What can we do about climate change? Just the thought of such an enormous problem can be daunting. But we already have the solutions. There are technological, nature-based and community-based ways to help slow the progress of climate change and deal with its effects.
People all around the world are quickly embracing and adopting clean energy technologies such as more efficient and affordable solar panels and batteries. There are also solar farms and arrays, wind turbines on land and off-shore, micro-wind turbines, wave and tidal-driven turbines, hydro power, pumped hydro, hydrogen power and electric cars. More than 100 cities already have renewable energy as their main source of power.
The uptake of renewable energy in Australia is very rapid, with solar panels installed on 20% of houses. These are mostly low and middle income households—those who are most keen to reduce their power bills.
The City of Sydney council now runs on 100% renewable electricity, including for street lights, swimming pools and public buildings such as Town Hall. Newcastle city council will also run on 100% renewable electricity supply by the end of 2020.
The Clean Energy Council reported in June 2020 that the renewable energy sector is experiencing “unprecedented activity across Australia”, with 95 projects in construction (or about to commence), delivering more than 11,000 megawatts and 13,500 jobs.
Clean transport is also making rapid advances. Electric cars, trucks, trains, shipping and even planes are cutting through the market with government support for infrastructure such as charging stations. Even though clean transport still requires electricity to work, the vehicles emit less greenhouse gases than a petrol or diesel powered transport.
The Australian government is expected to finalise a National Electric Vehicle Strategy by the end of 2020, coordinating action across governments, industry and urban and regional communities. The strategy to transition to electric vehicles could reduce emissions by up to 10 million tonnes by 2030.
Clean transport is making rapid advances. Hydrogen fuel cells are taking an increasing role in all modes of transport, from cars to shipping to planes. Fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) have zero emissions, the only waste being water. Cars, SUVs and trucks perform like a combustion engine car and can be refuelled in 3-5 minutes. Electric cars, motorbikes, trucks, busses and other vehicles are making rapid headway in places where governments are supporting charging stations. In Australia, several states are advancing electric vehicle infrastructure and uptake. The ACT Government is electrifying its fleet and a new fund is being created to give individuals and businesses a substantial portion of the cost of purchasing an electric car or motorbike. A target is being adopted of 90% new vehicle sales being electric by 2030. The NSW Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Plan recognises the “significant economic and environmental benefits” that electric, hybrid and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles offer. The report states:
Electric vehicles…can reduce the cost of living and are cleaner and quieter – features which are essential in our growing cities and towns. We know the transition to electric vehicles is a major transformation which brings many opportunities, including new industry development and employment growth in the transport, energy and technology sectors.
Climate change has a huge impact on the environment, but we can also turn to the environment for some of the greatest solutions to climate change.
Natural solutions to climate change are hugely important. Regenerating forests, caring for farmland, protecting wetlands and kelp forests, are just some of the ways we can safeguard the natural systems that comprise our life support system.
The valuable materials and processes within nature can be explored and put to use in innovative ways to enable ways of living that are comfortable, efficient and rewarding, as well as being supportive of the natural world.
Some of the most effective ways to reduce emissions, protect soil and coastlines and get carbon back into the soil is through regenerating soils, forests, waterways and seas through using less chemicals to farm. We can also conserve forests, plant trees and mangroves, and farm kelp.
Revolutionary biotech products are making important headway, such as algae to absorb excess carbon from waste and create new, biodegradable materials such as replacements for plastic.
Indigenous knowledge is recognised around the world as a powerful force to protect living things and maintain the capture of carbon: forests, grasslands, soil, waterways, and seas, all of which are needed to reduce global warming and provide people with the means to adapt to increasingly difficult living conditions.
First Nations groups are spreading awareness in Australia of the need to care for Nature so Nature can care for us. There is much that Australian society can learn about living with respect for other living things and practising custodianship of the Country we live within.
Community-level sustainability measures are central for maintaining health, well-being and disaster resilience. Many exciting and important initiatives are underway in Australia and around the world that improve environmental and social resilience. These range from ‘Transition Towns’ to smaller-scale initiatives such as communities setting up shared gardens, local markets, solar projects, recycling and composting projects at schools. Many groups are mobilising for wildlife conservation, tree-planting, awareness-raising, and social justice.
Towns like Yackendandah are inspiring others, with their Totally Renewable Yackendandah (TRY) initiative, aiming to be 100% renewable by 2022. Micro-grids linking houses, batteries and energy efficient approaches are being brought in and the community is on target to achieve “energy sovereignty”.
Groups such as Landcare Australia help communities mobilise through funding and knowledge-sharing support. Their focus is ‘on-the-ground’ projects around sustainable approaches to land management; natural habitat restoration; enhancing biodiversity; building resilience in Australia’s food and farming systems, and supporting social cohesion and wellbeing in communities. Protecting local ecosystems helps advance the sustainability and productivity of land and water, which benefits all Australians.
What can I do?
We need to act now. Over the next few years and decades, it will be harder for more and more of us to live comfortably in our world. It can be hard to think about, but it’s important that we do. Sometimes it can even feel like the climate battle is lost. But we can hold onto ‘stubborn optimism'; we can reduce the damage and work towards a better future. The solutions already exist.
We can start by picturing and working towards a future that supports a better standard of living for all people and species, with ways of working with the environment and each other that support the protection of ecosystems, enriched soils, clean energy and transport, social and economic inclusion in our own communities and around the world.
There are some great films and books that help map how we can get there, more easily than you might think: check out 2040 and ‘The Future We Choose’.
We can reduce our individual carbon footprints. One person can make a difference. Embrace renewable energy, eat less meat, drive and fly less, reduce waste, talk to others. Don’t invest with banks and funds that support fossil fuels. Your changes can inspire others.
Transforming the larger system will have the biggest impact on reducing global emissions. We need to encourage our leaders in government and business to move from a fossil fuel economy and invest more in climate-friendly industries and practices. You can join one of the many groups calling for these changes. Together, we can make a difference.
1M Women https://www.1millionwomen.com.au/
2040 Film and book What’s Your 2040
Climate Council website https://www.climatecouncil.org.au/
Greening Australia https://www.greeningaustralia.org.au/
Groundswell Giving https://www.groundswellgiving.org/
Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac, The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis
Tim Flannery (2015). Atmosphere of Hope: Searching for Solutions to the Climate Crisis. Melbourne: Text Publishing. Tim Flannery
Tim Flannery ( (2017). Sunlight and Seaweed: An Argument for How to Feed, Power and Clean Up the World. Melbourne: Text Publishing.
Tim Flannery ( (2020). The Climate Cure: Solving the Climate Emergency in the Era of COVID-19. Melbourne: Text Publishing.
Rebecca Huntley (2020), How to Talk About Climate Change in a way that Makes a Difference, Sydney: Murdoch Books.