How to Save the Planet
Imagine you’re one of 100,000 citizens living on an island nation, witnessing your home and the homes around you slowly slip below sea level and disappear forever. The current rise in tide has forced you and your neighbours to relocate inland to higher ground—for now—relying on desalinized water and struggling to sustain increasingly vulnerable livelihoods. What sinks is gone forever what remains is precious, representing what's left of your community and culture. Perhaps your village church still stands, a gathering point for an island surrounded by seawalls, monumentalizing the inevitable. Climate change causes these impacts, in large part driven by burning fossil fuels, deforestation and agricultural practices that have brought gains to so many others but not much to you.
“The fact that the poor bear the brunt of environmental burdens, and that the accustomed model for improving living standards, expanding opportunities and guaranteeing dignity and human rights is inherently unequal and proving unsustainable, is one of the major ethical quandaries in human history.”
Now, imagine you're a resident of a major coastal city in the Americas—a commercial centre that functions largely through car travel, and relies heavily on the international shipping industry. While shipping provides jobs for you and your neighbours, it and the satellite industries linked to it—transport most particularly—pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at an alarming pace. The climate has become increasingly harsh with extreme seasons. Your coastline is hit frequently by hurricanes projected to grow stronger over the coming decades. Recent natural disasters have resulted in the decimation of homes and stretches of neighbourhoods due to wind damage, flooding and storm surges. These disasters damage the local economy, displacing residents and destroying businesses. Infrastructure, from housing to wastewater, power and transportation have taken hits, with recovery costs in the billions, and insurance industry and national government support reaching its limits. Those with resources hold on, repairing, rebuilding and paying ever higher insurance premiums, while those with nothing are forced to move permanently. Consumption and production continue unabated, often by and for the benefit of a select few.
Back home in their respective countries and communities after the global sustainability conference, Mayor Willie Olivier Wei and Mayor Henrietta Orion II gear up to apply, adapt and implement many of the ideas they learned.
Where Mayor Wei's priorities previously focused around global expansion of the fishing industry and tourism, and locally around the community's obsession with all things rugby, now his time in office will focus entirely on building a resilient and sustainable society. While the harsh reality of climate change is a global governance issue, Mayor Wei can’t help but feel the welfare and destiny of his constituents are his responsibility. Perhaps his decision-making can contribute to ensuring safety and dignity for the more than 100,000 lives in his country.
Meanwhile, Mayor Orion’s return home is met with anger and frustration by her constituents. They don't like being told to consume less, and don’t accept studies that connect overconsumption, and the economic and employment challenges the country and her community face. The costs of gasoline, and everyday products like orange juice, bread and milk, along with an overwhelmingly poor fishing season, has Mayor Orion's public popularity at an all-time low. Everyone is upset, and media and Internet chatter exacerbate things with unsubstantiated information. People are pushing back by blaming government leaders rather than recognizing and changing their behaviours to better respect the environment and its various resources.