Comment column posted 4/3/19


The dual approach to saving the planet


It was good to see school pupils engage in a bit of direct action recently. They took time off school to attend marches and demonstrations across the country to voice their concerns about climate change. From what I hear in the media, which admittedly may not be the most reliable source, I don’t normally associate young people with anything as energetic as marching or demonstrating. I have a mental picture of them spending endless hours in front of a screen of some sort. 


So good for them for making the effort to make their views known. As a taxpayer who contributes towards their education I have no objection whatsoever to their missing a few lessons for this purpose. I’m pleased they have learned about the threats posed by climate change and are motivated to do something about them.


And I like the catchy slogans they wrote on their placards such as: There’s no planet B, Don’t be a fossil fool, and It’s getting hot in here so take off all your coals. A future in the advertising industry for some of them.


As well as providing them with knowledge and understanding about why climate change is happening I hope their education is enabling them to engage in some hard thinking about what some of the possible solutions to the phenomenon may be.


Their education should begin by making them aware of the dual approach that should be used to take action to try to solve the problem – the same dual approach that should be used to take any sort of social and political action. It is an approach based on the principles of both liberty and collectivism. As individuals we have the liberty within the boundaries of the law of the land and natural justice to make decisions about our own lives according to our personal values; as members of society we have an obligation to participate in collective decision-making that affects everyone, including, of course, ourselves.


Applying this dual approach to taking action on climate change means young people, like everyone else, first of all need to think carefully for themselves, as individuals, about the issues involved. When they have done a lot of rigorous thinking they then need to decide the action they can take individually to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere as well as think about what governments can do by acting collectively on behalf of their citizens.


As individuals will they cut down on the things they buy which, in their production and distribution, contribute to greenhouse gases – things like fast fashion, smartphones or bottled water. If they believe that drinking milk and eating meat is producing too much methane from the process of rearing livestock for food production will they change their diets? Will they stop buying products that have been transported across Europe in lorries that emit huge amounts of carbon dioxide, and will they reduce their on-line shopping in order to bring down the number of delivery vehicles on the roads? Will they stop using planes to go on holiday and will they put off having their own car until they are older?


And what about the ultimate solution to reducing the effect of human activity on climate change: reducing the number of humans who contribute to this activity. Would our children, the world’s children, be prepared to reduce the global population by limiting the size of their families? This would be the greatest sacrifice they could make on behalf of the planet, the supreme individual action they could take.


When they have decided what they themselves can do as individuals they will need to keep up their action and make it into a permanent change of lifestyle. This will set an example for their family and their friends to follow.


Alongside their individual action they can call for collective action to be taken – as they have been doing on their marches. As long as it is within the law, and not violent or aggressive, they should continue to march and demonstrate – as noisily as they wish.


They should campaign in other ways, too, such as on social media, writing to their MPs and having stalls at local events. They should insist that the policies agreed by national governments at climate conferences should be implemented and they will need to accept the consequences of these policies even when they are inconvenient or costly. Examples of such consequences might be having to switch to electric heating in the home, having to buy an electric car and having less plastic in their lives.


I’m pleased that young people feel passionately about the impact of global warming on the planet and humanity. I hope this feeling will continue long into adulthood. I hope, too, they can be persuaded to feel just as passionately about all the other great issues that have an impact on the planet and humanity: the issues of poverty, violence, prejudice, injustice and inequality that, at this very moment, are affecting the lives of millions of people.


Maybe, also, they can join with me in raising awareness of that other ever-present threat to humanity: nuclear weapons, the possession of which is the greatest folly of humankind – a far greater folly than burning fossil fuels which have, after all, made an immeasurable contribution to the comfort and convenience of our daily lives.


And let us hope that all of us, young, old and in-between, can engage as much as possible in the dual approach that is necessary to take action to deal with the many difficulties that society faces.


!6/3/19 Note:


NB: I haven’t touched upon two big issues that will need to be addressed soon. The first is the extent to which we will all be compelled by law to take measures that reduce global warming, such as, perhaps, having an annual limit on our air miles or being obliged to recycle every bit of plastic we use. The second is how we can enforce compliance in other countries with agreed policies to reduce greenhouse gases.