The Meaning of Climate Change

The Powysian worldview feels more important as each year passes. Today’s big global news story on climate change is another example. UN scientists have ramped up their calls for urgent action now: we need to make significant changes to the way we live or expect weather events of Biblical severity to become commonplace.

All the accompanying media commentary had a familiar feel. We have to start buying electric cars, make our homes more energy efficient, buy alternatives to meat and more artisan local food. What’s left unsaid is the most obvious point of all, and by far the most unpopular and unthinkable. We need to buy much less, have much less and live far more simply. No more growth and less of the kind of prosperity we’re used to. We’ve become hard-wired as lavish consumers (purposely and by design, not because there’s anything necessarily human about it), and this will need to be reversed if carbon emission and other targets for global sustainability are to be met.

I sometimes see the problem first-hand and up close. My children could appear to be little green warriors. They’ve learnt about environmental issues at school, about global warming and plastic waste. But tell them they can’t have the latest iPhone, another new laptop or more new trainers, and it’s a contravention of their human rights – they’ll never have any friends again. So talk of being saved by new generations of aware, responsible consumers never feels that convincing. 

We can’t just change the items on the shopping list for the sake of propping up growth, we need to stop basing our identity on what we buy and own, whether it’s carbon-neutral or not. As Powys, I think, would argue: physical resources are fragile and ravaged while our psychological resources are largely unappreciated and untapped (see The Meaning of Culture, The Art of Happiness etc). We’re capable of being happy without competing for consumer luxuries. Surely the larger part of the war on climate change needs to be about culture and mindsets, not technological change?

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