Skip to main content

To survive climate change, we must first learn human change

Sustainability By Kevin McGee, Associate Director, Geoenvironmental – 05 July 2019

Plastic T-Rex dinosaur figure standing on sand


Kevin smiling in a white shirt and suit jacket

Kevin McGee

View bio

Never in history has a species on this planet been so aware of its own destiny, and yet so unwilling to change, as Humans.

The sobering message that follows this year’s UN World Environment Day is that we have passed the era of Climate Change, and moved into the age of Climate Breakdown. The theories of runaway oceanic and terrestrial warning are becoming real, and the Paris Agreement of limited global temperature rises to under 1.5C of pre-industrial levels (which the IPPC only ever gave a 55% chance of being achieved!), is not just now unachievable, its already been, in all likelihood, exceeded.

Latest research indicates that the best-case scenario is to limit global temperature rises to about 2.5C by 2100, and the business as usual approach would take us closer to a staggering 8.6C global rise. The reality at the moment though is likely to be somewhere in between. The western ice shelves of Antarctica have passed their tipping point, and the multi-year sea ice of the Arctic, so critical to the survival of the polar bear, has now all but gone. A 1m + sea level rise is all but certain by 2100.

But is it all doom and gloom? Well Ester Boserup certainly thought not, famously, she confidently stated that ‘the power of ingenuity would always outmatch that of demand’. Simply that we would as a species invent our way out of a problem. Perhaps one day we will, and perhaps one day we will even reverse the damage we have inflicted. But perhaps also we should start with the simple stuff. The reality is its less ingenuity and more common sense that will deliver results.

Or to put it another way; to survive Climate Change, we must first learn Human Change.

Our everyday lives remain filled with energy intensive processes leaving behind a staggering carbon and methane footprint. For example, the UK has an economy that is more than 70% service sector, yet we still work in patterns more akin to factory production of days gone-by, commuting 100s of miles of week to work in communal offices, even when technology allows us to be at least, if not more productive without the carbon footprint by working from home – imagine the positive impact of halving the number of commuting journeys? We eat millions of tonnes of grain-fed mass-produced meat, yet fail to seek out the simpler and better alternatives in the hope of saving a few pounds – imagine the colossal saving in water and carbon output by sourcing non mass-produced meats, or even switching to vegetarian diets? We fly thousands of miles by air for holidays and business, when for the most part, UK and European travel is a perfectly feasible (and much more civilised) by rail, and will cut the carbon output of that same journey per head by 95%! Line dry your clothes, plant a garden, source your energy from genuine low emissions sources, put on a jumper and turn down the heating….there is even a credit card now by Doconomy that measures your carbon output and stops you spending when your impact becomes too great!

So what’s your excuse? These are all simple and instant changes we can all make that will have a massive positive impact and without affecting our lifestyles. The question is, do we care enough to make the changes, or do we continue as normal, and mortgage (bankrupt?!) our future?

Click here to read the latest Global Environment Outlook.

Cundall is committed to making a change and has outlined six key impacts in our Sustainability Roadmap. You can read more about the targets we have set to help make a difference here.