It's really not that complicated.

Carbon dioxide traps heat. When fossil fuels burn, it puts carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, where it tends to stick around for a while. This traps the heat of the sun. The world gets warmer, which affects the climate, which affects the weather. Which in Australia, means hotter drier summers, and more chance of catastrophic fires.

And now the country is on fire.

But, it is complicated. Why? Because our entire economic system – our entire society – is built on fossil fuel power and extractive industries that creates carbon dioxide. It’s essentially impossible to exist in this country and not use fossil fuels. And the most powerful people on earth – fossil fuel company executives, politicians, media moguls – have built their entire power structure on the existence of this industry and this economic system.

I turned 39 this year. The effects of carbon dioxide emissions on the climate have been known since before I was born. And – this is important – the people that caused this (not you!), they've known what to do to stop it for my entire life. They just chose not to.

And, my country, your country, our country continues to burn.

This time last year, Greta Thunberg said to the world “I don’t want you to be hopeful, I want you to panic [...] I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is.” And at long last, with these fires, the politicians in Australia do seem to be panicking, but they are panicking about the wrong thing. They are panicking about losing their jobs, their power, their own imagined influential futures. When the sheer scale of this disaster forced the prime minister of my country to accept that something needed to be done about climate change, his response, after years of slow-walking and denialism, was “resilience and adaptation”. Nothing to be done, better adapt to the ‘new normal’. Those in power have gone straight from ‘too early to act’, to ‘too late to act’ without missing a beat.

What this tells us is that those in power have no vision for a world in which they aren’t the most powerful, in which our systems aren’t extractive, in which personal gain and profit isn’t the only motive behind their actions. The people that have the most power to choose, that you vote for to choose on your behalf? They have chosen themselves and their position over the rest of us.

Or, as my colleague McKinley Valentine puts it, “climate change is not something that is ‘just happening’, it is something that is being done to you, by people with a lot of money and power who would rather see your country burn than lose a cent.”

Unless you are a fossil fuel executive, or a media magnate, or a politician, you don’t need to feel guilty or responsible for this situation. It’s not your fault. Every action counts, but, as in any system, the actions of some matter more than others. The focus needs to be on changing the system itself. Your reusable coffee cup and your solar panels won’t do it; the world needs to transition to a carbon-free economy as fast as possible. Remember: people made this system, and people can unmake it.

This time last year, I lamented the myopia of ‘human-centred design’ as a solution to the world’s problems, because of the way it fails to account for systemic effects. If any issue requires collective, community, and system-centred action to change, this is it, this is the one.

Yes, the country is on fire. Yes, it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better. But we still get to choose how much worse it gets. Vote, advocate, support those pushing for system change. Join groups doing this work, and help them in any way you can. Because we need to choose together. 

— Reuben Stanton & the PG Team

Illustration by Wendy Fox, Creative Lead

Read the rest of Issue #50 here.