Why Is Climate Change Not Our Most Important Problem?
Updated: Nov 29, 2021
Picture: Rob Vellekoop. Used with permission.
Climate change seems to be our biggest long-term problem, coming closer every day. Our newspapers and social media are full of it. Greta Thunberg talks about nothing else and leaders lash out at her saying she is naive. ‘It’s not so simple,’ they say.
Everybody seems a bit stuck with that phrase: ‘it’s not so simple’.
Well, it isn’t simple, but it isn’t too complicated either. We can find ways to see our predicament more clearly and then find ways out of this chaos. In this article, I hope to give some perspective, do some suggestions about other ways to look at the problem(s), and give solutions and real-life examples.
First of all, climate change is NOT our biggest problem. In 2015 the Stockholm Resilience Center published a new framework to understand planetary boundaries. In this model, they calculated for 9 important planetary boundaries how much we overstep the limits. This is the result.
Picture: Stockholm Resilience Center
As you can see: biosphere integrity and biochemical flows are much more out of the limit than climate change is. Things like genetic diversity, nitrogen, and phosphorous are much further beyond the zone of uncertainty (high risk) than climate change seems to be. And things that really held our attention some years past, such as ozone layer depletion, seem to be in the safe zone at the moment.
For the people who want to get into these facts more deeply: please have a look at the publications from the Stockholm Resilience Center. The paper from 2015 has raised lots of debate and the models are being improved with lots of cross-over scientific knowledge from many sources.
Is Climate Change Relevant?
So, back to the first question. We now know that climate change is not our biggest problem. But is that relevant? In my opinion: NO. Not if we look at the problems we face.
There will always be a debate. With heated voices at that. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? If we bicker over the details, we will never get deeper into the real problems. Let alone find solutions. And that’s where we want to go.
In September Catalin Matei wrote the story: ‘Maybe Greta Thunberg is wrong and climate change is not the most important thing to focus on’ and I answered her: ‘Yes, maybe Greta is wrong…’
But it doesn’t mean there is no problem. There IS a problem! More than one, even. We cannot deny these planetary boundaries and if we do not learn as a human species to live within them, our problems will only grow. Some sense of urgency is needed…
Although framing climate change as our biggest problem is not relevant when we look at problems, it IS relevant when we try to find solutions. We should not have tunnel vision and just look at climate change. We cannot think that if we just capture CO2 out of the air, our problems will be solved. ‘It’s not so simple.’
The answer has to be found in systemic thinking or even better, Living Systems. Problems are connected, so the right solutions will only climb to the top of the list when they solve more than one problem and not cause trouble in other areas. And we have to leave space for dynamics. We have to realize that nothing is constant. We have to keep moving...
A practical example: renewable energy can never be the only solution. We do not have enough scarce metals to build enough windmills, solar panels, and water power stations for the energy consumption we have now. And our technologies are only consuming more energy, not less. And with damming for water power, our freshwater problems will only increase…
Here is a thought-provoking article about lithium mining by Logic Magazine. What Green Costs.
In short, we are on the wrong track if we just put all of our eggs in the renewable energy basket with our current technologies. Let’s look at local sources for renewable energy, different grids (12 and 24 Volts DC power) and don’t overlook the technologies to do with consuming less energy. Biomimicry gives lots of inspiration here…
And there are also completely new avenues to walk on, such as nanotechnology batteries made from abundantly available materials. Or let’s look closely at thorium. Here is an article about thorium by Jordan Flagel. Let's find out how and what. Let's really weigh our options.
Systemic Thinking, Living Systems
People are working on this! We need to see the problems in relation to one another before we can weigh any solutions and make wise choices. I don’t have all the answers, but let’s discuss and weigh…
And one advice: stop the tunnel vision! We have killed many technologies that could have saved us (car on water, free energy out of the air, etc.) just because of their threats to the status quo. Let’s look past that now. The urgency is too big not to…
Systemic thinking is key here!
And don’t think systemic thinking is too complicated. I agree it’s not linear. It requires a different approach. But complicated? No. The more radical choices we dare to make on what we really want from life, the easier it gets.
It’s a matter of phasing out what we don’t want. And stimulating what we do want. Step by step, day by day. Every step is a foundation for the next one.
“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.” ― E.F. Schumacher
That's what we, at Abundanism, call upstream thinking. Let's stop putting plasters on too big festering wounds. Go back to the middle and start finding new, creative solutions that will flow again in the current time.
Okay, on to solutions now. What are the steps to be taken?
Look at the problems in connection with each other
Find nature-based solutions that solve several of these problems and not cause damage in other areas
Prioritize the solutions for minimum effort, maximum impact
Go for a diversity of flexible solutions, depending on the local situation
Choose combinations of solutions with short term benefits (people can see those) and long term impact
To move from abstract theory to practical application, let’s look at a real-life example.
In my country, the Netherlands, our government tried to find shortcut ways to deal with nitrogen-levels and PFAS, the ‘forever chemicals’ that are found in too high quantities in our soil. The court of justice, however, told them off.
As a result, at the end of 2019, our government was forced to stop many building permits and farmer expansions. Farmers and builders were protesting fiercely in The Hague.
And let’s be realistic. That fear is very valid. The farmers’ anger is valid. They see their jobs change and don’t know what the future will bring. The picture at the top says: ‘Papa can I still become a farmer?’