The noughties saw a major global attitude shift on climate change. Will the next decade herald the turning point for action?
At the turn of the millenium I was a carefree(-ish) student, whose thoughts on climate change were – like many people's – limited to occasional, brief ponderings on how it would be lovely to have warmer weather. Fast forward ten years and I now believe it to be the most significant and most urgent threat to human wellbeing, with the subject rarely far from my mind. I am not alone. In the last ten years humanity has gone from generally ignoring the problem of climate change to believing their governments should be doing more to tackle it. I'm currently on a six month trip through Russia and Asia, talking to real people about climate change. The vast majority of people I speak to know it will be a huge problem for their country but haven't yet converted this knowledge into action.
The noughties were all about awareness raising on climate change. Helped along by devastating natural disasters like the Southeast Asian Tsunami in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, environmental campaigns pushed this most urgent of environmental problems into the consciousness of most of the world's 6.7 billion people. The major efforts of the decade, like 2007's Live Earth concert, focussed on getting people to accept that there is a problem. But this is just the first step of the twelve step plan for society to wean itself from its suicidal fossil fuel addiction.
Politics, as usual, followed suit and we heard much grand rhetoric proclaiming the urgent need for action but saw very little in the way of follow through. Long before December's Copenhagen climate change summit it became painfully clear that the meeting was to belong very much to the old decade of talk and not what I hope will be the coming 'Decade of Do'.
To have any hope of success, environmentalists must use the next ten years to achieve that most tricky of alchemies – converting attitude into behaviour. Movements like Age of Stupid director Franny Armstrong's 10:10 campaign to get the UK to reduce its emissions by 10 per cent during 2010 offer us a glimpse of the future. The Do Lectures, a sort of cooler younger brother of the influential TED talks, which started last year to inspire millions of people to make good things happen fast, is another sign of things to come.
If we want the next decade to be defined by action on climate change, rather than being lost to more talk, we must start with ourselves. Every action counts because with them we create and change the social norms that shape the behaviour of society on the macro scale but we need to accept that big change needs big actions as well as little ones. It requires us to take more personal responsibility for our behaviour. It demands that we drag ourselves out of the collective mindset of the selfish teenager and into adulthood, where we consider the wellbeing of others as well as our own when making decisions. It means we have to stop making excuses for ourselves. Do you really need to take that flight? Is eating meat every day really that important to you? Can you afford that solar heating system by making a saving elsewhere? There are no excuses any more. We all know what we are supposed to be doing now … all that's left is to do it.