Climate action is so much bigger than just the climate

On this week’s episode of the Be Loud: Climate podcast, Rux and Keran interview climate icon, Dr Sarah Burch, who is an associate professor at the University of Waterloo and IPCC author. We speak to Sarah about embedding sustainability into SMEs (small and medium sized enterprise), the intersectionality of climate change as a social issue and how businesses can transform their communities through their own climate friendly practices. Sarah is also one of the speakers on Climate Literacy, a youtube series about the broader context of climate change.

You can listen wherever you normally get your podcasts or online here.

Cast your minds back to 2014, a time before the pandemic, before Donald Trump and Brexit… a time before the climate emergency was branded as such and we were only innocuously referring to it as ‘global warming’.

During this time, our podcast guest Dr Sarah Burch was hard at work trying to educate the masses on climate change and that is how I became aware of their work. On a channel called “Climate Literacy” on Youtube, I came across a lecture by Sarah on the context of climate change, specifically on the intersectional nature of the climate challenge.

This lecture changed my thinking about the climate crisis. I stopped thinking about it as a scientific challenge to be solved with carbon capture technology and electric cars, and started thinking about it as a new relationship between us and our planet. One which balances the human need for consumption with the resource limitations of our planet, as well as a commitment to the restoration of natural habitats that have been affected by our pirate-like behaviour since the industrial revolution.

You might say that this new approach is one which prioritises empathy towards the planet. It seems a bit bizarre to think of our planet in the same terms we might approach a friend or colleague.

Me: “Hi planet Earth, how’re you doing today?”

Earth: “You know, not so great. Got deforestation in South America today where they took another 4,281 sq miles out of the Amazon. And that water source in Tanzania has become contaminated. Trying my best.”

Me: “That sucks, man. I’m really sorry to hear that, how can I help you?”

When you view climate change through this lens, you will soon realise that you can’t view it in isolation, because it knocks on to many different things.

How can you stop deforestation in the Amazon without offering local farmers an alternative? How can we stop the decontamination of water sources without adequate waste management systems in developing nations? How can we ask people to stop taking planes without a better alternative? If we want people to pay for renewable energy, how can they earn more money to allow them to afford it?

Very soon, you will realise that climate change creates an issue of equality in several lenses, international, national and local. In these scenarios, you start to understand the scale of the fundamental inequality that climate change will enforce and in some situations create.

Internationally, developed countries are leading the way in the fight against climate change, but are creating policies which work for developed countries with advanced infrastructure and a much higher GDP. In developing countries, these policies will be ineffective unless they consider the lack of infrastructure and much lower GDP in the implementation. If there is no power grid, you can’t exactly start hooking up wind farms as your first action.

On a more local level, you can see a similar issue with regards to different communities. Some would have higher income rates than their neighbours, so resilience to climate change, and indeed climate action itself will be prioritised differently according to what that community can afford, or what their first steps should be.

And so you can start to see climate change as an social issue, because your actions as an SME need to take account of this intersectionality and create policies which address the climate crisis whilst honouring the associated impacts with the broader community.

Sarah mentions also a novel approach to your business as being part of the system which underpins all communities. This approach sees the relationship between a business and their community as a two way street. That the business supports the community by offering fair employment, CSR and social impact, and community engagement, and in return the community will support the success of the business. The pandemic has really highlighted the importance of this symbiosis.

The takeaway for me from this episode is that we need to approach all of our relationships with the same curiosity that we are now approaching our carbon footprint. To try better all parts of our external selves with better empathy.

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