It's SO not enough just to scare people about climate change
August 2nd marked Earth Overshoot Day 2017 meaning we have already used more of nature's resources this year than the Earth will be able to renew. For those of us living in the UK this happened back in the beginning of May (calculate your personal overshoot day here).
Earth Overshoot Day is not to be celebrated. Our planet can't keep up and it's not pretty. Temperatures are heating up. Sea levels are rising. Coral reefs are bleaching. People are dying. To use the words of David Powell, Environmental Lead at The New Economics Foundation: "this stuff is scary". He recommends reading this recent article in New York magazine if you wish to be spooked even more. He then contemplates whether scaring people is the approach that will lead to change - How much good does it do us to know that we are doomed? What are we supposed to do with information like that?
On one hand, a bit of fear is probably a good idea. A planetary crisis is a thing we need to Do Something About – a something that is nebulous and almost certainly less diverting than watching Love Island and eating crisps. As David Roberts writes at Vox: “Most people simply have no idea how scary climate change is. However that terrible urgency is communicated, the world is better for it.” And it is scary – make no mistake. Scary today. Scary already.
But scary without feeling like you can do something about it – without agency – is just dull, dead panic: rabbity-headlights time. In an upcoming book on what he calls ‘climate apathy’, pollster Leo Baresi will explore the “billions of people who have heard plenty about climate change and acknowledge there’s a problem, but who are just not engaged enough to stimulate the change required to stop it.”
Portraying the scale of how we’re going wrong compels us to inspire and empower people to do something about it: to turn that listless, paralysing fear into action. That’s our job. All of us: businesses or NGOs, campaigners or commentators. To help tell the story that comes next, that comes after the dread. An axiom of campaigning is that motivating and empowering people to act requires three things: anger, hope and action.
He acknowledges that "freaking out about the ever-earlier Earth Overshoot Day" may not be followed by anger but feels certain that a couple of videos (made for the campaign #ExxonKnew) on the wealth and power of fossil fuel companies and their constant effort to deceive the public should do the trick. Anger will not instantly trigger hope but we can start by rejoicing and finding inspiration in the actions of the many innovators, scientists, activists and everyday heroes creating change today. Read about the dedication of UK fracking activists or watch this young dutchman talk about the technology he created that can clean our oceans from plastics.
Powell ends with this:
The most important thing is that whatever we do takes a bit of power away from someone, somewhere, who doesn’t want things to change, and gives it to people who do. It’s a principle that links Elon Musk with community energy projects. Start taking back the power, and demand that our politicians and leaders keep up – which they will, in the end.
So do apocalyptic tales of destruction, or encroaching indicators of environmental loss, have a purpose? Yes. Be afraid. But then get angry, and start turning that anger into a million small changes. In a world increasingly characterised by the potential for rapid social change, hope and action could trigger big changes, very fast – big changes we most definitely need.
Not sure what you can do? Start by taking a pledge (or many) on overshootday.org.