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Not What You Think


If you think climate action stops with the environment, then think again. The ever-widening conversation about climate action has taken the climate crisis out of its environment ‘box’ and into a different and bigger space. Not surprisingly, climate breakdown bridges such broad aspects of our lives that it can hardly be contained within any one area.


Framing climate breakdown as an environmental issue has allowed people to treat it as an issue that is ‘out there’ – somewhere else, apart from society and politics. This framing has stuck in our collective psyche for too long; a reflection of the pervasive Western culture that separates people and nature. Belatedly, we are coming around to the realisation that we are part of nature, not apart from nature: there is no boundary between us.

Ultimately, environmental problems are social problems and solving them requires changing how we live together. Reimagining the current system represents an exciting opportunity to renew the places we collectively call home and to address the inequalities that we see today. From this societal perspective, climate action looks a lot like building stronger communities; greener, cleaner places that benefit everyone; warmer homes that run on cheaper, renewable energy; affordable public transport; community wealth building that places control and benefits into the hands of local people. The path to sustainability is through these places, where we share our finite resources more humanely while nourishing the human spirit.


It’s not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ we shift away from burning fossil fuels: we’ve known for some time now (the disingenuous fossil fuel majors have known too) that we cannot pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere for ever. Rebuilding our economy based on limitless, clean renewable energy and generating zero waste represents business opportunities and job creation on a scale that’s hard to imagine. Companies are jumping on this bandwagon in droves – because they have too much to gain rather than too much to lose.

Transitioning to a zero waste, ‘circular’ economy is a boon for new, secure jobs. There is a broader shift in a circular economy from labour-light raw material sectors to the more labour-intensive reprocessing and reuse sectors. New jobs across different skill levels and pay grades are required, from recycling and reuse to remanufacturing and highly specialised bio-refining. Many of these new jobs are located where people are concentrated and are not threatened by potential offshoring. These ‘new industrial’ jobs require custom work that cannot easily be automated and can spring up across the country, including hard-hit regions where old industries have declined.

As an industrial strategy, responding to the climate crisis can be seen as a way to improve economic competitiveness, innovation and productivity. At least, that’s what they think in the US, where the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 is the single largest investment in climate and clean energy in American history to date. It’s so big (almost $800 billion) that the abundance of interconnected benefits – from cheaper energy to lower healthcare costs to reduced emissions – cannot simply be totted up but instead are modelled by powerful computers.


Finally, when it comes to environmental impact, effective climate action does not boil down simply to net zero emissions. Net zero is a shorthand way of measuring progress and, like GDP, it skews our perspective about what counts. For example, a big pile-up on the motorway is good for GDP because more people need to buy new cars. Net zero is an accounting trick that allows organisations to think they are cutting carbon by booking reductions in their existing emissions with mostly bogus ‘carbon offsets’. The only reduction in greenhouse gases that counts is a real reduction towards zero. The big advantage of making real reductions instead of offsetting is that they inevitably come with a host of other benefits locally – both social and economic.

Halting the loss of biodiversity is no less urgent to our wellbeing. One quarter of all mammals and one third of all amphibians are threatened today with extinction. Every species we wipe out represents an irreversible loss to all future generations. If that was not momentous enough, diversity of plant and animal life plays a pivotal role in maintaining a healthy environment, and their absence inevitably endangers our own livelihood. The good news is that there are many ingenious, new approaches to reversing nature loss that we can take, where we live.

The climate crisis is not a single-issue struggle; its impact pushes far into our social, economic and environmental worlds. When we think bigger and see climate action as the common ground, hope is no longer deferred: we start thinking that expanding the scope of climate action increases our chances.

If this article made you think, then please listen to Civic Revolution; a new three-part audiobook hosted by the Carbon Copy Podcast about the power of belonging and local climate action. Listen here or wherever you get your podcasts:

Part 1 – Jeopardy

Part 2 – Opportunity

Part 3 – Connection

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