In praise of change

I’m an impatient person. I also relish change. I’m not one of those people who fears it and who rejects everything new. Perhaps this is partly why I have no objections to implementing the changes needed to stem global warming and am perplexed why so many people fight against them.

I read this great tweet yesterday which illustrates so well to me the bastardisation of the word skeptical by those who want to continue with business as usual and the ultimate melting of all of the ice and heating of our planet. These people have hijacked the word skeptical and given it new meaning. Bob Ward defines this new word.

I am fairly apathetic politically speaking but I do want politicians to act on climate change and many of the solutions seem fairly straightforward to me and easy to implement. I thought I’d write here about some of the changes I think are necessary if we want to keep most of the ice frozen and a temperature on our planet that does not stack the odds in favour of giant snakes.

If I were Prime Minister, I’d redirect the colossal and wasteful spending that goes on roads and motorways to off-road cycle paths instead. Every city would become a mecca for cyclists. For particularly hilly places, I’d implement solutions like the Trondheim bike lift. The money saved from lower congestion and pollution (for every $1 spent on cycling infrastructure, $3.88 is returned to the community) could instead be spent on public transport for longer distances and for people who cannot cycle . The spiralling costs of public health care – due to inactivity – would start to taper off and decline. This money can then be redirected to research and development in the areas of renewable energy, nuclear energy and carbon capture and storage.  If anyone is rolling their eyes at me right now then just let me ask one thing, do you want great legs and a toned arse? Cycling will give you both and if you have to cycle to get to school, work or the shops, then you don’t have to bother making the effort to exercise at other times. In these instances, exercise just happens as a consequence of daily activities.

I would also introduce a congestion charge similar to the scheme operated in London to every city. Every car parking space would also be charged. There’s nothing uglier to me than parked cars in a car park. This charge could be called the ugly tax for unnecessary and ugly infrastructure.

Next I would tackle food. This one is tricky because no-one likes to be told what to eat but it’s clear that we cannot sustain a population of 9 billion people if everyone consumes meat and dairy. I see a few solutions here. The first is that the cost of food needs to reflect the impact it has on the environment in the same way that shoe company PUMA now puts an environmental cost on all of its products. The reason for this is that when I go to the supermarket, cow’s milk is considerably cheaper than soy milk. Why is this? Soy milk has a lower carbon footprint than cow’s milk so it ought to be cheaper but it isn’t. This suggests to me that the current cost of dairy is not a true reflection of its cost to the environment.

I realise that I am not going to convert the entire planet to a primarily plant-based diet but that is not my intention. There is no one size fits all as far as food consumption goes but leaping changes are still needed. Part of the solution may lie with science and the ability to grow meat in a lab like this lab-grown hamburger. I think another part of the solution lies with insects. See Grub’s up: can insects feed the world? The Western diet contains far too much red meat anyway and the World Health Organisation implicates the consumption of red meat in dietary-related cancer.

Then there’s consumption and our love of infinite economic growth. British economist, Tim Jackson, has this to say about our current cycle of consumption and growth:

It’s a perverse story, a story about us, people, being persuaded to spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need to create impressions that don’t last on people we don’t care about.

He also asks the question why don’t we do blindingly obvious things like buying energy efficient appliances and energy efficient light bulbs? He thinks we’re too busy doing the mundane day-to-day tasks to bother with these simple solutions. Tim Jackson thinks the solution lies partly in institutions that have “ecological and social goals written in their constitution”. The example he gives is the company Ecosia which gives 80% of its profits to the protection of rainforests. We need to dispense with the single goal of profit in our business operations and give equal weight to social and environmental factors for more meaningful prosperity.

Here’s Tim Jackson’s TED talk – An economic reality check – which is well worth watching.