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Our extravagance is the greatest enemy of the environment

By Vivien Langford - posted Wednesday, 23 January 2019

I have lost a lot of friends because of climate change. It has made me too ardent.

My friends are not climate deniers, but they do not have a clue about their carbon footprint. Over summer I've been watching the "Scientists Warning" Youtubes from Katowice COP24. I learned that "if the top 10% of carbon emitters reduced their emissions to that of an average European, global emissions would be cut by one third.

My friends and I are in that top 10%. So are the middle class in India and China. If we widen our focus from the top 1% who own the coal ,oil and gas industry and the companies which profit from climate inaction, we may see that we too are causing great harm. But who wants a conversation about reducing our emissions from 25 tonnes(Australia) to 8 tonnes (EU) and even lower with deep awareness and resolve?

It would be irresponsible for the media to tell us "It's too late". But it is too late for the millions of fish at Menindee, for the 23,000 spectacled bats and the 3.6million hectares heatwaved or burned in Qld last year. That is in the wet tropics!


Greta Thunberg spoke at the UN in Katowice Poland. She is 15. She said she could not understand why the climate crisis was not on the front page every day. Not just grim stories but headlines that galvanise a new approach. She told the UN "Our biosphere is being sacrificed so rich people can live in luxury"

I do not wish to tell anyone how to live, but if their insouciant lifestyle is ruining my future I want them to get a grip.

Seniors magazines are full of "affordable" cruises and flights including medical tourism pitched at retired people. And although everything we care about is now at risk, I think we fear renouncing "Luxury" more than we fear catastrophic climate change. It sounds accusatory to ask "What was the carbon footprint of your recent holiday in Europe or your Conference in China or your huge air conditioned house? It puts people on the defensive. Surely "Adani" is the enemy or the "Government " who pass around lumps of coal and approve land clearing and new gas projects. Surely we are the good guys. But I wince when my friends talk about their children and grandchildren in the same breath as their next big cruise or their bucket list.

For people in their 30's the TV has "Grand Designs" and "Escape the city". As the Real estate agent enchants the customer with their dream to live "Off grid" or "sustainably", the carbon footprint to heat and cool these palatial buildings is not mentioned. The vast lawns may once have been woodland or wetland but have now been cleared for them to feel virtuous growing vegetables.

They might listen to the farmer poet Wendell Berry who said "Love your place, Stay in your place, Settle for less, Enjoy it more". But would it countermand the invitations to luxury all around? There are many persuasive voices whispering to us about living more simply, travelling more slowly, buying less but I think we need regulations. The UK government considered starting with a carbon allowance card that allocated rations for household electricity and petrol fuelled travel. They found that it was an "idea before its time" though it would not be expensive and people liked the idea of equity. Industry would be on a separate scheme and the allowance was tradeable.

The experience of the 'gilets jaunes' revolt against the tax on diesel fuel in France shows that a lot more thinking and discussion is required so those on a low income or living regionally do not take the brunt. However, I have found there is no interest in this discussion even though we admit it is a crisis and we've had rationing before. George Monbiot says, piecemeal policies like carbon rations or taxes will not get widespread support unless vast numbers of people reorient their thinking and behaviour to the climate reality.


I think we need a shift from pleasure seeking to a deep awareness of the impacts of our luxurious life. Under the slogan of "Leave it in the ground", momentum is gathering to stop new coal, new gas and new oil projects. In Sweden there is a "Stay on the ground" movement.

My question is what can we top ten percenters do to reduce from 25 to 8 and then to zero?

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Vivien is interested in feedback which can be directed to her c/- Radio 3CR, 21 Smith St Fitzroy Victoria.

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About the Author

Vivien Clerc Langford is a contributor to the BZE radio programme.

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