“The Audacity of Action” is the name of the Carbon Copy blog about local climate action around the UK. It’s a nod to Barack Obama’s inspiring book, “The Audacity of Hope”, and the phrase he used in one of his speeches to instil hope and share the empowering idea that yes, we can.

We need hope – especially in times of crises – but what if we’ve been doing the equation about hope and action backwards? What if hope isn’t what leads to action? Instead, what if it’s courage that leads to action and hope follows action? As Greta Thunberg said, “Once we start to act, hope is everywhere. So instead of looking for hope, look for action.”

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that countries need to dramatically accelerate the transition to climate neutrality. By its own estimates, we have until 2030 – less than 10 years – to prevent 1.5 degrees Celsius warming. As a nation, the UK will do its best to become net-zero by 2050. According to Prof Mark Maslin at UCL, “The zero-carbon target is essential, but the date of 2050 is too far in the future. The UK must adopt a 2030 zero-carbon target.” Sometimes it is not enough to do our best; we must do what is required.

We cannot get there simply by stopping some of the things we do or through individual action alone. We ran this devastating experiment throughout this year during the coronavirus pandemic. For months, very few people were flying and most were driving their cars for essential trips only. Lots of people didn’t even leave their homes. Yet greenhouse gas emissions have barely budged and are projected to fall by an estimated 8 percent globally over the entire year. It’s sobering to think that we need emissions to fall by this amount, every year, until 2030 to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. We need to do things differently and collectively.

Our climate emergency requires big thinking of all kinds and especially at a local level where policies are enacted and people are responsible for reshaping the world around them. Unfortunately, there is no single elegant solution, no perfect national blueprint for a liveable future. Instead, there are myriad local Climate Action Plans across the country with the majority of local authorities (over two hundred principal councils) aiming to become net-zero by 2030.

Are you on track to reach the incredibly ambitious net-zero target of 2030 if you live in one of these local areas? It’s a necessary but insufficient question to ask. At the same time as we track progress, we should ask ourselves what target will reduce the most risk to having a more liveable future. Should we recover as much as possible by running towards a really bold target or should we take measured strides over a more perfected, thirty-year trajectory? In truth, we need courageous people who are willing to get things done now and work towards targets that seem impossibly ambitious at the start. As the writer, inventor and explorer Arthur C. Clarke once said, “If we have learned one thing from the history of invention and discovery, it is that in the long run – and often in the short one – the most daring prophecies seem laughably conservative.”

Community is the lens so often left out of the environmental discussion, but it’s vital for identifying different ways forward and for getting things done. It follows that if you are close to the problem, you are also close to the solutions. For example, when community is involved, nature-based solutions look like Seagrass Ocean Rescue and Edible Playgrounds; green transport looks like Car-Free Norwich and Charge My Street; and productive land use looks like Ugie Peatland Partnership and Bold Forest Park.

As the guest in a recent Sustainable(ish) podcast hosted by Jen Gale, we spoke about changing the system, not perfecting our own lives, as the real opportunity in tackling the climate emergency. We also discussed the need for speed and the power in collective action. Not least, we spoke about how inspiring it is that so much has been done, despite the immense challenges of this year. It’s not about getting it perfect – it’s about getting it out the door and then adjusting from there.


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