Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Resilient Systems

“Pessimism is a luxury for a less urgent time.”

by Sheryl Karas M.A., CRARS staff

“Pessimism is a luxury for a less urgent time.” The situation looks dire but we can do what needs to be done: we need to envision what we want to see in the future and take the research about climate change solutions and turn it into action! That was the key message given by Amanda Joy Ravenhill, co-founder of Project Drawdown near the end of the NCSE Drawdown 2021 Annual Conference, held virtually January 5-9, 2021. This was a joint effort by the National Council for Science and the Environment and Project Drawdown that was attended by key leaders and interested people from around the world. 

Inger Andersen, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, started the event off with an optimistic yet urgent summation of the  situation the world finds itself in today. She said that we are facing multiple intersecting crises: loss of biodiversity and nature, increased pollution and waste, and an increase in the greenhouse gasses causing climate change. The science is clear about what this means for our future on the planet but there is new urgency at this time as the Covid-19 pandemic has both caused great pain and has highlighted the fault lines in our society that need to be addressed in terms of climate change as well. Choices had to be made, supply chains broke down, and the impacts hit people unequally, with the greatest impacts on people of color and poor people. We got to see firsthand how various systems interact and the consequences of not having resilient policies and plans in place.  

Throughout the conference systems thinking was in the spotlight as a competency that must be taught at every level and included in policy making if it is going to be effective. The phrase “we can no longer stay in our separate silos” was repeated over and over again. Instead the message was that we need to learn from each other and bridge the gap in our separate worlds of understanding. That included, at this conference, the importance of indigenous people and their deep knowledge of how to work in harmony with nature that has been passed down for centuries and the voices of people of color and poor people who know quite well the negative impacts of previous policy-making that came out of a far less holistic point of view. Centralizing and consolidating the means of production in the hands of a few may have been profitable and efficient for distribution of certain goods and services including food, but it was devastating economically for local communities and their economies in the last few decades and directly led to the significant and frightening supply chain breakdowns that have occurred during the Covid-19 crisis. 

Furthermore, we have not been acting on the science related to climate change quickly enough. In fact, emissions have reached a new high. We’re now headed to 3 degrees of temperature increase by the end of the century which is not sustainable for human life. We need to cut 1/3 of emissions by 2030 to get back to 2 degrees of temperature increase. If we want to hit the 1.5 degrees target from the Paris Agreement we need to cut emissions by 50%. “The age of promises must now turn into an era of action!” 

Anderson emphasized that science is the “bedrock of environmental action” because it is the key to what is needed to create effective governmental policies and plans of action on every level. She urged all the participants at this conference to reach out to more diverse segments of society to make the science more accessible by explaining it in ways that people can understand and make use of in their personal lives. 2/3 of all emissions actually happen in private households(opens in new window); but most people feel like they have no say and believe they can have no impact on what happens. And yet, because we need to change unsustainable production, consumerism and choices, that should happen on the individual as well as societal and governmental policy level. In fact, consumer support for better policy is essential. 

We have already seen positive movement in this regard. Anderson pointed out that global commitments have been made, renewable energy has become more affordable, demand for fossil fuel has shrunk, and businesses are at least starting to consider climate-based solutions in their decision-making. But there has been a gap between the science, policy and action that needs to change now. She urged people in the sciences to speak and to find ways to do so as accessibly as possible to make the information relevant to choices people can make now. And to that end, the science cannot be separate from the values that are most important to human endeavors: basic needs, health and well-being, including making a living and building a more just and equal society.