Although the IPCC 2021 report had sobering news about climate change, we can still take action to prevent the worst possible outcome.
You are not alone if you feel an unshakable sense of impending doom. Ever since I read the news coverage of the results from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2021 report, I have been trying to come to terms with the anxiety I feel. For those of you who haven’t had a chance to catch up yet, the IPCC’s 2021 report predicted that—unless “immediate, rapid and large-scale” reductions in greenhouse gases are achieved—global temperatures are expected to rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius or more in the next two decades from pre-industrial levels.
Although 1.5 degrees Celsisus doesn’t sound like a lot, it’s important to note that global temperatures have already risen 1.1 degrees Celsius since 1850 as a result of human activities that have released CO² and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. (I’m looking at you, fossil fuel industry). The goal of the 2015 Paris climate agreement was to limit an increase in global temperatures by 1.5 to 2 degrees by 2100. But the IPCC 2021 report predicts that we will likely reach that increase in global temperatures much sooner—potentially as soon as 2040.
In 2040 my daughter will be 25 years old.
This year—her fifth of being alive on this planet—has already been marked by catastrophic wildfires, biblical flooding, glaciers melting, and ocean currents collapsing. And that’s only what has resulted from a 1.1 degree increase. What fresh horrors await in the years ahead as we creep closer to hitting the 1.5 and 2 degree increase?
It’s been tempting to give into despair as a result of the IPCC 2021 report. Any individual effort to live more sustainably seems laughably insignificant when compared to the global disaster looming in the future. Surely bamboo toothbrushes and paper straws are the climate change equivalent of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
And yet, there’s my daughter learning about lap sap (垃圾) and wu jim (污染) in her kindergarten class. She loves to sort the plastic recycling at our community collection day and is proud to participate in beach cleanups. Today she asked my husband to explain our lunch conversation about the IPCC 2021 report; she listened intently, and then she asked her daddy, “Can you fix it?”
According to the 234 scientists who helped write the IPCC 2021 report, the answer is ‘yes’. For all the alarming news in the report, there is also reason to hope. We have a brief window of opportunity to make “immediate, rapid and large-scale” changes. The IPCC 2021 report is a call to arms for governments and organisations worldwide. But it is also a call to arms for individuals, as well. After all, big changes usually grow from small changes. If you’re responsible about recycling and avoiding single-use plastic, it’s easier to consider how you might go waste-free. If you’ve adopted a plant-based diet for one or two meals a week, it’s easier to think about how you might expand that to four or five meals—or even go vegan.
So perhaps the first step, in response to the results of the IPCC 2021 report, is to live in hope. Not oblivious, ostrich-with-its-head-buried-in-the-sand hope, but real hope rooted in taking action on a daily basis, no matter how small it may seem. If, like me, you’re looking for a place to start, here are five hopeful ideas for how to take action in Hong Kong on the IPCC 2021 report.
How to take action in Hong Kong on the IPCC 2021 report
1. Plant a tree.
As a city, Hong Kong is blessed with beautiful country parks full of trees, which absorb CO² from the atmosphere—literally breathing for our planet. In addition, tree roots mitigate soil erosion from heavy rains and help lower surface and air temperatures by providing shade and through evapotranspiration—all of which are important in a warming world. There are a number of places where you can help plant trees in Hong Kong, such as The Conservancy Association and The Green Earth, both of which participate in the Country Parks Plantation Enrichment Project launched by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department in 2009.
2. Start composting.
Not only does food waste contribute to a growing water shortage (by wasting the water that was used to grow the food, which then goes uneaten), but rotting food in landfills also releases methane, which is a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. In 2018 the Hong Kong government launched a pilot scheme to collect food waste from some schools, 70 public venues, and about 120 private institutions. Under the pilot scheme, the collected food waste is turned into energy at Hong Kong’s first organic resources recovery centre, O·PARK1. Located in North Lantau, O·PARK1 uses anaerobic digestion technology to convert food waste into biogas (a source of renewable energy similar to natural gas) for electricity generation. Any leftover waste from the process can be composted for landscaping and agriculture use. Closer to home, the Hong Kong Composting Community hosts workshops and can help you find a composting bin in your neighbourhood.
3. Buy less stuff and participate in circular economies.
It sounds so simple, but it can be really hard to refrain from the modern consumer lifestyle. But just in terms of fast fashion, the environmental NGO Redress estimates that Hong Kong generates an average of 392 tonnes of textile landfill waste per day. Not to mention all the other stuff we buy, and then throw away when it no longer suits us. Slowly but surely, though, circular economies are sprouting in Hong Kong. (A circular economy, BTW, “is a systemic approach to economic development designed to benefit businesses, society, and the environment. In contrast to the ‘take-make-waste’ linear model, a circular economy is regenerative by design and aims to gradually decouple growth from the consumption of finite resources.”) Looking for some Hong Kong real-life examples? Check out: Retykle, which is a luxury second-hand kids clothing reseller designed to reduce textile waste; 2nd Chance is Hong Kong’s largest collection of pre-loved home decor and furniture; as well as Rebooked, which is a social enterprise that promotes sustainability in literacy by reselling children’s books. Also, you can do a quick search for a local Facebook group for your Hong Kong neighborhood, many of which are dedicated to re-selling second-hand home goods and clothing to save you money and also reduce waste.
4. Divest your investments from supporting fossil fuel.
The bottom line is that climate change began when we started burning fossil fuel—initially in the form of coal—to generate electricity for homes and, more importantly, factories. We’re simply not going to see a meaningful reduction in climate change until we reduce our consumption of fossil fuel. There are a number of ways to tackle this as an individual, such as using public transportation and reducing energy consumption in your home. (Does the air conditioning really need to be on all the time?) But if you’re furious with fossil fuel companies for lying about climate change, you can hit’em where it really hurts—in the pocketbook. Activist investors dealt blows to both Exxon and Royal Dutch Shell in May 2021, and you can do the same thing with your investments. A good place to start is with the podcast Heaps Better, which is sponsored by Greenpeace and documents how Australians Jess Hamilton and Ash Berdebes decided to turn their climate anxiety into climate action by divesting their investments from fossil fuel. The specifics in their podcast apply to Australia, naturally, but in 2019 the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) issued its “Circular to management companies of SFC-authorised unit trusts and mutual funds – Green or ESG funds.” Never fear if you’re not a member of the professional finance community, the purpose of the circular is to make it easier to compare between similar types of SFC-authorised green or ‘environmental, social and governance’ (ESG) funds, so that investors can make informed investment decisions. Set aside some time, pour yourself a stiff cup of coffee, and do some research into your MPF allocations.
5. Talk about the changes you are making with friends and family and teach your children about the natural world.
Did you go to a beach cleanup this weekend. Great! Talk about it! Tell your friends, your coworkers, your family, put some photos up on Instagram. The more we talk about what we’re doing about climate change, the more others will think that they can also do something about it. And if you’re a parent, talk to your kids. I know the global apocalypse isn’t exactly dinner (or lunch) conversation, but I remember my dad (who’s a meteorologist) talking about greenhouse gases when I was in primary school. Thanks to my mum, my Girl Scout troop collected aluminium cans in the early days of my rural community’s recycling programme. So it has always been normal for me to think that global warming is a problem with a solution. It will be even more important for my daughter to think the same. So we’re going to Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden, and Hong Kong Wetland Park, and Ark Eden. We’re going to hike Hong Kong’s country parks and clean up lap sap at beach cleanups.
I hope to teach her, by example, how to be a good steward of our planet, and to always live in hope.