“IPCC report is ‘code red for humanity’,” “Major climate changes inevitable and irreversible,” “Time running out to stop catastrophe”: if you’ve taken a look at the headlines this morning, chances are you’re feeling a little freaked out about climate change.
The report, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), says it is “unequivocal” that human activity is responsible for global warming and that changes to the climate – such as sea-level rise – are now irreversible.
Combined with the terrifying footage of the wildfires ravaging parts of Europe and North America, the report is a chilling reminder of the reality of the crisis humanity is facing. But just because the situation is very, very bad, doesn’t mean there aren’t developments and opportunities to be optimistic about, too.
That’s the message behind a new book by climate campaigner and writer Dr Alice Bell, which looks at the history of climate change research and considers the situation our ancestors have left us.
Our Biggest Experiment: A History Of The Climate Crisis doesn’t shy away from the reality of the situation – but it also shows that not all hope is lost.
“Looking at climate change through a historical lens helps us to appreciate that, while we’re in a really bad position, the situation is maybe not as bad as we think it is,” Dr Bell tells Stylist. “We have been left a lot of opportunities by our ancestors – from all sorts of incredible technologies to the simple knowledge that climate change is happening in the first place – and we should feel grateful for that.”
While Dr Bell stresses it’s important to remember that things are bad, she also believes there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future.
“There’s always so much more of the world to save,” she says. “Climate change is not a pass or fail issue – much of the world is already pretty destroyed, but at the same time there’s so much of the world that is still vibrant and beautiful.”
She continues: “Tackling climate change is not going to be simple – this is the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced, and we need to change at a pace we’ve never seen before while already dealing with the effects of a degree or so of warming – but we can still do it. We’ve got the tech we need – solar and wind, in particular, have gone from being a nice idea that environmentalists had to being really serious players in a short period of time.
“It’s important that we know the situation is bad, but we can’t let it overwhelm us because otherwise we won’t be able to take the action we need to take and we know we can take.”
While it’s easy to feel like the impact we can make as individuals isn’t big enough to really make a difference, “the problem is so huge and we have to change so many things so radically, it’s going to need all of us to get involved in some way,” Bell adds.
With this in mind, and in light of today’s damning IPCC report, you might be wondering what action you can take to tackle climate change going forward. To find out more, we asked Dr Bell how individuals can engage with the climate crisis in a helpful and productive way. Here’s what she had to say.
Make lifestyle changes
While some of the biggest challenges climate change presents may be out of your remit, there are things you can do on an individual level to reduce your carbon footprint – all of which add up on a global scale.
“There are so many things that we can all do to reduce carbon emissions in our own lives, like giving up or cutting down on meat or not flying, for example,” Dr Bell says.
“If you’re not sure where to start, go with the thing that brings you the most joy, because we need everyone to get involved and you might as well do the things that you’re good at. For example, if you’re really into cooking, then it might be that experimenting with meat-free dishes or shopping for seasonal produce is a good place to start.”
Share those changes with others
It’s easy to feel like making individual changes won’t make that much of a difference – but you shouldn’t underestimate the wider impact your behaviour has.
“Changing culture is going to be a big part of all of this and as individuals, we can all play a role in shifting things along,” Dr Bell explains. “Cutting down on meat could help you to reduce your carbon footprint, but it could also make it more socially acceptable to do that so people don’t think, ‘I need to be vegan or I might as well not bother’.
“That’s one of the ways in which individuals can really have power – not just to change their own lives, but to help other people make change, too.”
The power you have to influence other people is another reason why it’s important to find something you’re particularly passionate about, Dr Bell adds.
“Do the thing you love when it comes to climate change partly because you’ll do it best, and partly because that’ll come across to others,” she explains. “If you really love taking holidays, for example, maybe challenge yourself not to fly and be really creative about where you go, then come home and tell all your friends about it.”
She continues: “You’ll be at your most infectious when you’re doing something you love.”
Put pressure on politicians
Not all the change that needs to happen can come from individuals – and it’s for this reason that putting pressure on those in charge to take action is so important, Dr Bell says.
“There are a lot of things that the politicians need to do, but we as citizens can help to make that happen,” she explains. “We know from research that MPs in the UK, on the whole, want to take more action on climate change. Of course, it’s mixed, but quite a lot of them know quite a lot about it, think it’s the right thing and want to do stuff – but they think their constituents don’t care, so it’s not at the top of their priority list.”
She continues: “So, as a voter, letting your MP know you care and bugging your MP to take action can actually have an impact on climate change.”
Our Biggest Experiment: A History Of The Climate Crisis by Dr Alice Bell is available now.