Your time is precious: spend it wisely

While the big ticket changes to move the dial on the climate crisis are generally beyond the reach of most people, that doesn’t mean there is nothing we can do. How we choose to spend our time, including our choices around who we do and don’t work for, carry real weight too, as I discussed in the Irish Examiner in August.

GIVEN THAT apathy, cynicism, and outright denial still dominate how our political system, corporations and much of our media are reacting to the unfolding climate emergency, it is easy for us as individuals to feel as helpless as the situation feels hopeless.

Giving up is, however, not an option, so at least for now, it’s up to us: you and me. The most valuable commodity we possess is our time; how we choose to spend it is a decision we must each make for ourselves, but more and more people are coming to realise that, in a world on fire, it makes little sense to simply carry on with our lives and careers as if nothing has changed.

The global oil and gas industry is already feeling the pinch; the number of US business school graduates opting for careers in this dirtiest and most destructive of industries has slumped by over 40% in the last decade or so.

“Good people don’t want to work for a bad company”, according to Kerryman Bernard Looney, then chief executive of energy giant, BP. His total pay in 2022 was around $12 million, amid spiralling energy bills, great hardship for consumers, and a profit bonanza for the oil majors.

Meanwhile, BP scrapped its stated target of cutting emissions by 40% by 2030. “At the end of the day, we’re responding to what society wants”, was how Looney explained this u-turn. Society also wants a stable, liveable climate and secure global food system, though.

Most people want their values and actions to be broadly in alignment. With more and more now waking up to the twin crises of biodiversity collapse and climate breakdown, maybe now is the time to consider whether your current job or career can make a positive contribution to help build a safer, cleaner future for everyone.

As UN secretary general António Guterres told a group of new college graduates last year: “You hold the cards. Don’t work for the climate wreckers. Use your talents to drive us towards a renewable future”.

For those with technical, managerial, or engineering skills, the renewable energy sector in Ireland is growing rapidly. Onshore wind, domestic and industrial solar power, and the upcoming boom in offshore wind will see the creation of thousands of new positions for a wide range of skills in an industry in which you can be doing good as you do well.

As Ireland rapidly transitions towards the electrification of home heating, transport, and energy, there will be winners and losers. Traditional car mechanics, for example, will need to re-train as the uptake of electric vehicles will render their existing skills redundant.

On the other hand, many of those trained to work in offshore oil and gas exploration are finding their skills in demand to help create and maintain new offshore wind farms.

Threat to health

The World Health Organisation has identified climate change as the greatest threat to human health this century. The most obvious risks arise from extreme weather events, but deteriorating air quality plus the spread of infectious diseases, food insecurity, and reduced access to clean water are all on the increase.

Groups such as Irish Doctors for the Environment are helping spread awareness about the dire health risks posed by climate breakdown, including threats to mental health.

The 300,000 people working in healthcare in Ireland are trusted voices who can help raise awareness among colleagues and patients about the climate emergency. This could include discussing the health and climate benefits of largely plant-based diets.

Those of us in media and communications have the privilege of having access to an audience. This should include the responsibility to include relevant ecological framing in how stories are presented. A new runway, for example, isn’t just a ‘business’ or  ‘travel’ story. There are also climate costs and implications to be considered.

Media also need to be ever vigilant about the growing tide of corporate greenwash being produced to bamboozle the public. If you have legal training, environmental law is a fast-growing discipline where you can put your skills to good use in fighting such deceptive practices.

If you’re one of the almost 70,000 teachers in Ireland, why not make regular space in the classroom to discuss the environment? Many schools have access to a garden space or polytunnel. Primary school children will love to get their hands dirty while learning about nature and food.

As recently as a generation ago, many homes had a “kitchen garden” where much of the fruit and vegetables for the family were grown. These disappeared with the advent of cheap, mostly imported, produce. However, food is never truly cheap, and knowing how to grow and preserve it is a vital skill that has been largely lost.

If you are a farmer, do consider horticulture, ideally organic. This is, by some distance, the most efficient way of producing food for human consumption, even using limited space. Moving production under glass helps to buffer your crops against damaging weather extremes. People need to eat every day. Soon enough, you will struggle to keep up with demand for your produce.

Even if you just have access to a garden or neighbourhood allotment, now is the time to pull on your gloves and get growing. Visit the Grow It Yourself website (giy.ie) to help set you on the right path. In previous times of emergency, communities dug ‘victory gardens’ to secure local food production and avoid hunger. The trick to being prepared is to start now.

The climate emergency will, in time, see the end of cheap food and may even lead to supermarket shelves emptying. Ireland imports nearly all of its fruit and veg, including from areas that are fast becoming too hot to produce food. It takes time to learn the basic skills we are all going to need as things become ever tougher, so the sooner we start, the better.

DIY courses

This is also a great time to sign up for a DIY course. A basic understanding of carpentry and electrics could one day prove invaluable. Solar panels could help offset future disruption to imported energy sources. Our grandparents’ generation got by on very little, wasted nothing, and were skilled at making and mending. We need to rediscover their thrifty ways as the era of global hyperabundance is now effectively over.

If you can possibly afford it, insulate your home and add solar panels and, ideally, a heat pump too. These will be an invaluable buffer against possible future disruption to imported energy sources.

‘Meitheal’ is an old Irish term describing how neighbours would come together to help in the saving of crops or in other shared tasks. In the turbulent times ahead, we will likely need to once again look to our extended families and local community for support, security and solidarity.

True wealth in the future will be measured in ‘social capital’ rather than money. Invest wisely.

ThinkOrSwim is a blog by journalist John Gibbons focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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