If we all tried to make small efforts it would really help our planet
Humans tend to overestimate what we can achieve in one year, and underestimate what we can achieve in 10.
As we enter 2022, should this give us cause for optimism or concern regarding the future of our planet?
2022 beckons us further into what scientists have coined the ‘decisive decade’. Spanning from 2020 to 2030, this decade has been described as ‘decisive’ because these 10 years are critically important for climate action, mitigation and adaption.
During this short 10-year period, we have the unique and finite opportunity to limit global temperature rise, and accelerate a just transition to a low-carbon economy.
However, even in 2022, the climate crisis can still feel like an issue to be addressed at a later date. National targets to “reverse deforestation by 2030” or to “meet net-zero emissions by 2050” project us far beyond our current realities, and therefore far beyond what is relevant and relatable to us.
We know that climate action is a marathon — not a sprint — but focusing on dates too far into the future can mean that the climate crisis does not feel near, personal, or urgent.
For many of us living in Northern Ireland, the climate crisis can seem almost imperceptible. Despite warnings from scientists describing “code red for humanity”, and despite having shifted our language from “climate change” to “climate emergency”, we continue to feel somewhat emotionally detached from global warming.
Besides, humans have finite processing capacities. Our time and attention is a limited resource. Even for those who are highly engaged in tackling climate change, this may not be the most pressing items on their agenda. Indeed, it can be easy to overlook the contributions we can make — or even begin to make — for our planet in 2022.
Perhaps, the climate crisis faces an ‘image problem’. From the highly technical language we use to describe climate change to the alienating images we can see in the media, there seems to be a growing disconnect between public attitudes and perceptions of climate change, and its frightening reality.
This growing disconnect could almost be described as apathy. Even photographs of what became the unwitting symbol of climate change: the polar bear, no longer move people like they once did.
To effectively restore and rebuild our world in 2022, we need to solve this ‘image’ problem. We need to bridge this disconnect.
In 2022, we need to make climate action a positive part of peoples’ identities and lifestyles. This does not mean ‘greening’ people through negative emotions: guilt, fear and shame. While these emotions can successfully grab peoples’ attention, they often fail to hold peoples’ attention.
Every year, we struggle to neatly fit New Years Resolutions into the reality of our lives. This year will be no exception. As we enter 2022, we continue to navigate multiple converging crises: the ongoing Covid-19 emergency, the ‘shadow pandemic’, and a loneliness pandemic, to name a few. After what has been a challenging year, setting personal and professional goals — let alone climate goals — feels a stretch too far. We already know that humans tend to overestimate what we can achieve in a year. How do we even know where to begin?
In her TEDx talk at Stormont in November, Lord Mayor of Belfast, Kate Nicholl, suggests beginning with ‘one wee thing’.
This means identifying ‘one wee thing’ that we can personally do to help mitigate the effects of climate change. Over this decisive decade, we will begin to see how the climate crisis will affect every aspect of human life, from what we will eat to how we will heat our homes. By starting with ‘one wee thing’, the climate crisis suddenly starts to feel near, personal, or urgent.
It should be said that individual action does not replace or erase the vital responsibility of businesses, non-party stakeholders, and governments to tackle the climate crisis.
This is not about reprimanding individuals to ‘recycle more’ and ‘use the car less’, while dismissing the importance of legally-binding policy and strong regulation. Rather, as Kate Nicholl explains, this is about empowering people to feel like the small actions they take can make a difference.
Start with what is easy. Start with what is personal. Start with what is mundane. Some examples include: eating more locally, eating more seasonally, reducing the amount of clothes we buy, or using a reusable drinking cup. You could also think about where you put your pound, and start to support brands and businesses who care for people and planet. You could consider donating to an environmental charity, or consider joining one of the many climate action groups in Northern Ireland.
Individuals are most powerful when they come together as a collective. Think about who you could partner with in your eco-resolution. Or if an eco-resolution is impossible this year, who could you support and encourage with theirs? Every month, Belfast City Council undergoes a different environmental challenge. This is a creative idea which we could engage in as families, friends, schools, community centres, and faith groups.
In 2021, a vast majority of the population reported feeling ‘disempowered’ in the face of the climate crisis. In 2022, we want people to feel empowered.
In 2022, let’s make environmental New Years Resolutions a global participation tool. Let’s view environmental resolutions as an opportunity, rather than a challenge. Let’s increase public feeling that we can do something about climate change. Because we can.