Earth Day 2022: The shifts we need to mobilize

If we are to keep celebrating our planet, these are the shifts we need to mobilize now.

It is now entirely certain that every day must be Earth Day. Our collective challenges are steepening as each tenth of a degree of warming Locks in new, more catastrophic ecological consequences. We have been reflecting internally about what more we can do as a society if we are to cohabit on a livable planet. This is our context and the shifts we want to see so that we don’t lose hope. 

 By Matt Mitchell, Otso Sillanaukee, and Angeliki Vourdaki


This year’s Earth Day is different from the rest. The IPCC ( Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ) is completing its Sixth Assessment Report, which has shared the most sophisticated knowledge and understanding of the science related to climate change ever. This round of reports, with over 10,500 pages in total, articulates with Precision that the opportunity to stave off the direst ecological, social, and economic consequences of climate change still exists, but that profound, urgent, and collective action is required now . In the absence of these actions, the science has spoken: the future looks bleak. 


With everything we already know, we refuse to live in a bleak future. As active members of the global community that has been pushing towards transformative Responses to the climate crisis for over a decade, we now turn the page . We are beyond ringing the alarm. The world is already Burning. Today we try to make sense of what we already know and what we have yet to try. Through our ongoing work and internal reflections, we have found that there are reasons to hope. Hope, however, is not a strategy. Our source of hope is in the practice of reimagining our future and in all the things we have yet to try. 


This year’s Earth Day is different from the rest if we collectively make it so.


This is what we know


The IPCC reports have circulated in numbers , press conferences , summaries , and sense-making coverage . In this way, they have been instrumental in legitimizing civil society’s concerns. Through collecting and synthesizing the available data and information, they have provided empirical support that is, for the lack of a better word, inescapable. The most defining hypotheses that now the IPCC reports have Cemented with evidence are as follows:  


The impacts of current over +1 degree Celsius of warming are more consequential than previously projected. They are expected to Worsen with each tenth of a degree. Parts of our planet are already beyond adaptation (Working Group I-II). 


Human and natural systems are irrefutably interlinked and impacted by global warming. Historic and ongoing economic and social conditions cause and are changed by ecological disruptions and degradation (WGII). 


Limiting global warming requires Addressing questions of equity. Climate targets cannot be reached without simultaneously centering on social and economic inequality. Acknowledging how past and ongoing governance, including colonialism, has contributed to the continuing exploitation of human and ecological resources in Vital (WGII). 


The trend of global emissions has been and is still growing. Limiting the warming to 1.5 degrees means stopping the growth of global greenhouse gas emissions immediately . While the window for reaching the 1.5 degree target is closing rapidly, we still have opportunities to make surpassing the limit a transient period while preparing for the potentially irreversible changes caused by crossing this threshold (WGIII).


Individual actions of citizens matter – not just Economics and technology. Everyone is needed. We are beyond the structural VS. individual debate. We only stand a chance of a livable planet if we radically leverage and address both our structures and the individual action they support and encourage (WGIII).


These are inescapable Realities of the unequal and exploitative world we have created . But they also show something more: they pinpoint the Actors that play a role on this global stage. As a result of both Incredible action and loud inaction, today, we: (a) have a better understanding of what is needed to re-Orient ourselves towards a livable and flourishing future and (b) know who needs to be driving that change. 


But, if COP26 taught us anything, it is that we are still not making the necessary shifts that enable action – let alone affecting profound change.

The shift we want to see


Within our community, we have felt a deep sense of responsibility to push and see a change in how the world responds to the climate crisis. Thus, we collected these seminal points from the IPCC reports and reflected on why they have not been (yet) enough to push for Meaningful action. This is where we have Landed. These are the necessary shifts that we have to see – merely to be able to imagine rapid and effective collective action toward a livable future. 


1. Taking accountability


Behaving in a manner that reflects an understanding of the situation . The IPCC, and the Scientists adjacent to it, have shown immense courage and accountability in ringing the alarm for our future on this planet. Citizens have been making lifestyle changes. But this is not enough. As IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee put it : “There are policies, regulations and market instruments that are proving effective. If these are scaled up and applied more widely and equitably, they can support deep emissions reductions.” Governance is the missing link between individual empowerment, coherent Transformations, Meaningful policies, and action of sufficient scale to tackle the climate crisis. We will Empower accountable governance in the years to come — and we have some hypotheses for how this happens .


2. Heeding the call for urgency


We don’t mean Panic, but we do mean acting today and with intention. Mitigating and adapting to climate change requires us to prioritize significant investments, moving us away from fossil fuels today without forgetting the longer-term development of a just future. We can no longer afford to attach ourselves to false horizons of 2030 or 2050 without annual objectives with clear and enforceable accountabilities. Anticipatory governance models , for example, can become incentive mechanisms to act with urgency on long-term issues. Adding to this complexity, much of our current paradigm has been based on the Assumption that fast is good: now, we need to urgently enforce diligence .  


3. Making equity a cornerstone of our era


Bringing equity into the center of our global climate response is essential if we wish to secure a liveable future for all. Issues such as migration, gender inequality, energy, and vulnerability have deep dependencies on equity. Our global climate response must be aware of our history: colonialism, extraction, and neoliberalism have embedded certain perceptions of how we should or can respond to emergencies. We must cultivate trust through relationships that span borders and boundaries — legal and cultural. This is how we learn from the inequity that has pervaded our collective response to the pandemic.


4. Stop addressing the climate crisis as a “topic” 


The climate crisis is systemic. It is the landscape presenting the conditions that inform all our work and our sense of urgency and priorities. It is a framework for determining what actions, practices, and policies match our planetary challenges. All other news and ideas are evolving against this backdrop. Because this background is a system-wide set of interconnected challenges, there is no linear, straightforward predictability — and it definitely cannot be addressed by silos. Reaching climate ‘targets’ cannot be about aspiration, ambition, or incoherent policies, as though there is a choice, but rather about reaching and preserving livability — today and in the future.


5. Humility must become a guiding principle 


We need to be rigorous about practicing humility. We have to accept that we don’t know. In the face of systemic climate challenges, this means being proactive in learning and experimenting. Understanding and embracing that we cannot know what our future will look like means we need to cultivate space for a diversity of voices. Learning from and sharing the latest science, indigenous wisdom, and the lived experiences of marginalized communities will open opportunities for collaborative and society-wide efforts needed for societal transformation. 


We have to be able to imagine beyond net-zero: Sustainability VS Livability


2030, 1.5 degrees. These are signposts on the road, not the end of the journey. They are proxies for specific conditions of livability. The requirements are changing all the time, and our behaviors are changing those. Our collective human story is not about the transition to something else but how we live today, tomorrow and how we can contribute to and influence change — in a myriad of ways, ancient and yet-to-be imagined. This is no time for despair. That very notion implies certainty of outcome. In our world of discontinuity and crises, certainty does not exist; what does exist, however, are opportunities for beautiful, bold imaginings. We must create and inhabit this livability and let go of exploitative and extractive ways of being to emerge anew.


Our reflections


Over the past year, the Demos Helsinki community has undergone several noteworthy changes, including a revitalization of our organizational structure and a reckoning with our sense of accountability in these essential societal transformations. To call this time unprecedented sounds cliché, and in some sense, it is. After all, we are always heading towards the unknown together.


We have been pushing towards our mission to create a fair, sustainable, and joyful next era for 15 years, growing from just 2 humans in Helsinki to now a community of 40+ from around the world. With that, once-in-a-century wildfires in Greece and Canada, record-setting cold in France, deadly flooding in Brazil, and food insecurity in Malaysia have hit closer to home. We understand that we need to do more; and faster


Ironically, it is both a privilege and a curse that this is our job. Believing that you can change the world has never been more naive, but it’s also never been more essential. 


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Feature Image: From Matt Mitchell’s personal Archive – our colleague and avid nature photographer