First Steps To Net Zero

Guest blog from Alex Downes, Sustainability Lead at SLDC

It was December 2015; I was in my first year of University and amongst the heightened social hubbub, I was at that time in your life where you begin to be more inquisitive about things. So, when my home back in Kendal was hit by the monumental force of Storm Desmond (who names these?!), which flooded my family home, along with hundreds of other homes and businesses, I began to question; why? Why had a ‘once in a thousand year’ storm hit now? Did this have anything to do with what I’d been spoon-fed drips of information about during my school years; Climate Change?

The answer, we found out later, was yes. But more importantly, for me, and I would find later doing a dissertation on the relationship between flood risk perception and Climate Change perception, for others in Kendal too, it was a wake-up call.

As I delved through the literature, articles and reports on Climate Change to fully grasp this issue, I realised the truth; Climate Change is not another societal or political “issue” to be found on a list with the ageing population or inflation. It’s a worldwide, a species wide, wake-up call. A moment, underlined by floods, wildfires, heat waves and species extinctions, a moment where we have to come together to change.

So, I set about to be a part of that change, to ‘do my bit’. And 2 degrees, 2 Climate jobs, a lot of Climate Change reading and 7 years later, I ask myself ‘has anything changed?’ People, who know me, would be the first to say that I am a pessimistic person at times, and in a professional field or political ‘movement’ which is often home to enthusiastic and positive people – I stand out. Nevertheless, I honestly believe things have changed since 2015, since storm Desmond in the UK and in Kendal.

“The first step in solving a problem is to recognise that it does exist.”

We have taken that step, not just that Climate Change is real and manmade, but that we need to evolve as a society and a community to tackle this threat to our future.

In the UK we’ve legislated for Climate Change, we’ve voted for a Government with Net Zero targets and our youth have taken to the streets to shout loudly “There is no Planet B!” In Kendal, we’ve had a citizen’s jury which has sent a powerful message to our leaders and community, outlining what we want Kendal to look like the future.

It’s true that we’re not all in alignment as a society or a community on this, but we have to listen to the science. We have to consider the stark realities of what 2 or 3 degrees warming could look like in Kendal in 30 or 50 years. Constant fear of flooding in the winter, extreme heat in the summer, dried up green spaces, lack of local food due to droughts and a generation let down.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who questions why there are those who ignore these stark warnings? I like a quote from one of my favourite authors Kim Stanley Robinson’s recent Climate Change book:

“The dead hand of the past clutches us by way of living people who are too frightened to accept change”

This is always true in all times and ages but there has perhaps never been such a prescient warning than today. Our job, those who hear those warnings and are impassioned to act is to reduce that fright of change, to make change seem achievable, to show a new way forward and to talk about Climate Change, Ecological crisis and our linked societal issues of racial, gender and wealth inequality.

Net Zero for Kendal, for the UK may seem like a distant hope, a unreachable utopia but the only way we can find out for sure is to take the first step, to talk about it, to come together to take action, and the next step, on and on until we’ve created a sustainable community, a biodiverse environment and a place we can be proud to pass onto the next generation.

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