The lost “thing”

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Words || Caitlin Anderson

“…as the hours slouched by it seemed less and less
likely that anyone was coming to take the thing home.
Soon there was no denying the unhappy truth:
it was lost. “
-Shaun Tan, ‘The Lost Thing’.

I’ve noticed ‘the thing’. You’ve most likely noticed ‘the thing’. Some people are ignoring ‘the thing’. And there are those who see ‘the thing’ and either believe that looking after it is not their problem or that it will be the responsibility of other people down the track.

I’m not perfect, and I certainly don’t have a complete understanding about climate change. But I’m trying to understand. I’m trying to change my actions and the way I consume, because I know that we cannot desist from trying to make things better.

Time and time again we read those headlines and see those shared Facebook articles that implore us to both be aware of and make changes to our daily lives that can actually make change. My favourite article that I shared early in October was Science Alert’s ‘Major Climate Report Just Issued a Dire Warning, But Everyone’s Going to Ignore it Anyway’. Denial is the easiest response to guilt, and the easiest response to climate change is to similarly ignore it, as if we don’t have 12 years to alter the doomed fate of our entire planet.

Australia, as a signatory to the 2015 Paris climate agreement, pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26% from 2005 levels by 2030. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that nations must cease coal-usage by 2050 if the threat of a 1.5°C global temperature rise is to be prevented. Furthermore, countries like Australia would need to aim for a 45% emissions reduction by 2030 to even attempt to combat global warming.

Scott Morrison is unfortunately looking more and more likely to be an empty promise climate change warrior. In response to the IPCC, both ScoMo and the Environment Minister have established that they will continue to focus on the 26% reduction. The coal industry is far too precious to Australia to even think about supporting phasing out the biggest contributor to our greenhouse gas emissions, right?

Earlier this year, Damian Carrington, the Environment Editor from The Guardian made it blatantly clear that “Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet”. He continued on to quote Joseph Poore, an Oxford University researcher who asserts, “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use. It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car”.

Vegan. The descriptor that encapsulates a pandora’s box of irritation and ridicule. Its cultural perception, as taken from Urban Dictionary, is as follows: “A word used to describe people totally convinced of their superiority.” A person who subscribes to a vegan lifestyle simply abstains from consuming products that derive from the murder of animals. It’s easier to ridicule rather than understand something that is (dare I say it?), just, fair and right. It’s easier to try and sneak past the people handing out pamphlets that have images of the de-beaking of young chicks than to stop and take responsibility.

Why are terms like “veganism” and “recycling” so hard to wrap our heads around? Due to ingrained societal stigmatism they are usually met with heavy sighs and guttural moans, but is this really going to be the reason that we let our planet heat up to a state beyond repair?

Drought in Australia is affected by a myriad of contributors, climate change being one of them. We know from the Bureau of Meteorology that winter rainfall has rapidly declined since the 1960s, and that this is directly linked to climate change. Unfortunately, yet unsurprisingly, Australia’s drought policies have always been volatile and largely ineffective. Drought policies are not prepared to account for climate change as they have never facilitated long-term welfare measures for farmers. It is paramount, now more than ever, that national policies are aligned with climate change, but widespread drought means that the bureaucracy of policy-change comes at a tough time.

But, let’s get philosophical for a minute. What is our human obligation to act on climate change? As MIT Professor of Philosophy, Kieran Setiya, puts it “If we do not act on climate change, people born 50 or 100 years from now will lead impoverished lives”.

Upon further questioning, the debate gets more complicated. With whom does the obligation to act on climate change lie? Are we to enforce distributive justice or restitution? The answers are not exclusive and therefore remain unresolved.

Be informed. Research how we consume. Know which companies sponsor climate denial and enforce catastrophic levels of fossil fuel consumption. Think about how climate change is contributing to extreme weather across the world, like drought. Know which political leaders are actively seeking to combat the charlatans who try to charm their way out of the truth of climate change. Don’t just associate climate change with the image of ice caps melting.

The United Nations IPCC most recent report on global warming establishes that our goal now is to stabilise global warming to 1.5 °C rather than the original 2 °C target from 2015, as the path we’re on at the moment is heading towards 3-5 °C. This lower target would decrease the risk for ecosystems, species loss and rising sea levels.

Put it this way: African elephants need 150-300 litres of drinking water per day. They will lose this water if climate change continues at its current rate, and their population will decrease immeasurably. Coral reefs are the backbone to countless ocean ecosystems. The Great Barrier Reef, already in the process of being annihilated under the warmth of 1 degree, will be reduced by 70-90% at 1.5 degrees and will be lost to us at 2 degrees. Polar Bears have been given approximately 35 years until extinction.

The animals you see in David Attenborough documentaries are only a few of the countless animals whose homes are already diminishing, food sources exhausted.

Simply put, indulgence and sustainability are mutually exclusive. What we want to eat, want to wear, want to do are most likely environmentally and ethically unfriendly. Connect the dots. The burning of fossil fuels, deforestation and agricultural land clearing means greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gas emissions means rising temperatures. Rising temperatures means melting ice caps. Rising sea levels. Water scarcity. Heatwaves. Severe drought. Animal extinction. The spreading of diseases. The loss of human life.

We are not exempt from the changing climate of our world.

So what can we do? Consume less. Waste less (stop using those pesky plastic straws). Vote. Find alternatives. Reduce or eliminate meat consumption. Use products that are both environmentally, humanely and ethically-sourced.

And acknowledge that the rich and powerful need to do their part as well. Yes, we can individually adjust our own patterns of behaviour, but those with deep pockets have the means to implement the lasting strategies that can be the most effective. These mega-rich industrialists are contributing to 71% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Aramco, ExxonMobil, Aramco. These guys.

Alternatives are available through the implementation of clean renewable energy. Not two months ago did Malcolm Turnbull announce his Coalition-supported National Energy Guarantee policy and then swiftly capitulate the policy’s emissions reduction target in an attempt to subdue party turbulence. It’s time for ScoMo to earnestly support Australian industries through making vital clean alternatives affordable. The task is immense, but so are the consequences of global warming.

World Vision recommends the NFP organisation Ethical Consumer Group’s ‘Shop Ethical!’ app that provides a guide to ethical shopping in Australia. Yes. It’s $5.99. But in the very (very) near future, that’s how much we’ll be paying for a simple cup of coffee.

Speaking of coffee. Single O, an Australian coffee company and pioneer in environmentally-conscious and ethically-sourced coffee beans, are pretty clear about the future of coffee. Coffee demands are up. Ethical treatment of coffee farmers is down. And the effects of climate change on the production of coffee is ever more pressing. The agricultural industry is a major contributor to climate change, and farmers will be undone by its effects.

The upwards trajectory of these ‘inconvenient’ truths, is that a worldwide shortage of coffee, amongst other things, is imminent. In the near future, a $10 cup of coffee will be the norm. We are in a state of instability but we still have the agency to make change.

“I still think about that lost thing from time to time…
I see that kind of thing less and less these days.
Maybe there aren’t many lost things around anymore.
Or maybe, maybe I’ve just stopped noticing them.
Too busy doing other stuff I guess.”

It is very possible to live sustainably. All it takes is for us to notice ‘the thing’ and take care of it.