This blog entry suggests a few ideas for helping readers to recognize when our society is taking climate change seriously versus business-as-usual. Each of the examples provided requires looking at the larger system in which it is embedded, though this is not an explicitly systems thinking-focused blog entry. It is a follow-on from a previous blog, Climate Change and Homelessness Have This In Common — A Systems Thinking Perspective. which concluded with these remarks:

We will know we are taking climate change and homelessness seriously when our news feeds routinely tell us the status of these issues, rather than the Dow or the S&P 500. We will know we are taking these issues seriously when we know what our banks are investing our money in, and approve of those enterprises. (I.e., when people have ditched JPMorgan Chase, Citi, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America, the top four institutions financing fossil fuel. See page 11.)We we will know we are heading in the right direction when youth such as Greta Thunberg are no longer out there telling us point-blank that we’re failing, and instead are telling us that we are in fact on a sustainable course.

On March 2, 2022 the New York Times published this article:

These Climate Scientists Are Fed Up and Ready to Go on Strike: Evidence on global warming is piling up. Nations aren’t acting. Some researchers are asking what difference more reports will make.

Reading this article, the teenager part of my personality nodded in recognition at the plight of these scientists. (This is the part of me who, when I was in high school in the early 90’s, stared in disbelief at the people around me, wondering how on earth they could ignore the environmental peril and animal rights horrors that occupied my mind and heart.) And the article brought this same question:

“How do we know when we are taking climate change seriously?”

This question arose in my mind after watching one of Greta Thunberg’s 2021 talks, this one at the Youth4Climate conference in Milan. “‘Build back better.’ Blah-blah-blah. ‘Green economy.’ Blah-blah-blah. ‘Zero by 2050.’ Blah-blah-blah…” Her parody of the endless “blah-blah-blah” happening regarding climate change whilst we continue to fail to do anything substantive about it as a global economy made me wonder, “What would it look like if we were actually taking climate change seriously, and not just talking about it?”

Following-on from the list above, here are a few potential “signals” in my environment that, were they true, I would see that indeed, my society is taking global warming / climate change seriously.

  • When the car sales lots that I drive past along frontage roads are full of electric rather than gasoline cars.
  • When school buses are (of course!) non-fossil fuel.
  • When the organic produce I buy is shipped to the store using non-fossil fuel transport.
  • When air travel is non-fossil fuel.

Perhaps we could add to this list,

  • When the climate scientists are so fed up they refuse to write more climate reports until they feel satisfied the reports are being acted on.

“How do I know when I am taking climate change seriously?”

In approximately 2019, I was at a gas pump when a medium-sized utility pickup truck pulled up the pump opposite mine. I chatted with the driver as he was gassing his vehicle, complimenting him on the sea lion decal he had on his window. He mentioned that he volunteers for the local marine wildlife hospital, and how much he enjoys it.

I reflected to myself that if the two of us, both eco-aware, caring individuals were at the gas pump rather than driving electric vehicles, something far greater was wrong; something much bigger than both of us.

For my part, I’m a renter and live out in the sticks. Last time my partner and I were car shopping we quickly discovered that the electric vehicles that had the range we needed were out of our price range, and our landlord wasn’t prepared to have us install a charging station in our driveway. On the part of my fellow gas pumper, I presume his work called for a pickup-truck, based on how it was outfitted with racks and boxes and things. Even today very few electric trucks are available.

Yes, in my household we share a car, drive a hybrid, and limit unnecessary driving. Yes, we try to buy local food and waste as little of it as possible. Yes we have all electric appliances and–thanks to our landlord–solar panels. Yes, we bank at a regional credit union rather than a big bank. Yes, we try to limit unnecessary consumer product purchases and air travel (made easier with a pandemic is in effect). But somehow, I have the sneaking suspicion that it’s not enough.

Why? Because every time we drive somewhere we are still using gasoline. Every time we buy food, consumer products, or air travel they all come with a corresponding carbon footprint. The creation of the solar panels had a carbon footprint, and we’re also using grid electricity.

In short, if we want to participate in society, we are forced to participate in global warming. I can walk or bike and buy re-used and grow all of the veggies I want, but I’m walking or biking on asphalt, driving to pick up my reused items or having them shipped to me, and growing food is no piece of cake without tools, soil, compost, seeds, and other inputs. So once again, when thinking about my own climate change involvement, I have to zoom back up to the collective.

How do I know when we are taking climate change seriously? When I have ready, realistic options for travel, financial services, healthy food, consumer products, and utilities in my house, the purchase of which does NOT constitute a contribution to global climate catastrophe.