Climate change: We must all do our bit, but don't let companies and governments gaslight you into thinking it's all on us – Piers Torday

The United Nations’ Cop26 conference is just over two months away, but climate change itself booked an early flight and got settled in nice and early.

From record shattering temperatures and fires in the Mediterranean, to floods in Germany and China, and the stark warnings of the recent IPCC report: global warming is no longer remotely a future threat but a clear and present danger to life.

That’s why this week, with more than 100 of my writer and illustrator colleagues, such as Cressida Cowell, Dara McAnulty and Abi Elphinstone, we wrote an open letter to our industry, publishing, demanding that they take sector-wide action to reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.

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We cannot reverse climate change, we can only limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius. To get us on track, countries and companies around the world are setting more ambitious targets. The UK aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 68 per cent by the end of the decade and reach net zero by 2050.

At the moment of writing this, more than 650 companies have set targets with the WWF and UN-backed Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), in line with the 1.5C trajectory. Some 110 companies are also participating in the Climate Pledge, aiming to reach the Paris Agreement goals 10 years early.

But we discovered that far too few of these companies were publishers.

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It cannot be right that we profit from addressing the climate crisis in our work whilst perpetuating it at the same time. Books about the dangers of plastic, wrapped in plastic, children’s books on the environment printed and shipped from China, books about the oceans sold with plastic toys which will end up in the very same oceans.

People trying a fire in the village of Villa, north-west of Athens, move back as smoke fills the air (Picture: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP via Getty Images)

Climate change does not care whether you run a petroleum company or publish picture books. It is coming for all of us, and across society, we all need to step up and play our part before it is too late.

This is not limited to blue chip companies. Every business – large and small – will have an environmental impact, which can be audited, analysed and mitigated. Individuals make choices which count, such as eating less meat, flying less, using less plastic and reducing our food and consumer waste – and every business and institution needs to make the same choices.

As a writer, I challenged my publisher Hachette to make my new book, The Wild Before, as sustainable as possible. It is a hardback with no sealant on the cover, which was a job for the printers to stop the colour running. There is no foil or sprayed edges, or plastic used in the packaging, and both paper and cover are recycled. It is about as biodegradable as a book gets.

These small changes do count and will add up.

A burnt house following a wildfire in the village of Kastri on Evia island in Greece (Picture: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP via Getty Images)
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But even if every single person reading this newspaper gave up meat and flying tomorrow, and bought an electric car, and recycled everything in sight – it would be but one drop in the ocean. While China, the US, India, Russia and Japan continue to pump billions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the global temperature will steadily climb towards 1.5C.

And after that, no one can really say with total confidence what will happen, or what tipping points might be reached, and what the effect of, say, the Arctic polar ice caps completely disappearing would be. But my money would be on nothing good.

Consumer lifestyle choices are not enough alone to avert this catastrophe. As Professor Myles Allen, a lead author of the IPCC report, once said, “The future of the planet cannot be entrusted to eight billion individual lifestyle choices. It’s just too important.”

We took the decision to call out our own publishers because we know they have the resources, technology and funds to make the structural change required. But without public pressure, there is no will to make some of the difficult choices involved.

Piers Torday's book The Wild Before was made in as sustainable a way as possible

That goes for all of us. Between the governments and multinationals of this world, we are overflowing with the human and financial capital to halt climate change in its tracks. But without the political will, the change involved is so fundamental, I fear it will be too little and too late.

The failure of international powers to successfully co-ordinate a fair global vaccine roll-out, and the apparent lack of dialogue over the shambolic withdrawal by Nato allies from Afghanistan does not fill me with confidence for future co-operation over this climate emergency, no matter what is agreed on paper at Cop26.

But we must not allow ourselves to be gaslit by governments and companies that a sustainable future is all on us. Yes, small actions count, from picking up litter to reducing our overall carbon footprint.

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But they have the power to bring about deep, meaningful, regulated, policy-driven change to how we all live our lives. Now is the time for us all to speak out, and hold our leaders and executives to account.

In The Wild Before, a brave little hare discovers that unless he can keep a rare, silver-coloured “Mooncalf” alive, something terrible will happen to him and all the animals that live in his valley. He cannot save her alone, and tries to persuade the other creatures of the farm and woodland to help him before it is too late.

That act of persuasion turns out to be the hardest heroic quest of all, and so it will be for us – but that is where the end of the climate change story begins, acting together for the greater good.

Piers Torday is the author of The Wild Before (Quercus Children’s Books, Hardback, £12.99)

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