Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


An Earth Day Q&A

Renée Hetherington, author of Living in a Dangerous Climate, shares how we can make an impact this Earth Day.

This year, Earth Day calls on us to help fight climate change. What is the one critical action everyone should take on April 22 to save the planet?

Renée: Firstly, it is important to understand that we cannot stop climate change; it is ubiquitous. Earth will survive future climate change, just as it has survived past climate change; however, the human species may not. What we can do is to limit actions that negatively influence climate and as a result, I believe, improve the potential for Homo sapiens to continue to live healthy, meaningful lives.

What can be done to help humans survive future climate change?

Renée: I think people would make better choices today if we could better understand the journey that took humans from our earliest evolutionary response to climate change to today’s global crisis. That is why I wrote Living in a Dangerous Climate www.cambridge.org/9781107694736 for the general reader. It is why I and Robert Reid researched how climate change and early humans co-evolved over the last 135,000 years and wrote The Climate Connection  www.cambridge.org/9780521147231 for academics.

Is it enough to understand how we evolved with climate change in the past?

Renée: It is a beginning…however, it is not enough, the climate crisis continues.

So what else can we do?

Renée: That is an individual choice. Personally, I chose to write books and political policies on how to deal with climate change. I also ran for office as a Member of the Canadian Parliament in 2011. But, I didn’t get elected, the Leader of the Green Party did. The result was that neither the Green Party’s policies nor mine have been implemented… the climate crisis continues.

So where does that leave us? What can people do on Earth Day?

Renée: Earth Day gives us an opportunity for reflection, to pause in our day, even if only briefly and think about how we can contribute to a solution and then act on that thought.

It is important to recognize that government initiatives combined with technological advances are absolutely necessary, but they are not sufficient.

Your individual contribution doesn’t have to be some great heroic deed, but it does have to be your own. Your contribution may feel small or incidental, but the world needs you to put your unique piece of the puzzle in place. If you are a poet, perhaps you will write a poem about climate and humanity; if you are a bus or truck driver, perhaps you will turn your engine off instead of letting it idle; if you are a business owner, perhaps you will streamline your business’ energy consumption or allow your staff to work one day a week at home; if you are an inventor, perhaps you will invent a new energy efficient product or battery; if you are a child, perhaps you will plant a tree; if you drive a vehicle, perhaps one day each week you will not drive; if you have central heating or cooling, perhaps you will expand the range of your temperature tolerance by 1 degree in each direction; if you are a politician, perhaps you will be open minded and agree to constructive climate change legislation; if you are a citizen, perhaps you will vote.

It is important to recognize that government initiatives combined with technological advances are absolutely necessary, but they are not sufficient. The fact is we are all in this together. No one individual or group is responsible for the climate crisis and no one individual or group will save us; however, what we choose to contribute will influence others, and likewise their contributions will influence us. My contribution may not be yours; yours may not be mine, but each depends on others. Our unique ways of dealing with this complex issue are as varied as the individuals and cultures on Earth. Our challenge is to remain open, tolerant, and flexible and to make that decision to stop, think and then act.

Can one individual really make a difference?

Renée: I couldn’t do it alone, and neither can you; however, I haven’t stopped contributing to a solution and neither should you.


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