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An interview with: Professor John Barry, Queen's University Belfast. 3 things you can do to help tackle climate breakdown

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An interview with: Professor John Barry, Queen's University Belfast. 3 things you can do to help tackle climate breakdown

With all this discussion about ‘greening-up’ our lives, have you made any recent changes in your life to become more sustainable? And what 3 things would you recommend to someone who wants to make a change?

Whilst I am sceptical of individualised responses to climate change, I admire anyone who is a committed recycler and is making conscious decisions about their impact on the planet. However, the reality is that this is a structural, political and economic transformation and so individual lifestyle changes are simply not going to cut it. So for me, I have been a vegetarian for over 30 years, and this year, I decided to go vegan during Veganuary 2019. This hasn’t been difficult for me, but I think it would be a lot more challenging to go from a heavy meat-based diet to a vegan diet. I am not saying that it is a solution, but it is a commitment device to remind me to do my bit. I also cycle as much as I can, but I fly. Part of my job involves flying, but I am trying to reduce that.

Indeed, I propose that we start thinking of ways in which we can find low-carbon ways to go about our business. This requires a lot of time, but it does begin to open the discussion that if we want to live and think about a low-carbon society and economy, we are going to need a lot more time to travel by boat and train. Perhaps we need to look at if we need to travel at all? Overall, it opens a new, exciting area of how we redesign our economy that is not just low-carbon, but low-speed. Essentially, we are going to have to start challenging this culture of rapidity, and of having to do lots of things very quickly.

So, if I was to think of the three things that people can do:

1. Get out on the 20th of September 2019 to stand beside our young people who are fighting for a climate stable future.

The UK Climate Network is calling people around the world to join the global climate strike. Join in at Belfast City Hall on the 20th September, to call on the government and those in power to take the necessary steps to tackle climate change and create a better world. 

2. Start educating yourself on this issue, by reading science and the abundance of material on the internet.

I think that people should be reading the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change reports. I also feel that part of this education could be about approaching academics, like myself, in Universities, to come and speak to local businesses and communities.

3. If you are working, ask your employer what they are doing in this space.

I know for example that the GAA has begun the process of looking at its estate, and how it gets its electricity and so on.

We are all hypocrites in a way for not acting. However, the reality is, we are trapped in systems and these are the thresholds beyond which the challenges become political. I would celebrate, in a bizarre way, this sense of hypocrisy that many people feel, including myself, as all it shows is that the challenges are structural.

That is why we need to collectively come together as a community, to demand better, to demand our politicians and state protect us and the future by moving quicker towards what I have been calling, the wartime mobilisation - because we can make this transition. We have defeated great horrors in the world such as abolishing slavery and securing women’s rights. These are what I take inspiration from, as I truly believe that the scale of the challenge we are facing is up there with the abolition of slavery, the evolution of the Industrial Revolution, the women’s suffragette movement. These things were achieved collectively, by facing a clear and present danger and acting. So, if climate change is an emergency, we need to see the government acting like it is an emergency. But it gives me hope, that the struggle by citizens can result in transformative changes.

A marathon, not a sprint...

Finally, it is important to remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint. We are always going to be faced with setbacks, but the key is not to individualise it because you could end up individualising all the problems, and give up. What is important is action. Hope cannot be about sitting in a chair, writing another report or listening to a talk. That is simply rhetoric, and what we really need is action. So, the real challenge is joining hope, with action in a collective sense. That is the take-home message, but one that requires a sense of belief that we can make a difference.

In a way, the status-quo is dependent on our citizens, our cynicism and our fatalism. To be clear though, no app or technology is going to do this. It is going to take determined, political action by citizens in a whole variety of ways that I have outlined. So, for me, I am hopeful and can see people becoming more awake and alive to this issue. We are not there yet, but I do think we are reaching a tipping point, where change may be coming to pass.

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Dearbhla Boyle

Dearbhla Boyle
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