Climate change should be the spurring, quickening time bomb that calls us all into collaborative action. Instead, it tends to foster a sort of hopeful expectance of others to act on our behalf.
When asking somebody’s opinion on climate change, you often hear “well someone else will sort it out for us” – a textbook case of ‘lack of autonomous thinking’ and a primary exhibit of ‘the sleep of responsibility’. What chaos would we live in if we gave such little effort to other responsibilities? Luckily, it’s just the destruction of the only inhabitable planet in our solar system that people lack responsibility for; at least we adhere to our ‘responsibility’ of consuming unnecessary, uninteresting, unsustainable products.
International committees and national governments can create laws, sign treaties, provide guidelines and invest in sustainable development. To a degree, this is progressive. The IPCC, UNFCCC, UNEP and more locally, DEFRA and DECC are all informative bodies that release important data and guidelines to help inform policy makers. But when we hear that fossil fuel companies are not paying the costs imposed by governments, for the burning of coal, oil and gas, or indeed that governments are still subsidising the exploration and use of fossil fuels; it becomes apparent that we – the ‘consumers’ – must act.
Fossil fuel companies benefitted from global subsidies of £3.4 trillion in 2015, more than the entire health spending of all the world’s governments. At the same time, we hear that Cameron has cut subsidies to households that want to install rooftop solar panels, just days after announcing a hasty move to a low-carbon energy future. On top of that, the renewables obligation subsidy scheme was also cut. Did you also hear that London reached its legal limit for air pollution, for the whole of 2016, in just seven days? And this is not wholly due to ignorant governance; it is mostly due to all the people driving their cars through London at the height of the morning rush hour. Although it is however, the responsibility of the government to quicken the introduction of alternatively-fuelled public transport, and to invest in cycle lanes. Regardless, the “well someone else will sort it out for us” isn’t looking so great now is it? The responsibility is with us, the consumers.
The changes in lifestyle and attitude that are required to mitigate climate change are vast. I believe climate change is mostly fuelled by our tendency to over-consume, and I rather doubt our ability as a species to conquer that urge. There is a strange motivation in all of us to acquire ‘stuff’, a motivation that warns us when something is no longer stylish or useful, a motivation that drives us to get rid of the old and bring in the new. It especially warns us about the consequences were we not to avail ourselves with lots of new ‘stuff’. We are all slaves to the psychological influence of advertising and peer pressure.
Unfortunately, with the acquirement of stuff and the demand for stuff, comes the production of stuff. And as we all know, the production and transportation of stuff requires natural resources. People will say, “It’s fine, I don’t eat meat” or “it’s fine, I don’t have a car”, but those people probably like apples, or bananas, or cotton T-shirts or plastic water bottles, or any of thousands of things produced somewhere else, shipped across oceans, and offered for sale where they live. All of these things are commodities we buy and consume on a daily basis. So even if you don’t eat meat, or you don’t drive a car, you are still part of a complicated global system of politics and economics organised around trade, and the environmental degradation and destruction associated with it. In other words, we are all implicated in the condition and fate of our good planet, through the system we call capitalism. But it’s not anybody’s fault particularly; we just need to learn to consume responsibly, and realise that the only reason there is such a vast supply of stuff, is because we create a great demand for it – that is why I say that we, the ‘consumers’, hold the power to partially mitigate the effects of climate change.
To overthrow or change a global system is not easy. I would instead propose that ‘sustainability’ is taught in primary schools, in secondary schools, as a compulsory module in universities and as a legal requirement within business. If we wish to escape our potential catastrophic fate, we need to educate others on what it means to live under this particular global system, and teach the younger generations to appreciate the larger, environmental implications of their everyday actions, so that they may pass on the message to their children, and so on and so forth. If we begin to and continue to do this, we may stand a chance of not reaching the 2oC threshold, and stand a chance of surviving as a species.
Borrowing from Dr Seuss’s ‘The Lorax’ – “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”