Mary Robinson: Commit to climate fight, then get angry with government and business


Former president of Ireland, Mary Robinson, has urged people to take three key steps to tackle climate change.

First is to “make climate change personal in your life and do something to change your own habits, reduce your own consumption.”

Then she said, “get angry and get active”

“Get angry with those that have more power – governments, but also businesses,” said Robinson, particularly those within fuel, agriculture and transport. Both corporations and governments, she said, “need that pressure”.

The third step, said Robinson, is to “get active and use your voice, get involved with advocacy groups: Action is the best antidote to climate anxiety.”

Old habits, new metrics required

Behaviour change is fundamental to decarbonisation and Robinson urged people to readopt old habits, such as mending clothes and buying locally produced food and generally “learning to consume much less.”

Governments and economies, she said, should reject GDP as the sole measure of success, and “stop subsidising fossil fuels … across the whole supply chain.

“We have entered a new reality where fossil companies are losing their legitimacy and social licence to operate,” said Robinson. “If governments are to maintain theirs, they must end [fossil] subsidies. Keep it in the ground and invest in clean resources and technologies.”

Hope and fear

Robinson was a keynote speaker at a green business conference organised by InnoEnergy. Taking questions, one delegate asked whether the stance taken by Greta Thunberg and the Extinction Rebellion movement is perhaps counterproductive, too binary for those that feel their life choices are being condemned.

Robinson answered that the existential threat of climate change must be clearly articulated, but that fear may also be tempered with hope.

“I salute her. Every day the news on climate change gets worse. This year the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii detected atmospheric CO2 levels at 415.226ppm. The last time CO2 was that high was 3 million years ago, when global sea levels were much higher,” said Robinson

“Time is of the essence. We need to mobilise. Greta is sixteen years old. She started [the movement] at fifteen. She sees Asperger’s as her strength, [a condition] which means she cannot nuance or change focus,” said Robinson, who remembers first seeing Thunberg as a lone figure with a sign and a backpack.

“She cannot be faulted for the way she has drawn attention to the subject. We need that urgency, but we also need hope and positivity that corporations [are starting to take climate change seriously] and that technology is emerging.”

Robinson added that climate change is a “man-made problem that requires a feminist solution”, a central theme of her Mothers of Invention podcast.

While the point was delivered lightly, Robinson meant it.

“Man-made” encompasses all genders, she said, and “a feminist solution includes men”.

Tackling climate change, said Robinson, requires “everyone’s involvement. We need a rapid but just transition.”

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