by Natasha Senior

For many millennia to come, the climate crisis will be the defining moment of our history. When we first shovelled the crushed, decayed, fossilised remains of prehistoric creatures into engines, we found that we could create plentiful power. It is this power that has allowed us to coexist in huge societal networks, to eliminate disease and travel to outer space. But these tremendous strides in humanity have come at a huge price.

The infrastructure of our society relies on consuming, we no longer share local resources within small communities, but transport them across the world and transform them many times until they take the barely recognisable forms of commodities we use every day. In each step of this process we lavishly spend fuel, a resource that we once treated as ever-lasting, but now we see it’s running out. But our biggest mistake was that we thought we were getting all of this for free when in fact, all this time we’ve been borrowing huge amounts from the environment. And as we see the Earth changing drastically, with the oceans acidifying and the weather becoming increasingly unpredicable, we know that the time has come to settle the debt. These next few weeks, as world leaders gather at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris, we will decide as a species how to return what we owe.

For many millennia to come, the climate crisis will be the defining moment of our history

The science is now irrefutable. The climate is changing and we are without a doubt, the ones to blame. The findings of the IPCC fifth assessment report have shown that the Earth can only bear a maximum of 2 degrees in temperature rise before conditions are palpably hostile (for small island nations, this target is even more stringent). In order for climate change to stay within these limits, global emissions must peak perhaps as soon as 2020—a  target that is approaching fast. That being said, the biggest polluters in the world, USA and China—who have previously been quite resistent to dealing with climate change—have recently demonstrated considerable commitment to peaking their emissions. USA have pledged to cut emissions by 26-28% and China have revealed ambitious plans to peak their emissions before 2030. And, for the first time, financial aid is being pledged from G7 countries to support renewable energy incentives in developing countries. Unlike the case with previous negotiations, these factors give us cause to be optimistic about the outcomes of COP21.

( © National Geographic )

There is a question that plagues us though: will all this be enough? Climate change is already affecting us. The winter storms battering Britain have been increasing in severity in recent years. The Arctic is already feeling the brunt of climate change, as sea-ice rapidly declines. The man-made forest fires ranging in Indonesia have been exacerbated by the strongest El Niño ever recorded. It seems the wrath of the environment is already at our doorsteps. The current trajectory might not cut it, as discussions seem to revolve around being more frugal with our fossil fuel resources. Nuclear energy is being discussed as an alternative, since it would not contribute to carbon emissions. However it is extremely costly to build to maintain and it would damage the environment in other ways, especially if it were introduced on a massive scale—nuclear waste is incredibly problematic to manage. A full commitment to renewable energy appears to be our only viable long and short term solution.

Renewable energy, though, has more to offer than just the fact that it is environment-friendly. It can be used to diversify the market and make nations self-sufficient. But also, it can be used to address the force behind climate change, which is not simply our reliance on the fossil fuel industry, but the greed that caused us to depend on it in the first place. This greed results in us pouring huge amounts of energy into producing more meat than we require and making more and more processed foods which cause obesity. Also, the fast-changing fashion and electronics markets, fuelled by consumerism, rely on the existence of sweatshops rife with human rights abuses.


Since the necessary transition to renewables is likely to create a tumultuous period in the world economy, as power-wielding oil-rich nations adjust to the changes and fossil-fuel consuming products are replaced, this seems like a golden opportunity to address all of these problems. The renewable energy revolution could be about creating a different type of economy that has entrenched within it socially responsibility as well as sustainability, indeed the two go hand in hand.

if we’re going to survive, we will need to drastically change the way we behave

We are at a pivotal point in history where changes in the Earth are becoming increasingly threatening. Rhetoric often focusses around the vulnerability of the climate system, but the truth is we are the vulnerable ones. We are learning that we cannot borrow indefinitely from the Earth and if we’re going to survive, we will need to drastically change the way we behave.

Climate change is the biggest threat that humanity has ever faced, but the problems created by industrialisation have affected local ecosystems and have created many problems within our society. We have here, not only an opportunity to respect the Earth as a whole, but local environments too. And importantly, to respect ourselves, to live self-sufficiently, to give up the temporary highs of consumerism and replace them with genuine fulfilment. This can be the defining moment of our history where we didn’t just change, we transformed.

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