An idea for a climate change effort

Reading time: ~10 minutes

As a PhD student only just entering the world of climate change, I’m sure I’m a long way from having an accurate picture. This is based on what I understand at the moment, and the thinking that it’s better to try to react than to wait indefinitely to know more. But it’s therefore a limited attempt – I’m very happy to be corrected!

Let’s start with a common goal. Let’s suppose that after considering the challenges we could take up, for the sake of humanity or all life forms or whatever we hold dear, we decide that to halt climate change is our shared mission.

Then what?

Climate change is difficult beyond belief: energy systems, economic growth, politics, ethics, science, technological incentives, the list goes on and on. The question of how to approach it is a hard one. People, organisations and countries disagree precisely because with even slightly different information, parameters, values or skills, even objective people can reach conflicting conclusions.

And that puts our team in a difficult position. Suddenly, we could end up pushing in different directions, arguing over the strategy of this approach or that, based on a few disagreeing experimental results or differing readings of history and politics. Whomever was ‘right’, that arguing would cost us a lot. While we need to find a darn good solution because there’s no guarantee that we can solve climate change without, we need to compromise to do it. This disagreement is because of uncertainty and a spread of opinions about things we can’t measure, not (only) because people are wrong. We can’t cling to our own certainty and expect it to resonate for others. The truth is that even with the knowns and known unknowns, many ideas could be as promising as each other, many things are as likely to be true. But even so, we need to choose one, something concrete to get behind it.

But that’s not what’s happened. If you try to enter the climate change fray now, as we’re doing, you are hit by a cacophony of sometimes vitriolic points and counter-points. It’s hard to even know what to applaud for, let alone what to fight for. Is X a step in the right direction or is it diverting resources from Y, the real solution? You could maybe get around it by agreeably supporting anything ‘green’, but that can get hard after a while. Time and energy are limited; implicitly or explicitly, choices need to be made and stronger action follows from confidence of laudable impact.

So what can we do about it?

From this perspective we have two challenges:

  • Choosing actions to get behind on an individual level from the plethora available.
  • Encouraging solidarity behind targeted compatible, compelling and compromised strategies.

To do the first, you need to understand quite deeply the challenge solving climate change poses, both to wade through the intentionally misleading nefarious suggestions but also to improve upon the estimations made by people emotionally invested in what they’ve already sunk time into. You need time, resources and friends willing help you see holes and jump hurdles. You need to be open-minded but also critical – anything could be true, but anything you hear could be false.

But once you find clarity, you might easily have doubled or quadrupled (or more) your efficacy and you can share it. An objectively ‘good find’ can make it much easier for people on the edge of the team, who care about climate change alongside other equal priorities, to know it’s worth their while to pitch in and act.

The second aim is more long-term and difficult to enact. A group of actors need to coalesce. Uncertainty needs to be admitted on all sides, quantified, and hedged against. Questions between opposing actions need to be scrutinized and decided, be it clarity or coin-flip if nothing better is available. So much baggage would need to be left at the door for the promised reward of a smoother-sailing ship which is going faster, but maybe not precisely by each sailors compass. [Excuse the metaphors].

My point is petering out so I’ll close it up with a bang for now. When it comes to a climate change clubs, I think it’s very important to have at least some branch giving people already on the climate “team” a venue and encouragement to explore the question of strategy. Some people will be happy listening to information or jumping on board with whatever project is recommended, but others will want be able to slow down and zoom out.

It’ll be that skill, of seeing the whole issue and picking out what matters, that helps us find long-term wider consensus and so it seems well worth trying to foster it here and now.

That’s a lot of my motivation behind Acting Best on Climate Change. It meshes well with a more active outward facing Climate/Environment club, but as a project it would take a different rhythm because it has a different audience and aim in mind. One step is to do actions, raising awareness about climate change or getting people recycling, but another, just as important, is to slowly learn and think, hem and haw.

Having a revolving door between the two steps, but neither crowding out the other, seems to me a good bet. Can we make that happen?