#3 Reach an Understanding of the Earth Crisis

An effective action plan will arise from a shared and evidenced understanding of environmental and related social and economic issues, which we frame broadly as the Earth Crisis. You may find it helps to have some terms you agree on and commonly use. 

The Earth crisis includes climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, health pandemics and injustice for people. 

Agriculture, technology and industry have increased in scale and harm in the past 500 years, with ‘Western civilisation’ spreading its colonies worldwide. This has escalated in the past 50 years. 

Use the diagram below that shows the Earth Crisis over time.

An infographic titled "A historic view on the Earth crisis .... which includes:". Four sections read: Colonial expansion: Wild land used for plantations. People exploited & enslaved (1500's onward)
Industry & consumerism: Fossil fuels powered the Industrial Revolution. Growth and consumerism Nuclear weapons. (1900's onward)
The Earth Crisis: Breached planetary boundaries + inequalities, disease, conflict (1940s onward)
The Climate Crisis: The biggest wounding of the biosphere, worsening biodiversity and pollution. (1970s into the future)

Since the consumption of fossil fuels, carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere has increased, and land and oceans are less able to act as sinks to absorb CO2. So the global temperature has risen and the climate system has become less stable, causing extreme weather, rising sea levels and changing seasons. As well as reducing biodiversity, climate impacts fall on people everywhere, reducing food supplies, displacing people from homes and lands, and causing death from extreme heat, floods and storms. The impacts fall most heavily on the Global South as well as on black people, refugees and the poorest people living in the Global North. In addition, the impacts fall on all other species of life, particularly by harming wild habitats or ecosystems.

TASK:

share your knowledge

Hold a knowledge-sharing session with others involved

Use different lenses for each step of the discussion:

  • A voice lens: Start by sharing words for your feelings and the different terms or frames you use for the Earth Crisis.
  • A head lens: Go on to share what you know about its historical and systemic causes.
  • A heart lens: Share what you know and feel about the impacts on lives, including human and more-than-human lives. 
  • A time lens: Acknowledge what has happened already, as well as anticipate what is to come.
  • An action lens: Most importantly, make time to discuss a range of possible tactics and solutions.

Ensure that you address the wider crisis, not just climate change. Sometimes called the ‘polycrisis’ or ‘metacrisis’, the term ‘Earth crisis’ is used here, because it locates social injustices in the disruptions of systems that sustain life on Earth.

Give plenty of attention to the root causes and tactics and solutions, and try not to dwell for long on the uncertain and frightening impacts. Ensuring you explore tactics for change will help bring others on board and plan a meaningful response to whatever unfolds. 

This big-picture thinking can inform your action plans, and create a bond as a team. If you can grasp the broad areas where humanity needs to act, it will help you widen your thinking about what you can do to help.  

Next, you could use these same lenses in discussions with audiences or community groups to consult with them on your action plans.  

RESOURCES FOR THIS TASK

— See the Make Climate History timeline from Climate Museum UK

More people are consuming more meat and grains, more textiles, more biofuels, more rare metals and many other commodities. This means the land of indigenous people and wild species has been deforested, mined and used for plantation and livestock farming. 

— See this diagram visualising the comparison between wild and human-generated biomass

Industries, governments and consumers are not dealing with waste and toxic materials, so our rivers, oceans, air and soil are polluted, causing multiple human health problems. For example, landfill creates methane emissions; the oceans are becoming more acidic; rivers and soil are polluted from fossil-fuel-derived fertilisers and pesticides. 

— The Story of Stuff offers animations to explain consumption and waste of materials, or learn about the Circular Economy

War and conflict result from and perpetuate this degenerative economic system. Conflict is the inevitable outcome of resource-intensive territorialism that has been replacing the stewardship of bioregional ecosystems. Much war is also ideological – tribal and religious – but these wars typically include conflict over land, supply routes or resources too. In the past 120 years, access to oil has been a major driver for wars, but conflict increasingly arises over access to water, food, and forced migration – which are the major impacts of climate change. 

— See this UNEP statement on war and the environment 

There is almost total agreement between scientists, all over the world, about the causes and impacts of this Earth Crisis, and there are plenty of technical solutions. But there are some big barriers to understanding, for example: 

  • a lack of political will to tackle its root causes as Governments are run by or influenced by those who harm life 
  • a lack of democratic representation in politics
  • extreme inequality reducing civic participation in decision-making 
  • a lack of public education about the causes and solutions 
  • a media that is captured by extractive industries. 
See an explanation of ‘Earth Crisis Blinkers’, which leads to people limiting their thinking about the crisis

Big barriers to urgent action: these barriers have been so trenchant and long-held that hopes for stabilising the climate at 1.5C of warming have faded and ecocidal damage continues to escalate. Global temperatures have been above 1.5C in 2023 and 2024 so far. Climate impacts are happening much earlier and more severely than predicted and in unexpected places, stressing the other planetary boundaries. The civic, cultural and commercial response to this urgent situation must include: 

  • adaptation to impacts
  • reparations for those most affected 
  • changes to the social, financial and legal status quo. 
See this NASA resource for real-time climate data from satellites and other technologies

Continue working through the guide

Pathways To Action: Tools for an Emergency Response

STAGE ONE: DECLARATION AND PREPARATION

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