In this final video of the series, Laurie Laybourn-Langton challenges the false binary beliefs that tell us we still have time to prevent crises like climate change or that it’s too late and hopeless, and argues strongly for honest appraisal of our predicament and urgency in responding to the interconnected environmental and societal challenges we face in the coming years and decades.
This video is the last in a series which intends to deepen our understanding of the new chapter we have entered. The series also inaugurates a dialogue on how efforts to realize a more sustainable, equitable and resilient world can best navigate an uncertain, destabilizing future. We will share details of this dialogue in due course.
Stories of environmental emergency often use binary distinctions or absolutes. We still have time, some say, while others lament that it’s too late. Some say that limiting global heating to 1.5 or 2 degrees represents safety. Others say that, beyond this, catastrophe lies in tipping points, whisking us to ever-higher levels of apocalyptic heat. These simplistic narrative frames need to be ditched. Reality is far more complex.
For example, very dangerous levels of global greenhouse gas emissions have already been released, and the result in temperature rises have caused enormous suffering around the world. Wider environmental degradation has made our world poorer, less vibrant, and more dangerous.
Now, it may soon not be possible to avoid a 1.5 or 2 degree temperature rise. But this will not mean it is too late. A failure to reduce emissions by 45% globally on the 31st of December 2029, will not stop the world from ushering in the 2030s. And too late for what? For whom?
We maintain enormous agency over our global predicament. Acting as if we didn’t would betray current and future generations. But we need an honest appraisal of that predicament, in order to work out how best to respond.
Recently it has become unignorable: the environmental emergency is surpassing critical global thresholds. This means we are now entering a new chapter of the story. There are two main features:
Firstly, we are in conditions of planetary emergency. An eighth of global species are at risk of extinction—many within coming years. Sufficient action has not been taken to address emissions, and increasing temperatures threaten or may have already triggered tipping points that could irreversibly push Earth’s life support systems into a state of increasingly unmanageable instability.
The second feature of this chapter is that the negative consequences of the environmental emergency are increasingly reaching levels of global significance. Development outcomes are already being eroded by environmental shocks, the severest burden falling on those least responsible for the problem.
And greater destabilization is on the way, with more temperature rises and ecological destruction to come. Even without climate breakdown, our exponentially growing consumption of resources is simply unsustainable. This emergent reality drives movements around the world.
We demand an end to the chip at incrementalism, a failure to adequately address the structural social and economic drivers of environmental breakdown, a lack of support to those on the frontline, and the searing global and intergenerational injustices.
Rising to their challenge requires reconciliation with the realities of our new global chapter. Those calling for green recovery from the coronavirus pandemic urge an acceleration of efforts to slow environmental destruction or socio-economic transition. And younger generations are acutely aware of the huge cleanup challenge that awaits them.
But these efforts will increasingly need to be complemented by policies and advocacy strategies that are robust to the growing destabilization that will result from the environmental emergency.
This destabilization will interact with the great social and economic challenges of our time: high levels of inequality, political fragmentation and regressive populism, economic stagnation, and the ongoing shock of the coronavirus pandemic. All these epochal issues are and will increasingly be impacted by the consequences of the environmental emergency.
The fragilities in our social and economic systems exposed by the coronavirus will be tested to the destruction of growing environmental destabilization, creating cascading feedback loops from nature to societies, and vice versa. This crisis is not an abstract concern, worry for future generations that can be technocratically tackled from a position of comfort. It is here, now, and has been for many for a long time.
This video is the last in a series which intends to deepen our understanding of the new chapter we have entered. This series also inaugurates a dialogue on how efforts to realize a more sustainable, equitable, and resilient world can better navigate an uncertain, destabilizing future.
We will share details of this dialog in due course, but for now, on behalf of its conveners, Post Carbon Institute, Anthropocene Actions, and the Villum Kann Rasmussen Foundation, thank you for tuning in.
As James Baldwin wrote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” It is horrifying, tragic, maddening, that we have entered this new chapter. But that is where we are. What happens next is up to us.