millions of international refugees; coastal cities will disappear, and geo-political tensions are likely to increase. This is not the worst-case scenario. This is what the science tells us is inevitable. The urgency is around limiting the consequences. Alongside this, the UN’s leading research body on nature has announced urgent action is necessary to reverse the loss of plants, insects and other creatures on which humanity depends for food, pollination, clean water and a stable climate. The planet’s life-support systems are approaching a danger zone for humanity.
This is a critical turning point in human evolution
Even though we have left it too late to prevent climate change and the Sixth Extinction there is still much we can do to limit their worst effects.
What these twin threats demonstrate is the interconnected nature of the world we live in. Not only do climate change and biodiversity loss exacerbate one another; they are each a product of a culture and economy which treats nature as existing for human exploitation and not fellow elements of a living world. This does not mean businesses have to be demonised, but they must return to being means not ends and take their place contributing to a broader human (and more than human) flourishing.
So, fundamental change to our lives is inevitable. We have the choice of seeking to influence that change in ways which may benefit ourselves, our loved ones and society more widely, or clinging to what we know, dealing with what is in front of us and leaving the future for others to cope with.
Change is challenging
Behavioural economics tells us the majority prefer not to risk losing something they have, for the sake of a potentially greater gain in the future. Many have worked for years to build their knowledge and expertise and do not like to be told not just the goalposts, but the pitch, is moving. We are often too busy to pause to reflect, never mind to learn a new way of being.
What needs to change is attitudinal: the attention we give to the implications of our actions, our colleagues’ actions, our clients’ actions (and inaction in each case) and our willingness to engage with those implications. We need to be enquiring and supportive. We are all in this together.
I am fortunate to work for a B Corp, where our purpose and social impact are taken seriously. We have recognised that reducing our carbon emissions and responding urgently to the climate emergency is essential – or it may undermine any other impact we work towards. We are committed to reducing our own footprint, as well as helping staff to reduce theirs and prepare for what is to come; to collaborate with others to amplify our impact and share our learning; and using our professional skills to improve and protect the environment.
Something else Jonas Salk said was “If all the insects were to disappear from the earth, within fifty years all life on earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the earth, within fifty years all forms of life would flourish.” Whilst recent history suggests he could be right, wouldn’t it be great to ensure our descendants never find out?