Climate Change and long-termism: shaping our future today - 100% Renewables

Climate Change and long-termism: shaping our future today

Introduction

Climate change is a significant, enduring challenge that will impact humanity for centuries. The choices we make now will influence the lives of many future generations. It’s important to recognise the power we have to shape a positive future and reduce the risks that threaten our existence.

Embracing long-termism

Long-termism, a perspective championed by thinkers like William MacAskill, urges us to recognise that future people are as important as those alive today. This mindset compels us to consider the far-reaching impacts of our actions on those who will inherit the planet. Imagine a timeline stretching back 300,000 years to the dawn of humanity. For most of this time, life was simple and sustainable. Civilisation as we know it only began 12,000 years ago with the advent of agriculture. The Industrial Revolution, which radically altered our way of life, is just a tiny fraction of this timeline, starting just a little over 250 years ago.

Figure 1:Where  we are now
Figure 1:Where  we are now

Reflecting on the past, around 100 billion people have lived before us. These individuals cared for our planet, passing down a world full of potential. If humanity avoids catastrophic events that cut short our time on earth, we could continue as a species for another 700,000 years. During this time, an estimated 80 trillion people could be born, far outnumbering today’s population of 8 billion by some 10,000 to 1.

This perspective underscores the significance of our current actions. As MacAskill puts it, “Relative to everyone who will live after us, we are a tiny minority. Yet we hold the entire future in our hands.”

The urgency of our actions

Every time we drive, fly, switch on a light, or use air conditioning, we contribute to carbon emissions that are altering our planet’s climate. These emissions, accumulated over time, have already raised global temperatures by over 1°C since pre-industrial times. If we continue on our current path, temperatures could increase by 3°C, leading to severe and far-reaching consequences.

Figure 2: Global warming projections
Figure 2: Global warming projections

Even if all countries meet their Paris Agreement targets, which aim to limit warming to 2°C, it will not be enough to keep the increase well below 2°C, ideally under 1.5°C. To achieve this, carbon emissions need to decline rapidly and reach net-zero by mid-century. This requires a transformative shift in our energy systems, industries, and daily lives.

Our descendants’ future depends on our choices today

The urgency of this moment cannot be overstated. UN Secretary-General António Guterres recently declared, “The era of global boiling has arrived.” This stark warning underscores the critical need for immediate action.

Think of the Earth’s atmosphere as a bathtub that’s quickly filling up with water. If we don’t turn off the tap now, soon we’ll be left with an overflowing disaster that no small measure can fix. Natural processes will return CO2 concentration to pre-industrial levels only after hundreds of thousands of years.

And the effects of climate change will get worse over time. Most likely, our sea levels will rise by 75 cm by the end of the century. However, over 10,000 years, sea levels will rise by 10 metres. Over the longer term, the world will look very different.

Reasons for hope

Despite these overwhelming challenges, there are compelling reasons for hope:

➡️ Environmental activism: Grassroots movements and global campaigns have successfully raised awareness and driven significant changes in public policy and corporate behaviour, mobilising millions to take action against climate change.

➡️ The Paris Agreement: The Paris Agreement of 2015 marked a significant step towards achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. It has united nations worldwide in a commitment to limit global warming and has set the stage for ambitious climate action and international cooperation.

➡️ Net zero targets around the world: Countries across the globe are committing to ambitious targets, driving transformative changes in our economy and energy systems. For example, in Australia, two-thirds of ASX 200 companies have set at least one emissions reduction target, with net-zero commitments doubling in just one year. Globally, businesses are increasingly aligning with science-based targets. By the end of 2022, companies representing 34% of the global economy by market capitalisation had committed to these goals. Investors, regulators, and consumers are demanding more sustainable practices, recognising that responsible stewardship extends beyond financial capital to include natural and social resources.

Figure 3: Status of net zero carbon emissions targets
Figure 3: Status of net zero carbon emissions targets

➡️ The shift from shareholder to stakeholder capitalism: Businesses are moving towards a model that values not just profits, but also the well-being of employees, communities, and the environment, aligning economic success with sustainable and ethical practices.

The power of individual action

It’s natural to wonder if individual efforts can truly make a difference. History provides countless examples of ordinary people effecting extraordinary change. Figures like Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela reshaped societies, and Wangari Maathai’s Green Belt Movement empowers communities, and especially women and girls in Africa to combat environmental degradation, poverty and other challenges. Even lesser-known heroes—like “Plastic Man” in Senegal, who combats pollution in his community—demonstrate the profound impact of individual action.

Change begins with small, deliberate steps: advocating for policy changes, supporting climate-focused organisations, reducing personal carbon footprints by walking or cycling more, and embracing sustainable dietary choices.

The power to shape the future

Climate change might seem overwhelming, but every action counts. Each of us holds the power to influence a future that is vibrant and sustainable for generations to come. The choices made today will define the world our children and their descendants will inherit. This monumental responsibility calls for collective and decisive action.

If not us, then who? And if not now, when? 

This is our moment to make a lasting difference.

Join the journey to net zero

As the climate crisis demands urgent action, the journey to net-zero emissions becomes a shared mission for all. Whether you’re an individual passionate about making a difference, a business striving for sustainability, or a community looking to implement effective strategies, support and guidance are crucial.

If your business is ready to take steps towards contributing to a net-zero future, we are here to help. Together, we can navigate the challenges and seize the opportunities to build a more sustainable world. Reach out to explore how we can assist in your journey towards a climate-resilient future. Let’s work together to ensure that the legacy we leave behind is one of hope, resilience, and sustainability.

 

 

If you need help developing a climate transition strategy and action plan, or a climate risk assessment, contact us today to learn how we can support your transition. Reach out to  Barbara or Patrick for more information.

Feel free to use an excerpt of this blog on your own site, newsletter, blog, etc. Just send us a copy or link and include the following text at the end of the excerpt: “This content is reprinted from 100% Renewables Pty Ltd’s blog. 

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