hen you think about the future, do you think about a sustainable world full of prosperity and hope, or do you envision one that is barren, dried up, and struggles to sustain any form of life? If you’re like most people, you are neither a total optimist nor a complete pessimist; but what can thinking about extreme futures teach us about attitudes, lifestyles, and actions in the present?
What is a Utopian Vision?
Throughout the centuries, great thinkers and artists have depicted utopian visions of the future. The Greek philosopher Socrates is arguably one of the progenitors of utopian visions when he discusses the idea of a society in The Republic. Thomas Moore’s book “Utopia” is also pivotal.
Since individuals and communities are often dissatisfied in some way, it’s only natural to imagine a perfect world. The trouble is that a perfect world is unrealistic outside of fictional boundaries. Utopian visions can be inspiring and exciting, but they can also create issues.
What is a Dystopian Vision?
On the other side of the coin, we have dystopias. Human beings tend to think in extremes, so it is easy to take a negative idea and inflate it in the same way a positive idea can be embellished.
Dystopian visions imagine a world of the future when society has disintegrated for some reason.
As Margaret Atwood points out in an essay in her collection In Other worlds, neither a utopia nor a dystopia exists because one always contains the other. She coins the term Ustopia to describe a positive situation with disturbing elements or a negative situation that has goodness.
Living in the Future
Utopian visions offer us an ideal version of the future; it is something for us to aspire to and use as inspiration to change things in the present - but how effective is this approach? In relation to climate change, our ideal solution is Net Zero by mid-century, followed by the road to recovery.
In some ways, ‘living in the future’ is the best way to find a path towards positive outcomes. In order to live in the future, we need to understand the goals and targets for 2050 and put them into place quickly. Creating a present that adheres to a future vision can bring us closer to it.
Living in the Present
Living in the present is arguably less effective. Most people live in the present - and are often encouraged to do so thanks to the proliferation of meditation and mindfulness. But unless we have an awareness of the deep past and the deep future, we don’t create conditions for change.
Businesses need to open up a sense of deep time and avoid living in the present too much. Business-as-usual might generate profits for shareholders and maintain steady operations, but it’s not a path that will lead to resilience or future prosperity. They need a Net Zero strategy.
Effective Future Planning
Is a utopian vision or a dystopian vision better for future planning and global awareness? A utopian vision offers inspiration, while a dystopian vision gives us motivation. Perhaps we should take a leaf from Atwood’s (many) books and try to walk the middle way to sustainability.
What is nature to you? Not only impassable wilderness, dense forests, untouched bays, bottomless lakes and snow-covered mountain peaks are nature.
Forests, gardens, parks, balconies, potted plants in the window sill, a flower bursting through the asphalt on the pavement and the wind touching your face are also parts of nature.
There is no right or wrong answer to the question about what nature is to you. The relevant matter is finding the kind of nature where you feel recharged, nourished and comforted - a place to be energised and to connect with the inner and outer world.
Finding your nature path
If you are not sure what kind of nature works for you, try different approaches. A stroll in the park, a restful moment by a pond or walking through fallen, dry leaves. Where do you feel your breathing calm down and slow down stressful or spinning thoughts?
Mental Health Foundation states that ‘For many of us though, 'being in nature’ may not be as easy as it sounds.’ In the article Our top tips on connecting with nature to improve your mental health the organisation shares ideas on how to connect to nature.
TRVST shares 19 Ways to Connect with Nature. The tips invite us to use our senses together with the opportunity to bring creativity, relaxation, reading, writing and presence in the present to support a bond with nature.
I was 43 years old when I realised that living near mountains, rivers and wilderness is essential - to me. On returning to Denmark after a year in New Zealand, I had a sense of grief at not living in these landscapes anymore, and in retrospect I began to understand why I had felt out of place in my home country. This initiated my move to Scotland where I’m fortunate to have found work, friends and my partner.
In a chaotic and violent world where countless people and nations face the horrors of war, famine and persecution, I’m humbled by my privileged position to be able to move to a country because its nature resonates with me.
Diving into techniques
Your relationship with nature is shaped by you. Finding a stream to put my feet in is one of my personal favourites. This often involves a walk through areas with a mixture of different tree species, another of my favourites. Walking outside your front door, closing your eyes and listening to birds in the neighbourhood for 10 min. could be your technique to recharge for the next Zoom meeting.
If you want to explore and develop nature connections further, there are various methods to follow. One is the Japanese concept of forest bathing (Shinrin-yoku). The introduction from Forestry England explains the core of the practice, ‘The simple method of being calm and quiet amongst the trees, observing nature around you whilst breathing deeply.’
Research, published at the Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine journal in 2010, indicates the health benefits,
‘The results show that forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than do city environments.’
(‘The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan’). In other words, forest bathing helps your body to relax and calm signs of stress.
There are several reasons why spending time in nature is beneficial for both physical and mental health. The Surefoot article Eco-distress - how to respond states, ‘One of the reasons we experience eco-distress is that we feel disconnected from the natural world and our ability to influence or manage the situation.’
By connecting to nature, eco-distress can be eased. Connecting to nature with writing and reading can strengthen the senses toward nature. Via the British Association for Holistic Medicine & Health Care (BHMA) you can free of charge download their magazine issue Nature Connections, which includes the article Your world in words: connecting to oneself and nature.
Together with social work lecturer Ann Hodson, I wrote the article about how my workshop, using creative writing and shared reading which has nature and the natural world at its core, can support vulnerable groups. We concluded that it can benefit individuals, helping them to engage in reflection and enjoy connecting with nature.
Since the way we talk about nature reflects our connection with nature, it is also worth mentioning the discipline of ecolinguistics. It’s defined by The International Ecolinguistics Association as,
‘Ecolinguistics explores the role of language in the life-sustaining interactions of humans, other species and the physical environment. The first aim is to develop linguistic theories which see humans not only as part of society, but also as part of the larger ecosystems that life depends on.’ The free online course The Stories We Live By provides insight into how we connect with nature in everyday life and on a societal level.
Connections. Healthy, happy connections are what we need to thrive as individuals and as part of communities. Matsuo Basho (1644-94) became a renowned haiku master and managed to embrace both the connection to the natural elements as well as the joy of sharing these experiences with others, as in this haiku from the book On Love and Barley: Haiku of Basho:
Together let’s eat
ears of wheat,
share a grass pillow.
Nature connection builds resilience
May efforts and joy in creating and developing nature connections inspire others to do the same. Hopefully will these gentle steps contribute to the bigger picture towards a just and resilient world. RSPB’s article Connection to nature not only points to the benefits for individual well-being and health, but also to benefits that go in the other direction; from people to nature,
‘Research shows that people with a greater connection to nature are more likely to behave positively towards the environment, wildlife and habitats.’
The methods to connect to nature are many. Do you have a story about your nature connection you would like to share via Surefoot? Perhaps with ideas on how this contributes to a healthier community? Please write to: firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s have a chat.
Text and photo by Gazelle Buchholtz, Surefoot associate
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we need a hybrid solution to tackling climate and meeting Net Zero targets - the world needs to reach 1.5°C (2.7°F) by 2050. The approach requires a reduction in CO2 along with the removal of greenhouse gases (GHG) from the atmosphere. Carbon Capture (CCS) technology can remove harmful gases.
What is Carbon Capture?
Industrial processes, transport, energy use in buildings, and energy production, account for over 70% of carbon emissions globally. Some of these industries and energy production methods can be reduced, but some industries will be unable to scale down production in time to meet targets.
This is where carbon capture comes in. Carbon capture utilisation and storage is a suite of technologies that extract CO2 and other harmful greenhouse gases and then pipe them to a safe zone deep underground. It sounds like a simple solution, but it has some issues as well.
How Does Carbon Capture Work?
A carbon capture facility looks something like an oil refinery from the outside, but it has a very different purpose. Instead of refining oil for use in industries that create carbon emissions, the silver stacks and chambers of a carbon capture facility remove harmful gases from the area.
Carbon capture facilities are located close to carbon-emitting facilities in an attempt to reduce the effects of carbon emissions. Currently, CCS facilities are extracting 45 Mt of GHG emissions from the air every year, but this needs to increase. Around 58 Gt of GHG are emitted annually.
Why is Carbon Capture Important?
Carbon capture is certainly not a silver bullet for resolving the climate crisis. Firstly, carbon capture facilities require energy to operate, so until a new sustainable power source is developed, they also contribute to CO2 emissions; and carbon removal is also fairly limited.
Still, carbon capture technology is important and has a role to play in the journey to Net Zero. A holistic approach to the climate crisis is needed to prevent the worst effects of climate change; this includes reducing carbon emissions by some of the worst contributors and CCS technology.
The Downside of Carbon Capture
Critics of carbon capture argue that the technology doesn’t go far enough. Investment in new “direct capture” facilities can remove around 100,000 tons of carbon from the atmosphere, but at the same time, a single corporate emissions contributor could be responsible for a million tons.
When it comes to carbon capture technology, there is an issue around the balance of carbon emissions - how much is it contributing to emissions, and how much does it capture? But there are storage issues too. Earthquakes and instability can release carbon from storage deposits.
The Carbon Capture Outlook
While carbon capture is not the simple solution many hoped for, there is no doubt it has an important part to play in Net Zero. CCS can reduce the worst effects of heavy industries that will struggle to adapt in time. It makes Net Zero more realistic until long-term solutions are found.
There is a fire in the attic! An electrical panel became overloaded, and no one noticed. Then one day, on their way home, someone did notice something, smoke rising from the roof; they assumed it would go out by itself, and if not, someone else would notice before it was risky.
Since then, the fire has progressed, and the inhabitants of the house have become concerned - they can even smell the smoke and feel the heat. With climate change, we find ourselves in a similar predicament, but we are aware of the fire and our need to act now to begin rebuilding.
Key Takeaways: Climate Change
What is Net Zero and Why Does it Matter?
The future is in our hands! The choices and actions we take in the next two decades could determine the future of the planet, which is in jeopardy - due to accelerated climate change - if we continue with our current trajectories and approaches. But, there is also cause for optimism. The world is waking up, and we are starting to make sustainable changes in the right direction.
Net Zero Definition
Net zero is a global target to completely negate the number of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by absorbing and reducing carbon emissions. The planet is now 1.1°C hotter than in pre-industrial times - the late 1800s - resulting in melted sea ice, heat waves, and droughts. This is happening at a 1.1°C rise, but we are currently on a trajectory for an over 2°C rise.
Throughout the twentieth century, the warming was gradual, though not invisible, but since 1981, there has been an exponential rise in the planet’s surface temperatures. The year 2022 was the sixth hottest on record, according to NOAA data, and records will continue to break.
Climate Change Consequences
Climate change is caused by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere; these are heat-retaining gases that prevent the incoming sunlight from escaping back into space; they warm the surface of the planet and increase ocean temperatures. The primary greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrochlorofluorocarbons, hydrofluorocarbons, and ozone.
Of these greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide accounts for almost 65% of the total; the majority of it is produced by human activity through energy production, agriculture, transport, and industry. The consequences are seen in rising sea levels, habitat losses, heat waves and wildfires. Without moving to Net Zero, these consequences will worsen throughout the 21st Century.
The impact of human-made climate change could be catastrophic for human and animal life. Rising sea levels caused by melting land ice will make some regions uninhabitable, and there will be food and water shortages. Human and animal communities will be displaced by rising temperatures, and conflicts are likely to break out over limited resources. But there is still time.
Net Zero Targets
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the planet is on course to increase temperature on average by 2°C in the next few decades, affecting all regions of the earth. Climate change already has a significant impact, causing wildfires, hurricanes, and habitat losses, but the severity of the damage will depend on human carbon emissions.
To move to Net Zero emissions by 2050, human carbon emissions need to be reduced by 45% by 2030 to stay on course; this is a massive challenge for humankind - perhaps the biggest existential threat we have had to face. One key to cutting emissions quickly is resolving our global energy consumption, which accounts for three-quarters of the planet’s overall emissions.
Net Zero Business Changes
Everyone has a part to play if we want to reduce carbon emissions and reach Net Zero by 2050, but businesses and industries produce the majority of greenhouse gases and must be tackled head-on. It’s crucial for businesses of all sizes to make a Net Zero strategy as soon as possible.
Creating a Net Zero company seems like a daunting task, but The Surefoot Effect can help to optimise your business for Net Zero emissions. Creating an effective Net Zero change plan can be done over 3 to 12 months by your own Net Zero team, working with Surefoot consultants.
Net Zero Strategies
When it comes to creating a Net Zero strategy for your business, there are two steps - quick wins followed by significant changes. Quick wins - also known as low-hanging fruit - are the simple adjustments you can make today to reduce emissions, like switching energy providers.
After the quick wins, it’s time to turn your attention to systemic changes that can make you a carbon-neutral organisation. The Surefoot Effect operates a series of in-house workshops, instilling teams with the skills, knowledge, and confidence to develop a tailored action plan.
What is Eco-Anxiety and Why Does it Matter?
Everyone has some anxiety and stress from time to time; it is usually a pattern in their life, like the fear of getting onto a podium and speaking in front of an audience of peers or completing a sizable chunk of work before the deadline. Eco-anxiety is slightly different; it’s the fear you have on lunch break about what’s happening to the planet, a fear calling everything into question.
Eco-anxiety means a chronic fear of environmental doom according to some definitions; it has also been described as the chronic fear of environmental cataclysm. This existential fear is as real as the climate challenges facing the planet, and it can affect life quality and life choices.
Anxiety is caused by fears about the future; which range from mild to severe; but when faced with climate catastrophe and the idea of an uninhabitable planet, the sense of dread is crippling. People with eco-anxiety might experience some sleep disturbances, nervousness, and stress.
Causes of Eco-Anxiety
Eco-anxiety is caused by observing environmental changes caused by climate change; these include more frequent heat waves, wildfires, droughts, and floods; there are also visible habitat changes for animal and plant life. The changes coincide with increased media and lead to a proliferation of catastrophic images in the collective imagination, causing deep fears.
Eco-anxiety - or solastalgia, is still a fairly recent phenomenon. It does not have a place in medical terminology yet, but psychologists around the world are noticing its effects. When fear and confusion are triggered by news of information about climate change or environmental destruction, you are experiencing eco-anxiety, which requires emotional resilience to manage.
Although solastalgia can be experienced in the short term, it is more likely to be a persistent long-term condition with elements of anxiety and depression - it can also be accompanied by other mental health issues. Solastalgia tends to affect people in different ways. Someone predisposed to the condition will experience more distress when they encounter climate news.
That said, there are some signs and symptoms that everyone with solastalgia will experience. There is likely to be anxiety and depression with accompanying thought patterns; despair, distress, and sleeping issues are also common. People with solastalgia might also experience anger - especially towards governments and industries. Emotional resilience is often needed.
Eco-anxiety doesn’t always require an official diagnosis; someone might be aware of their triggers and choose to practice mindfulness or attend an eco-anxiety workshop, but an official diagnosis can be made. A medical professional will look at the primary cause of the distress - media or climate changes in the local area - along with the medical history and symptoms.
Solastalgia is a form of anxiety and is treated in much the same way. What makes the condition slightly different from conventional anxiety is the lack of agency over the cause - it’s not possible to avoid the effects of climate change. A medical professional can prescribe medications for solastalgia, but it can also be treated with mindfulness, CBT, and online community resilience.
Eco-anxiety, solastalgia, climate anxiety: people of any age can be affected by the stark realities of the global situation. That said, children and young adults are very vulnerable groups when it comes to handling the difficult realities that they will have to confront in their futures.
Emotional resilience is crucial. We must not hide the realities of climate change from people; it is counter-productive. Instead, we need to face the scientific data that shows the planet is in crisis to free up the energy needed to process anxious feelings and create the best possible future.
The Importance of Having Future Conversations
The future starts today because the actions we take on a daily basis determine our future happiness and prosperity. This is true in all walks of life, including creating a sustainable planet for future generations. But if we don’t have the conversations, it will be impossible to adapt.
What are Future Conversations?
Have you ever been on a road trip with family or friends? Unless you have a direction in mind or an idea of where you’re going, you are likely to end up somewhere you didn’t intend; by the time you reach your destination, it might be too late. This analogy is also relevant to climate change.
“Future conversations” is a process of developing and implementing ideas about the future that help individuals and communities to create a roadmap for how they would like to live, relate, and work together in a low or zero-carbon world. The conversations also help bring people together.
Eco-anxiety can be crippling, but it can also be enabling. Future conversations replace future fears with future hopes, building resilience and creating a collective vision that can be pursued proactively. In the end, it is better to have a positive, proactive vision than no road map at all.
Nine Planetary Boundaries
Back in 2007, Johan Rockstrom, a director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, developed the nine planetary boundaries - these are limits that must be met to sustain modern life on the planet. The boundaries include climate change, biosphere integrity, and biochemical flows.
Credit: Azote for Stockholm Resilience Centre, based on analysis in Wang-Erlandsson et al. 2022 More information The “novel entities” planetary boundary encapsulates all toxic and long-lived substances that humans release into the environment — from heavy metals and radioactive waste to industrial chemicals and pesticides, even novel living organisms Biochemical Flows are Phosphorus and Nitrogen - essential for farming Biosphere integrity refers to species loss; e/msy = extinction per mammal species years - technical measurement of extinct rate
In January 2015, Rockstum stated that the planet had moved past four of the nine boundaries needed to maintain stability; as of 2022, it is thought to be six. But Rockstrom’s message is not a doomsday one; the planetary boundary system is an efficient way to gauge how well the world is adapting to a sustainable future. Current performance is poor, but systems exist to improve it.
Resilience and the Future
Bringing the planet back from the brink of disaster and onto a more steady and sustainable footing will require emotional resilience and future conversations. Through decades of inaction and business as usual, the planet has reached a point where the climate is changing very rapidly; species are going extinct, and ecosystems are being lost at increasingly alarming rates.
In order to navigate this perilous course through the 21st Century, governments, businesses, and individuals must recognise the realities of climate change and channel any fearful energy into positive action. Climate action takes place at all levels of society, from governments creating greener infrastructure to businesses using less energy and the everyday changes of individuals.
At one time, people and nature were inseparable, but then agriculture happened for better or for worse, and suddenly, nature was used as a means to an end. Through the centuries, there have been attempts to reconnect with nature - eg, the Romantic movement in the 18th century - but it is needed now more than ever. Connecting with nature and animals again can inspire our future.
When it comes to climate change, our minds ping-pong between positive outcomes and catastrophic consequences. We know that we want a sustainable, thriving planet to live on, but our human habits are not creating this future - it’s the opposite. A dystopian vision can offer a cautionary tale, but a utopian vision is powerful: it is a collective long-term vision for the future.
To continue our analogy, the house fire is upon us. There is black smoke billowing at the top of the staircase, and the walls are becoming hot to the touch, but there is still plenty we can do to save our home. Using the visions, technologies, and creativity of the collective, humans can find a way to collaborate with the planet, reduce consumption, and then build a progressive future.
What are the 5 main effects of climate change?
At present, we can notice at least 5 tangible effects of climate change; these include record temperatures, heatwaves and wildfires, hurricanes and flooding, sea levels and melting ice.
What will happen if climate change keeps going?
If we do nothing to stop climate change, the 5 main effects will worsen and become more extreme. We can also expect there to be food shortages, geopolitical conflict, and displacement.
What does it mean to have a Net Zero planet?
A Net Zero planet is one that is in balance; it means that human-produced carbon emissions are lessened to the point where they can be reabsorbed by the planet through trees, technology, and the ocean. It is not in the atmosphere.
On the global stage, people unite or stand up as individuals with the desire to create a just, sustainable and resilient world. On a societal level, market forces rather than the welfare of planet, people and other living beings are on the agenda and protected by legislation and regulations. The right to extract, process and consume resources - to keep the consumer wheels spinning - seems to run away with us. But people are standing up to demand a world outlined on the principles of nature, not economics.
A long chain of actions is at play. Apolitical has listed the 100 Most Influential People in Climate 2022/23 and there exist diverse groups and organisations such as Artists for Climate, Climate Action 4 Jobs, Families for Climate, Fridays for Future, Grandparents for Climate Action Now and Scientists for Climate.
In historical retrospect, persistent rebellion is a known tool to improve human existence, for example labour conditions and the abolition of slavery. In some parts of the world conditions have bettered, in others they have not, and there are activists whose limbs and lives are lost when fighting for a better world. This also happens when protecting nature. Over 1,700 environmental activists killed in decade, states a BBC article and refers to a report from Global Witness.
A sense of inadequacy and that I should be doing more, like the brave people who take up the fight against giant industries and governments, creeps into my comfortable home in my safe life. I remind myself that there are numerous other things to do. Since we all need to eat, people have tremendous power with the shopping basket. Supermarkets fill their shelves with demands and what they are used to selling. We have the power to change their habits with ours. Steering clear of meat, products with palm oil, and overly processed foods which have been on a long journey. Instead, aiming for plant based, locally, fresh, raw food. We also have power over other types of purchases: thinking hard about our travel choices and our non-food purchases.
With focused attention, as little it might seem, we can support what we wish to see grow out of the crisis. May everyday activism make gentle, insisting waves rippling out as broader efforts towards a caring world.
Text by Gazelle Buchholtz, Surefoot associate
The majority of businesses understand the need for carbon reduction and Net Zero efforts. But there is a difference between knowing you have something to do and putting an effective plan in place that will help you reach your targets and future-proof your business. Designing and implementing a Net Zero plan is not straightforward; it requires collaboration and creativity.
Assess Current Emissions
Today, businesses understand that reducing carbon emissions is a high priority, but that doesn’t make the process any simpler or faster. In order for the world to reach the UN's goal of Net Zero by 2050, carbon emissions need to be halved by 2030, so action needs to happen quickly.
While it would be nice for businesses to be able to access a convenient step-by-step guide to decarbonization, the journey to carbon zero is holistic and idiosyncratic. Businesses need to take account of their current carbon emissions, taking care of the low-hanging fruit first before turning their attention to long-term strategies that meet science-backed climate change targets.
Research Official Targets
It is a decisive decade for decarbonizing the planet and securing positive outcomes for the future; that’s why science-based targets are non-negotiable when implementing a carbon-neutral plan. With so much information available, how can businesses make decisions?
There are a number of science-backed climate tools available to help you understand the impact of your business on climate targets, but you can also create a viable assessment of your company with a Net Zero consultation that aims for quick wins followed by substantial changes.
Identify Areas for Change
After deciding to make your business Net Zero, you can make progress fast. Most businesses emit more carbon than necessary on a daily basis, so quick wins are possible. These initial changes include things like energy procurement, employee travel habits, and purchasing items.
Again, the journey to Net Zero for any business is by no means linear; in fact, the journey is more of a holistic effort to identify and address the areas of concern in the company infrastructure. For best results, you should work with a climate professional for 12 months.
Build a Long Term Strategy
In order to meet climate targets of reducing net carbon emissions by 50% by 2050, two things need to happen, huge volumes of carbon need to be extracted from the atmosphere, and reducing emissions from businesses and households. Start building a long-term strategy now.
A long-term Net Zero strategy should be effective in the short term and flexible enough to adapt to changes over time. A long-term strategy is thought to be the best way to meet climate targets; it involves a long-term vision, sustainable development, adaption elements, and sector changes.
Learn More About Net Zero
Implementing a Net Zero strategy is very important, but maintaining standards and relevance over time is equally important. A Net Zero strategy is not a set-and-forget situation, especially since the criteria are now changing annually following the COP Conferences. Stay up-to-date on climate change news and insights at The Surefoot Effect, and contact us to discuss your Net Zero strategy.
Here’s a collection of some of our articles which have been in our newsletters or published elsewhere.