A response to climate doom and gloom

Floods in South Yorkshire in 2007. Severe flooding, especially in coastal areas, is expected to increase significantly with just moderate amounts of additional global warming, due to heavier rainfall and rising seas.

A major new report was recently released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, documenting the severe potential impacts of even a small additional amount of global warming.

While we are not fans of doom and gloom messaging – in fact, we created MAD Challenges specifically to provide a more positive and empowering narrative – this report has hit us hard. We’re sure that many of you feel the same.

So we wanted to reflect on the implications of these potential impacts. Not to spread feelings of guilt or fear. But because they’re real, and they will profoundly shape the future we live in.

Change is inevitable

A main message of the report is that preventing even just a small additional amount of global warming – the difference between 1.5 and 2.0 degrees C – is crucial if we want to avoid long-lasting or irreversible change to unique and threatened ecosystems around the world – including coral reefs, fisheries, forests and the Arctic.

Preventing this small additional warming will also make a big difference in many other important ways, including extreme weather events, severe impacts to poor and vulnerable groups, and the risk of crossing major tipping points, like the collapse of the Greenland ice sheet.

Added to this, the bigger picture is that climate change is just one strand of interconnected environmental threats. There’s also rising ocean plastics, severe rates of biodiversity loss, soil degradation and more. Some aspects of nature are improving but overall, as a society, we produce more waste and exploit more resources than the planet has capacity to deal with – 3x as much, for the average person in the UK.

Then there are a whole raft of social and economic issues. Poverty, hunger, inequalities, migration, national security, political instability – these are all connected with each other and to the environment. This means you can’t address any single one without it having an impact on the others.

Change isn’t just coming, it’s already happening – and it will only accelerate as populations grow and we become more globalised.

But take a look at the other side of the coin

Because all of these problems are joined-up, the solutions are too. The report acknowledges this by concluding that taking actions which address multiple issues – ones that benefit wider environmental, social and economic outcomes at the same time – is the most effective approach to tackling climate change.   

Seen in this way, the complexity of the problems we face suddenly requires us to approach climate change as an opportunity to deliver much wider success. This is a dramatically different story to what we’re used to hearing: that dealing with climate change will require us to hold back on development and individual sacrifice.

Of course some compromises will be inevitable, but the opportunity is that we can choose to take actions that make sense for ourselves and society, regardless of the CO2 emissions they also save.

For us, this need for joined-up solutions carries two important implications:

  1. We need greater variety – of voices being heard and of people working towards common goals. More variety means that more innovative, fair and joined-up solutions will emerge.
  2. We need to be clearer on what we value – every potential solution carries pros and cons, so we need be clear on what it is we care about most, then prioritise accordingly.

In other words, climate change is an opportunity for a stronger democracy and for collective action that connects more widely to what people care about.

The power of people

The report also concludes that governments can’t do this alone – we need the power of people to support ambitious government action and to drive ground-up changes in energy use and patterns of consumption. This underscores the need for collective action.

We would add that respecting and encouraging a diversity of personal, professional and political views is fundamental to this, as it allows climate change to become a non-partisan issue and enables the variety of solutions we need.

That’s why we believe that conversation can be one of the most powerful levers for much wider change. If we seek to find common ground with others on what matters most – on our underlying values – then we can empower a wider ownership of the issue and uncover opportunities for collective action.

And that’s our hope for MAD Challenges: that despite what impacts climate change may bring, by encouraging people to connect with each other and realise their potential for collective action, we can help to shape a future that delivers more for both people and planet.

For more information on the report, see here.

For more thoughts on what we can do about it, right this way.