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Why I’m joining the climate protests, and you should too

James Bryce, a Briton living in Spain, may not be an environmental “saint” – he is not a vegetarian, he owns a car, and he flies from time to time. But regular folks like him still can and must do their part to pressure governments into taking urgent action, he argues on our TransIberian blog

A protest outside the Ministry for Ecological Transition in Madrid on October 9.
A protest outside the Ministry for Ecological Transition in Madrid on October 9.

In recent years I’ve experienced increasing levels of anger, frustration and despair with the scale of the climate emergency and the lack of urgency in tackling it.

And it seems I’m not alone. These feelings are being reported so frequently that it’s been dubbed “eco-anxiety,” a condition cheerily defined by the American Psychological Association as “a chronic fear of environmental doom.”

At the heart of it is exasperation at the inaction of governments around the world to adequately address an existential crisis that requires drastic and immediate action.

Protesters in Madrid on October 9.
Protesters in Madrid on October 9.

And so over the past several weeks I’ve joined hundreds of fellow climate protesters in both Madrid and Seville, as part of a coordinated global effort to demand that governments acknowledge the truth and act on the science.

While it’s an encouraging start, the Spanish protests have been modest in size, which is why it’s imperative that more people play an active role in the struggle for change.

But I’m not writing this from a lofty perch. I’m not vegan or even vegetarian, I own a car and I usually fly a couple of times a year. Although I’ve taken steps to reduce my consumption of meat and dairy and the amount of plastic I use, I’m a long way from being able to wag a disapproving finger at others.

A recent march against climate change in Seville.
A recent march against climate change in Seville.

But I do care deeply about the environment and the natural world and that, for me, is as good a reason as any to act. In Spain, the climate emergency is not some vague, abstract concept that belongs to the future. The effects are already being felt in dramatic ways and will only worsen without decisive intervention. Increasingly ferocious wildfires and extreme flooding are already a reality for some parts of the country, while sea level rises will affect coastal areas.

Ominously for the thousands of Brits who live on the Costa del Sol and the Costa Blanca, research shows that Andalusia and Valencia will be hit hardest. Desertification, exacerbated by drought, will render vast tracts of agricultural land useless, with serious consequences for Spain’s ability to grow food.

Meanwhile, around 15 million people in Spain are breathing air that’s so polluted the government is breaking the law. Because of this, an estimated 30,000 Spaniards die each year due to air pollution, according to the European Environment Agency.

People of all ages gathered in front of the ministry in Madrid.
People of all ages gathered in front of the ministry in Madrid.

Flying is clearly a major contributor to air pollution and, as a British migrant with family in the UK, this poses an uncomfortable dilemma. But for Brits with second homes in Spain, the inconvenient truth is that they’re among the worst offenders for frequent flying, House of Commons research has shown.

As a society we are obsessed with economic growth and the rampant consumerism that results from it. There’s an assumption that every generation is entitled to more than the last, but perhaps we have to accept that that is simply not possible. We are constantly being encouraged to live beyond our means with credit cards and loans, and that mentality extends to the world’s natural resources.

Each year, researchers calculate the global demand for these resources and compare it to the Earth’s capacity to regenerate them. In 1970, the date on which humanity had used up all available natural resources for that year was December 23. This year it was July 29. We are accumulating an ecological debt that will never be repaid unless we change our economic model to a more sustainable one.

But as long as politicians and corporations continue to place the burden of responsibility on individuals by focusing on things like recycling, nothing will change. There has to be a vast structural rethink if we are to have any hope of reducing carbon emissions to net zero. This would include a huge shift in subsidies from fossil fuels to renewables.

But if you think that is already on the way to being achieved then consider this eye-watering statistic: globally, we are burning 80% more coal now than we were in 2000.

We may not be able to effect significant change individually, but collectively we can confront governments with the truth. And as George Orwell said: “In times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

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