Why It’s So Hard For One Person To Change Anything


Monday, 8.36pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Life it is not just a series of calculations and a sum total of statistics, it’s about experience, it’s about participation, it is something more complex and more interesting than what is obvious. – Daniel Libeskind

I saw a post on LinkedIn today that quoted from the IPCC report “Climate change 2022: Impacts, adaptation and vulnerability” and highlighted the finding that 700 million people in Africa could be displaced by droughts by 2030.

That sounds like a problem – it sounds like you and I should be doing something about it.

I had a look at the IPCC report, which is subtitled “Summary for policymakers”. This summary runs to 3,676 pages. It has around 2.6 million words – five times the number I’ve written in the last five years. And they call this a “summary”!

I wrote a program some time back to pull out bigrams and trigrams from a text file. A bigram is two words, a trigram is three words. If we look for repeated bigrams and trigrams the selections we see are probably concepts that are important. I find that trigrams often describe larger concepts while bigrams elaborate on those concepts. Identifying these word patterns can give you an indication of what is important without having to read through all of the text.

The bigram that repeats the most in those 2.6 million words is, unsurprisingly, climate change. But rather than telling you about word counts, here’s what my code distilled from the text in 13 seconds.

Human induced climate change is causing increasing global warming. Higher global warming will lead to extreme weather events and climate related hazards, like vector borne diseases, and affect people that have climate sensitive livelihoods. The solution is climate resilient development, including ecosystem and community based adaptation, nature based solutions and advances in sustainable development.

What you notice when you look at this distillation is that these issues are much bigger than any one person. We are stuck within systems – tied in a web of restraints connected to the world in which we live and operate. Most individuals don’t have the power to dictate where their food is grown, how their clothes are made or what they buy in stores.

These decisions are made by managers – the people in charge. In government, of course, these are politicians. They are the ones with the power to change things and therefore the ones with the responsibility to change the system – and if they do that you can get on and do your part. You can’t buy zero carbon products unless the government makes them better value than high carbon alternatives.

The post I saw ends with a call to action – one that says we must put pressure on leaders to act. And that is the starting point – once the system is changed by those that have the power those of us that live in it will respond very quickly. And that’s the only way the impacts of climate change can be addressed.


Karthik Suresh

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