17 lessons I learnt from reading There Is No Planet B by Mike Berners-Lee

“There is no Planet B” is a famous quote from Stephen Hawking. But it’s also the name of a great environmental handbook written by Mike Berners-Lee. It’s a great read if you’re interested in finding out exactly how we can stop catastrophic climate change. 

It’s also full of tangible action steps that individuals, politicians and business-owners can take to do their part. Here are the 17 key lessons I learnt from reading There Is No Planet B by Mike Berners-Lee.

1. The key ideas every politician owner NEEDS to know and act on 

  1. Science shows we cannot allow a global temperature rise of more than 1.5℃ if we want to continue with life as we know it. 
  2. This temperature rise is dependent on how much carbon we choose to emit. 
  3. CO2 emissions have risen exponentially for the last 160 years and we haven’t yet dented the curve.  
  4. We’re quickly running out of our carbon budget for 1.5℃.
  5. It takes a long time to put the breaks on global warming and there’s likely a point where we won’t be able to. 
  6. Fossil fuels MUST stay in the ground.
  7. A technology invention or efficiency improvement alone will not solve the climate crisis in time. 
  8. Only growing renewables will also not solve the climate crisis in time.
  9. We need a working global agreement to keep fossil fuels in the ground.
  10. We need to manage other greenhouse gases too.
  11. Using fossil fuels needs to become too expensive or illegal.
  12. We need to find a way to take emitted carbon back out of the atmosphere.  

Perhaps most importantly, politicians must understand that there is no Planet B and do everything in their power to preserve Planet A.

ACTION STEPS
  • Don’t vote for anyone who isn’t committed to these points.
  • If your current government representative isn’t clear on their stance, email or write to them to ask them to clarify. 
  • If your local representative doesn’t support these points, campaign and vote for someone who does.

2. What you choose to put on your plate has a huge environmental impact 

Food is responsible for nearly a quarter of all global emissions, coming in at 23%. This ranges from the food waste rotting in landfill producing methane, deforestation to farm animals and the carbon emissions created by rice paddy fields. 

It’s no secret that meat and dairy are generally terrible for the environment, especially in the large quantities they are consumed. Our collective lust for cheap beef is leading to the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, also known as the lungs of the earth… 

About half of the world’s fish are caught through industrialised trawling or are farmed. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification may be flawed considering it’s a “for-profit” organisation that can make a great deal of money by certifying a large fishery. 

ACTION STEPS
  • You don’t have to go vegan, but cutting your meat and dairy intake will make a huge difference. 
  • Ask questions about where your food comes from. If you don’t want to give up meat and dairy, find transparent supply chains or a local butcher who knows where your meat is coming from. 
  • Don’t buy fish believing it’s ethically-sourced just because it’s MSC-certified. Look for small-scale hand-caught fish markets where you can ask questions about the fish you’re going buy.

3. STOP WASTING FOOD

Cutting food waste in half would add an extra 20% to the world food supply. Much of this is due to harvest and storage waste. Over half of all food waste takes place in Asia, where a big chunk occurs in storage. As much as 20% of global food waste is seen at the consumer level, the majority of which occurs in Europe and the Americas. 

ACTION STEPS
  • Eat what you buy and don’t buy what you won’t eat.
  • Don’t send scraps or wasted food to landfill – compost it.
  • Reduce human-edible food being grown to feed animals by choosing to eat that human-edible food instead.

4. The human race has an inherent lust for more energy (and it’s ruining the planet) 

Energy in numbers: 

  • Since the 1800s, global energy consumption has risen exponentially
  • 2.4% is the annual growth in energy use 
  • 3-fold is the increase in energy we use now than we did just 50 years ago
  • 83% of global energy comes from fossil fuels 
  • 38% of energy is used for transporting people and things. 

Any improvements we’ve made in efficiency or discoveries of new fuel sources (including renewables) has led to an increase in overall energy use. This exponential growth is unsustainable and humans need to learn to appreciate what we have when it comes to energy, rather than seeking more at the expense of our planet. 

ACTION STEPS
  • Save energy around your home and encourage others to do the same. 
  • Follow this guide on reducing vampire energy usage around your home, which often equates to as much as 10% of the average bill.
  • Get better at enjoying things that don’t require electricity e.g. hiking, books, socialising, hobbies and local holidays.  

5. The future is solar

Solar panels covering 0.1% of the total land surface could meet today’s energy needs. But if the exponential growth of energy usage continues, we would need solar panels to cover every centimetre of landmass to meet needs in just three centuries. All viable options require us to lower annual energy demand growth. 

Australia is the sunniest country in the world, followed by Russia, China, Brazil and the USA. Wind energy is a good back up for less-sunny countries but doesn’t provide near the amount of energy solar can. 

When the sun isn’t shining, we can:

  1. Store energy for when the sun isn’t out
  2. Supply energy from other sources
  3. Make energy demand match the sunlight 
  4. Transmit power around the world, because the sun’s always shining somewhere. 
ACTION STEPS
  • If you live in a sunny place, install solar panels on your home – or at least begin saving so you can afford to do so.
  • Write to your local government representative to ask them what they’re doing or planning to do to increase renewable energy use in your area. 


6. Biofuel is a little bit bonkers 

The wheat required to feed a human for one day would only get a medium car about 2kms (1.1 miles). However, the land needed to grow crops for biofuel would be much better used for capturing solar power or growing food. Algae may be an option with lots of R&D, but that’s a long way off. 

We’ve also got enough environmental problems from over-farming, poor topsoil quality and desertification. A rise in biofuel demand would likely exacerbate this.

Also, biofuel demand in wealthier countries could potentially make crops too expensive for locals in developing nations. Possibilities for using food waste to create biofuels could be promising, but apart from that, biofuel is likely to be one small piece of the puzzle of breaking our collective oil addiction. 

ACTION STEPS
  • Avoid biofuels where possible, especially if you’re unsure of their supply chain.

7. Diesel is the devil

Diesel cars produce far more nitrogen dioxide and microscopic particles than their petrol equivalents. These are products which cause fatal air pollution, especially when driven in urban areas. If you drive a diesel car, there’s a very high chance these toxic particles are leaving your car exhaust and going into the lungs of someone nearby. The carbon reduction benefits of diesel are also minimal when compared to petrol. 

ACTION STEPS
  • If you own a diesel car, stop driving it as soon as you possibly can, especially in urban areas. 

8. We need to fly less. Much less 

It’s no secret that aviation is a highly polluting industry and a single flight has a massive carbon footprint. In terms of making planes greener, biofuel looks to be the best solution. However, this fuel source is riddled with problems. The simplest solution is to limit flying as much as possible. Alternatively, sea freight is 30x more efficient than air, although it takes much longer. 

ACTION STEPS
  • Limit overseas holidays and travel mindfully. Seeing the world is a great way to develop global empathy, sitting by the same resort pool every year is not. 
  • Fly economy, pack light and avoid single-use plastic in-flight 
  • When buying things from overseas, be patient where possible and select the longest delivery time to ensure you’re avoiding air freight 

9. GDP is outdated 

Growth domestic product is an irrelevant metric to measure progress. Environmental destruction, worker exploitation, rampant inequality and soaring crime rates are not reflected well enough in GDP.

In fact, we can completely trash Planet A while having a stellar GDP. This metric doesn’t take into account that there is no Planet B.

Bobby Kennedy summed it up perfectly in a 1968 election rally speech: 

“Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.
It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.

Metrics that are more important than GDP:

  • Carbon emissions
  • Air pollutions levels
  • Individual wellbeing 
  • Human health 
  • Biodiversity 
  • Life expectancy 
  • Material extractions

Don’t forget to pin this reading summary for later:

There Is No Planet B by Mike Berners-Lee

Learn to live a more sustainable lifestyle, fight global warming and focus on zero waste living with my summary on the climate change handbook.

10. The trickledown effect isn’t real 

The trickledown effect suggests that when the rich get richer, some of this seeps down to poorer people and it’s a win-win. More and more evidence shows that this doesn’t work. In this type of system, relative wealth determines what someone can buy in a free market. As the rich get richer, the buying power of a poorer person is diminished. 

Inequality has risen in most places in the 21st century, except for Northern Europe. Half of the world’s wealth is in the hands of 1% of the population while the poorest 70% have only 2.7%. The USA has 138x more wealth than Africa, but the average Italian has double the amount of wealth than the average American. 

To look at wealth distribution scientifically, the Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution theory states that while atoms might not have the same energy, you rarely see an atom with more than 20x the average energy of the others. If we used this measure when it comes to wealth distribution, if the lowest paid person in a society earns $10/hour, the highest-paid could earn up to $200/hour depending on job choice, hard work and skill set. 

ACTIONS STEPS
  • Don’t vote for politicians who want to cut taxes for wealthy people and big businesses.
  • If you’re an employer, don’t earn more than 20x your lowest-paid employee. 
  • Don’t be greedy just because you live in a society that allows it. 

11. Divest your money to stop supporting fossil fuel companies 

Banks are some of the biggest investors and lenders in the fossil fuel sector. If your pension, superannuation or term deposit is invested in these banks or industries, your money is likely exacerbating the climate crisis. Fortunately, ethical investment portfolios are on the rise and consumers have a lot of choices when it comes to what they want to do with their money. 

ACTION STEPS: 
  • Research if your bank/s invests in the fossil fuel sector. If they do, contact them to ask if they are planning to stop investing in fossil fuels. If there is no clear date in place, switch to another bank that does not support fossil fuels. 
  • Research where your pension or superannuation money is being invested. If it’s supporting environmental destruction, find out how to switch. You might not have a choice in the matter; if this is the case, be vocal about this with your employer and demand change. 
  • If you’re taking out a mortgage and paying obscene amounts of interest to a bank, buy only what you need. A cosy, sustainable urban home is a better choice than a sprawling suburban house that requires a long commute. 

12. Vote with your dollars

Every dollar (pound, euro, yen etc) you spend is an investment in one kind of future or another. Every decision supports one supply chain and rejects another. Demand more from businesses and speak up about shady practices.

Most importantly, ask questions and understand supply chains. Find out where the things you’re buying come from and be vocal if you don’t like what you find. 

ACTION STEPS:

  • Shop small, shop local, shop ethically, shop sustainably.  
  • Buy less and consume consciously. 
  • Remind yourself that there is no Planet B before every purchase.

13. This is what we need to do about population 

A billion reckless people can easily ruin the planet while 15 billion sustainable lifestyles could be just fine. Individual carbon footprints matter more than population, especially as a few hundred Malawians have the same carbon footprint as the average American or European. A baby in a wealthy country puts more strain on the planet than a baby in the developing world.

Here’s what you can do to help with population:

  • Don’t cause a baby to be born unless you really want to look after it 
  • Don’t encourage, pressure or force anyone else to do so 
  • Make it easy for others not to have a baby unless they really want them 
  • Push for support and investment in the world’s poorest people, especially:
    • Education, particularly for women 
    • Information and access to contraception 

14. Businesses that only care about profits are out

It’s now completely unhelpful to have a business or organisation that exists primarily to make profits. Good organisations provide useful jobs, fulfilling work and enable an appropriate distribution of wealth. Businesses need a positive vision for the world they’re pushing for and a plan for how they’re going to bring that about. There are no profits on a dead planet and there is no Planet B.

ACTION STEPS
  • If you work for a business that only exists to make profits, start planning your escape.
  • Consider starting your own sustainable business that can provide people with essential goods or services in a more ethical way.
  • Follow this guide on how to make your office or workspace more sustainable.

15. Change needs to come from business, not just governments 

Businesses (and their customers!) don’t have to sit around and wait for governments to come up with a plan to limit catastrophic climate change. Numerous global businesses are striving for carbon neutrality whether their government’s are taking enough action to reach the Paris Agreement agreement targets or not. Businesses can act on the fact that there is no Planet B, even if their governments choose not to.

Here are three stands to an environmental business strategy:

  1. Improving a company’s own environmental impact
  2. Enabling others to improve their impact 
  3. Pushing for and supporting global arrangements to limit climate change and restrict fossil fuel use.

16. Neoliberalism has left us with shitty values 

Research shows intrinsic values will make the world a better place. Meanwhile, if we want the human species to survive (!), we need to learn to be respectful, truthful and kind while focusing on communal and global progress. These are called extrinsic values. 

However, many societies have seen the rise of neoliberalism and free-market thinking, a system which rewards intrinsic values such as individual gain, material wealth and a focus on money above all else. That’s why GDP is the standard metric for assessing how things are going. While it’s important to take individual action against climate change and environmental destruction, it’s necessary to step back and think how the system is affecting everyone, not just life in your bubble. 

ACTION STEPS
  • Find other motivations in life than money.
  • Consume everything critically and mindfully and teach children to do the same. 
  • Have experiences that will allow you to come into contact with all sorts of people to understand the world outside your bubble.

17. The thinking skills we need to solve 21st-century problems 

Because there is no Planet B, here are the types of thinking we collectively need to improve:

  1. Big picture perspective – our problems are global and won’t be solved by worrying only about ourselves.
  2. Global empathy – nationalism will not solve global problems such as the climate crisis.
  3. Future thinking – elect representatives who think beyond the four-year election cycle.
  4. Appreciation of simple, small and local – slow down and be content with the people and things around you.
  5. Self-reflection – Ask not what your planet can do for you, but what you can do for your planet. 
  6. Critical thinking – Research, find trusted information sources and DON’T believe everything you read on the internet.
  7. Joined-up perspective – we need scientists, artists, tech wizards, psychologists, manual workers and more to work together to solve problems. 

There you have it, my key takeaways from reading There Is No Planet B by Mike Berners-Lee. This post is in no way sponsored or associated with Mike Berners-Lee and his work. Rather, it’s a more polished version of the notes that I took while reading this great environmental handbook. And remember, there is no Planet B.

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