Climate change campaigner, writer and researcher Alice Bell has recently published her first book ‘Can We Save the Planet? A primer for the 21st century’.
Environment Journal got in touch to discuss some of the issues she raises in her book, from the importance of technology when solving the climate crisis to the problem with plastic.
You write that we have transitioned from a feeling of awe towards nature to a feeling of awe towards technology. Do you think this disconnection from nature is partly responsible for the situation we are in now?
I think that disconnection from nature is part of the problem but equally, we also need to understand our profound disconnection from technology.
Even though it is all around us, we don’t think about what it’s made of, or how it’s made. We don’t question it, we don’t ask how we can do it better, we take it for granted.
Technology is part of our mundane built environment so we don’t interrogate it.
However, we won’t be able to do humanity well, meaning in a way that humans and other species can thrive, if we don’t start to question our relationship with technology.
One strategy people can use to get in touch with nature is to go out and hug a tree, and I highly recommend doing this. But also we need to look at who makes our tech, how our buildings were built, by who, why they were built in that way, and what’s wrong with them.
What role do you think technology will play in the future of the planet?
There are so many technologies that are part of the solution, renewable energy, how we do farming, negative emission technology etc.
The danger with this, as we’ve seen with the rhetoric around tree planting recently, is that technology can be seen as a get out of jail free card.
We are going to need negative emissions technologies, but we are also going to need dramatic cuts to our current emissions.
As you mention, it is important to be wary of promises, such as tree planting, as a mask for inaction. How can we be wary of greenwashing?
Greenwashing is seen in many aspects of the climate conversation.
The UK loves to go on about how we have dropped coal, but at the same time, we don’t make much coal and so there are children in other parts of the world coughing from the coal factories producing the goods that we use.
People walk around the UK using the artefacts of coal use in other countries while the UK is praised for saying it no longer uses it.
Why do you think it’s taken until recently for the plastic problem to become mainstream?
I think the problem has gradually developed over a few decades until it reached a point of critical mass a few years ago.
If you look at the two / three years before the big Blue Planet moment, you will see lots of lobbying from scientists and campaigners.
They did lots of active work, getting big NGO’s and big media groups to take note, meaning that when it had that spark with the Blue Planet documentaries attention really flew.
You can see the same with climate change, people have known about it for 150 years, and in the last 50 years, we have known about it in a serious way.
But the awareness we have seen now is due to the gradual push from the people who could see something that the rest of us couldn’t, and they had the responsibility to raise the alarm.
What do you think is the best way to be a climate activist?
What you do in your own life as an individual will be done most powerfully when you do it with others.
We need to think about changing the structures that all of us live in.
One of the ways we can create that structural change is by setting an example as an individual within our communities.
Those people who have the option should be thinking about how they can make better choices.
If you make changes in your life, this is likely to encourage those around you. If like me, you believe that we need massive structural changes, one of the steps that you can take is to think about what you do in your own life.
The book is available to buy here.