How To Feel Less Powerless After The Harrowing UN Climate Report

It's time to pressure governments and big businesses to take the crisis seriously.

The world is on fire – and human beings are holding the match.

That’s the takeaway message from a United Nations report on climate change, which sets out the devastating impacts of the crisis around the globe.

The report makes clear that human-caused climate change, which has pushed up global temperatures by 1.1ºC, is driving weather and climate extremes in every region across the world.

Without urgent action, the results will be irreversible, with the key temperature limit of 1.5ºC – which countries pledged to keep in order to avoid the most dangerous consequences of warming – likely to be broken in just over a decade.

Forests will die. Sea levels will rise. Flooding and wildfires will become a yearly battle. Life as we know it will be changed forever.

The study, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is the largest ever report into climate change. Mark Maslin, professor of earth system science at University College London, has called it a ”scientific and political wake-up call for all governments of the world”.

Professor Dave Reay, director of the Edinburgh Climate Change Institute, said the report should “send a shiver down the spine of everyone who reads it”.

It certainly makes for bleak reading, particularly if you’re someone who has already cut down on meat, cycles to get around, uses a reusable coffee cup, and recycles religiously. When you’ve ticked lots of the green boxes we’re told to tick, such a damning report can make your efforts feel fruitless.

A local resident holds an empty water hose during an attempt to extinguish forest fires on Evia island in Greece.
ANGELOS TZORTZINIS via Getty Images
A local resident holds an empty water hose during an attempt to extinguish forest fires on Evia island in Greece.

Firstly, be assured they are not pointless. As well as cutting down your carbon impact on the planet, you’re using your behaviour to send a strong message to corporations that climate change is something to take seriously.

But let’s be realistic: to stand any chance of reversing climate change, we need the big guys to do the work, too. A recent investigation conducted by the Guardian alongside the Climate Accountability Institute concluded that just 20 firms are behind a third of the world’s carbon emissions.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you hear a statistic like this and to feel that climate change is too big to solve. But, as Greenpeace puts it, “we already have the answers, now it’s a question of making them happen”.

Dr Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace UK, says it’s understandable if you feel shocked or worried by the latest report, but remind yourself there is still time to act. “Whilst individuals can do their bit, it’s clear that the big choices need to be made by governments and big business,” he tells HuffPost UK.

“There’s plenty we can all be doing to pressure them to take the crisis seriously.”

A pedestrian crosses through deep water on a flooded road in London during heavy rain.
JUSTIN TALLIS via Getty Images
A pedestrian crosses through deep water on a flooded road in London during heavy rain.

As host of this autumn’s global climate summit in Glasgow, the UK government has a big role in making action happen – and you can pressure them to make the right commitments.

“Writing to your MP or signing a petition can help demonstrate to our leaders just how much public will there is for strong action at these talks,” says Dr Parr.

“It can also encourage them to take action at home to cut our own emissions. We still have lots to do to cut carbon from areas like home heating and the government is still allowing exploration for more fossil fuels despite the clear dangers.”

We also need to see change from companies. The role of supermarkets and fast food companies in deforestation is a big issue for our climate and one we need to change, says Dr Parr. Campaign with your custom.

“Joining and supporting campaigns like our own calling on UK supermarkets and fast food companies to drop forest destroyers from their supply chains is a good way of applying pressure,” he adds. “Combining this with reducing your own meat consumption is also a good form of action.”

Promises from government and businesses are one thing, but action is another. So if you see a promise that isn’t fulfilled, keep banging the same drum.

An aerial view shows of debris in Altenahr, western Germany, after devastating floods hit the region.
CHRISTOF STACHE via Getty Images
An aerial view shows of debris in Altenahr, western Germany, after devastating floods hit the region.

“We all have a role to play in making sure [promises] are kept,” says Dr Stephen Cornelius, chief adviser on climate change and WWF lead on the IPCC.

“We need to show decision makers that we care about the health of our planet and remind them of their promises, whether that’s via social media or emailing your MP asking them to hold the Government to account.”

To tackle your feelings of powerlessness, Dr Parr recommends surrounding yourself with people taking this issue seriously, by joining an organisation who are fighting to protect the environment. Greenpeace is one option or there are new youth led movements, like Green New Deal Rising, he says. “Coming together with other people to campaign and take action is a powerful way of building pressure for change.”

As Dr Cornelius puts it: “We have choices and we have the solutions – we just need to go faster and further.”