Human survival during climate change
Gil Penha-Lopes is a Guest Lecturer at the Faculty of Sciences, University of Lisbon. He has been coordinating European and national projects on bottom-up climate change adaptation with a focus on community-led initiatives. He also lectures on the International Doctoral Programme on Climate Change and Sustainable Development Policies at Lisbon University.
Gil also co-founded the European platform of community-led initiatives on sustainability and climate change (ECOLISE) and recently published a book on “Permaculture and Climate Change Adaptation”.
The words that form the title have already started to appear and to be uttered at the events and in the official documents of bodies such as the United Nations, the European Commission, the European Economic and Social Committee, ICLEI (International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives), municipal presidents and several international NGOs. On a local level, community initiatives such as eco-towns, permaculture projects and transition initiatives, have designed and tested new living paradigms, generally focused on local production and consumption of environmentally friendly products and services (organic, certificated etc.) and on forms of governance that are inclusive, fair and participative. The vision of these initiatives, focusing on the regeneration of social, environmental, ecological, economic and cultural systems has been enabling people to innovate in all these aspects, frequently under the heading of “social entrepreneurship”.
The aim of this essay is to try and indicate some directions and actions that could be implemented in Portugal, on different levels, so that we can succeed in decelerating and coping with the increasing impact of climate change. I take climate change to include both slow changes – such as the rise in sea level and changes in the seasons – and extreme weather events – such as floods and heat waves – caused by the significant increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which already exceeded 400ppm.
It was noticeable at COP21 in Paris that there was a significant lack of coherence between the national intentions on greenhouse gas emissions and the total emissions that have been calculated for us to remain below the 1.5ºC average global increase in temperature (compared to the pre-industrial period). At present, we are already 0.8ºC warmer, and the intended emissions by countries indicate a scenario which will lead us to a world that is about 4ºC warmer. Given that it is not worth trying to list the reasons why it would not be worth wanting to live in a world that is 4ºC hotter, I recommend reading the report “Turn Down the Heat”, compiled by one of the most prestigious institutions in Europe (PIK).
I believe that Portugal, just like any other country and region, must create a long-term vision where it will be a pleasure to live in harmony with the rest of life on this planet. The millennium objectives could help with this vision, but they do not consider the context, the culture and the dream of a new society that is emerging. For interested readers, I include here this site for them to find out about some of the initiatives I am talking about, but there are many more (www.redeconvergir.net, and I recommend a visit to the project CATALISE, also on the same site).
This vision could have the following principles and values:
• being inclusive, respecting all life and all citizens;
• being positive, building capacity and facilitating development based on constructive experimentation;
• testing and establishing economic systems that favour behaviours that are governed by natural laws and regenerate human and natural systems;
• establishing a range of indicators of prosperity;
• designing, testing and implementing systems of participative governance that are multi-level and adaptive, including a significant component of making citizens, communities and governments responsible at different levels.
It is important for this vision to be positive, to inspire us to be the change that we want to see and experience in the world, and above all for it to permit multiple visions and realities that will be interdependent. One metaphor could be that of the human body. Dozens of very different organs with different functions, needs and behaviours, and yet, when they are part of a healthy body, they display an impressive harmony as a whole, which allows us to do things that are often considered impossible.
In an attempt to give the reader a glimpse of potential short-term measures to implement this vision, I suggest the following:
• implementing complementary currencies, adapted to the local context, which promote local production and consumption of basic goods such as foodstuffs, energy and water in particular. The euro will continue for all transactions where it is appropriate, with regard to goods and services that are, by their very nature and of necessity, transnational.
• Unconditional basic income to enable every Portuguese citizen to survive; most of it could be paid in a complementary currency (supporting the previous point)
• mapping good practices (including political and financial ones) used in Portugal and in other countries with similar biophysical and meteorological conditions. I consider the following to be the most important:
i) building sustainable housing;
ii) agro-ecological and organic production with multiple benefits for biodiversity;
iii) cleaning up and unblocking natural watercourses;
iv) regenerating natural ecosystems with indigenous species, as well as re-naturing the cities;
v) promoting more humanised education, linked to nature and in harmony with the current context and the vision that was established; v) having free public transport up to the age of 18, and promoting the use of environmentally friendly means of transport such as bicycles in an urban environment.
• involving local communities in coastal areas, where much of the population in Portugal lives, and designing strategies (supported by policies and finance) for adapting to climate change, in particular coping with the impact of a rise in average sea levels and storms with heavy rain and strong winds. The benefits and costs of such adaptation should be clear, and it will be important to understand to what extent a vision of the future is compatible with the current climate impacts and future scenarios for those places. Here I am referring to the fact that we might have to start using nature to support ourselves (known as ecosystems-based adaptation) or even relocate communities and activities in a planned manner and in good time.
• developing strategies for the interior of our country, which faces multiple challenges.
• identifying the skills and knowledge that are necessary at different levels and in different areas; also using professional training courses to build the capacity of a sufficient number of people to provide support, while developing companies or becoming part of institutions (public and private) in order to alter their institutional focus, procedures and products.
This list is by no means complete, but it gives an idea of some decisions that could promote a harmonious transformation (not disruptive and rapid) so that we can live in a more sustainable Portugal.
It is clear that these or other measures must be replaced as soon as their objective is achieved, thereby supporting new behaviours and procedures that make us progress in implementing the vision or changing it and trying to prevent the creative entrepreneur from “undermining the system,” so characteristic of the Portuguese DNA. On the other hand, this DNA took us to the five continents of the world and has already demonstrated that, when we are inspired and have a clear vision, we can, together, achieve unimaginable and great things. Shall we get on with it?