Climate change is manmade and so is the solution – Liberal Article
Climate change is the biggest risk faced by humanity. No one will escape the effects. Many will die and even more will be displaced. For some, however, the benefits of climate-changing activities will outweigh the personal costs.
It is those who benefit whose actions are most necessary to change.
The problem with climate change is no longer denial, but rather the fact that harm can not be monetised and blame is hard to assign. However, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t attribute responsibility, nor that costs can be avoided.
A ‘man’ made problem demands a ‘man’ made solution.
Typically, blame and thus costs of climate change have been attributed at the state level. However just because China is the greatest polluter does not make all its citizens guilty; you shouldn’t be blamed for the institutions you are born into. After all, China was only following America’s lead. Economic development is still important for human progress.
But polluters should pay. It is not acceptable that 100 companies have profited from causing 71% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Those polluting are those profiting.
In 1988, climate change was formally recognised as anthropogenic. Since then, actions have diverged from science and emissions have accelerated even faster than before. Hindering change is the fact that the main contributors are not the ones suffering the most, or in fact at all.
Profits in large businesses are so high, decision-makers are freed from accountability to any particular environment, able to move as they please. However, the majority of us are not this fortunate.
We are currently on course for a 4oC rise by the end of the century. To put this into context, in the US – a country relatively unharmed and able to cope with the consequences of climate change – over 9000 Americans have died from a 0.5oC increase. Additionally, the numbers from increasingly frequent natural disasters remain unquantifiable and continue to escalate.
What’s worse is that countries contributing the least to climate change face much greater costs whilst having much lesser ability to manage the consequences. The WHO estimates by 2030 an additional 250,000 deaths a year will be attributed to climate change. This is man-made murder.
It is not just intensified weather, but food shortages, disease outbreaks, and ultimately the destruction of our political, economic and social institutions. This is not all to come, this is happening now. We can no longer act like the world is not on fire if we are to leave a future for the following generations.
The period of accelerated emissions coincides with neoliberal hegemony. A period defined by deregulation, globalisation, and thus the expansion of capitalism. Profit being the primary motive of corporate activity has led to disregard for the negative externalities imposed on the environment.
For too long the situation was profit vs. planet, and of course, profit came first.
Over lockdown, as emissions dropped sharply as a result of business closures, it became undeniable that climate change is a product of our current means of economic growth. But this doesn’t have to be the case. We have the technology for change, just not the momentum.
As tipping points are being fast approached, government regulations and consumer demand are shifting the activities of businesses – those defining the nature of the global economic structure.
It is simply a matter of corrective justice for large corporations; those with the means and ability to bear the financial burdens of enacting change and shifting us all towards a green economy. Short term profits shouldn’t be being made when they contradict the long term interests of the global population.
This isn’t just a moral proposal. Climate change is a negative externality, a market failure. It’s only good economic practise to internalise the negative consequences emitted from corporate action. However, the perfect market does not exist, and that is where we, as consumers, play an important role.
Whilst the solution to climate change is fundamentally institutional, it is the rest of the population who have the incentive and need to demand change. We are not those benefiting from the profits resulting from the climate-changing activity.
Our power as consumers is within our shopping habits. We need to buy ethically within our means. Whilst the sustainable option can be more expensive, shifts in demand will make it competitive to care. Falling prices for sustainable goods will follow from changing demand.
Within the workplace, we should be demanding transparency and contributing to the conversation to go green. Businesses not complying to climate targets should be shamed. A good business model is no longer simply about the profit margin.
We should also be voting according to what government would impose the best environmental standards on businesses. Needless to say, this won’t be the conservatives.
Standing by and accepting the short term profits which conflict with human rights is not an option. At some point, there will be no profit to be made.
We live on a finite planet and that is the one thing beyond our control. The environment is being forced to adapt to business needs and consequently it is being destroyed.
We can all continue to recycle and say no to plastic straws, but this will do very little without the cooperation of those choosing to consume the environment in the production of their profits. Corporate action needs to be the focus of change.
Written by Senior Liberal Writer, Abby Milnes
Point of Information
Individual efforts aren’t enough, we need systemic change – A Labour Response
Thank you, Abby! Climate change is the greatest threat humanity has ever faced, and, as Abby says, we are not doing enough to combat it. Climate scientists estimate that we have only 60 harvests left; they predict an ‘insectageddon’ and that we are facing the earth’s sixth mass extinction. Life as we know it cannot continue. Life as we know won’t exist soon.
Neoliberalism’s emphasis on individualism cons consumers into believing they are responsible and can combat it by refusing single-use plastic, being a vegetarian, and driving less. The reality is that plastic straws only make up 0.03% of the plastic waste, whereas – as Abby said – only 100 companies are responsible for 71% of carbon emissions. Individual lifestyle changes are just not enough.
Yes, we all individually need to take responsibility for our consumption, but we also need to readjust our systemic values. Continuous growth, a concept which neoliberal capitalism depends upon, is incompatible with the finite resources of the earth. We need to re-evaluate our ethics, priorities, and values; we need to uproot the entire foundation of our society.
The thing is, voting has proven to be pretty ineffective; neoliberal democracies are fundamentally incompatible with fighting an existential problem. The democratic cycle of having elections every five or so years means that politicians have no incentive to achieve long-term goals. This makes it difficult to hold our governments to account.
Furthermore, humans have psychological barriers of loss aversion and threat assessment that make prioritising climate change really difficult. As a result, most people are more concerned with taxes, the economy, and short-term issues when entering the voting booth.
That’s why, whilst bottom-up boycotting and protests would be great, we need a revolution. We have been given an incredibly short timeframe in which to work to prevent climate change from being irreversible.
In this short time, it is not realistic to expect all consumers to forfeit their comforts and change their habits radically enough to save the planet. Therefore, we must implement stringent legislation and institutionalise a new global system – one that does not prioritise profit over planet.
We could rely on the hopes of geoengineering, but won’t this just delay the inevitable? The climate crisis is a direct result of our consumption habits, this is the source of our problem and so it is the thing that needs treating.
Realistically, changing the entire developed world’s shopping habits within a decade will not happen. Voting with our money is a good way forward if every single person mobilised, could afford organic and sustainable products, avoided red meat, and didn’t get decision fatigue. We would be living in a utopia.
But, let’s be real. We are all inherently selfish to a degree. That’s how we got here in the first place. ExxonMobil has known about the dangers of climate change and how their company directly contributed since 1968. What have they done? Nothing.
As Abby alluded to, climate injustice is intrinsically tied to climate change. Those who contribute the most to climate change are the least vulnerable to its dangers, whilst those who live as we should be are the ones suffering today.
Attempts at such a global system such as Kyoto or the Paris Agreement have failed monumentally to adequately addressing climate injustice, mainly because developed countries aren’t willing to pull their weight. The 2oC target was a monumental failure to protect the Global South. It was an acknowledgement that the Western world is willing and eager to sacrifice black and brown nations for profit and comfort.
Arguably, no agreement within the context of our current neoliberal world order will ever be fair or generous. It’s an order that not only enables but encourages egregious inequality.
So, we may as well eat the rich while we still can, we’re gonna need full bellies to survive the oncoming famine.
Written by Senior Labour Writer, Abi Smuts
The consumer does not rule, the market does … even environmentally – A Conservative Response
I think Abby has written a great piece here. Climate change is one of the biggest threats to humanity. More must be done. Man has created this issue and man must solve it.
On the other hand, however, consumers will have very little impact. She claims that we as purchasers can place pressure on corporations and affect change. This can be true but often has little to no effect, enacting only small concessions from the companies.
Sadly, the environment must at the end of the day boil down to economics. The theory of economic man states all humans are rational self-interested individuals, seeking to maximise their utility. Basically, we are all selfish and want to get as much as we can.
Several economic theories, including neoclassical economics, think that free markets will autocorrect to any issues or opportunities. Supply and demand ensure they always will. Government intervention will only create issues in any market and possibly slow down transformations.
Corporations have already started to understand and see that more utility can be gained by going green. Panasonic, IBM and Unilever along with more, have all already started this process. Demand will only increase for green products. As Abby says, inputs will become cheaper as natural resources become limited and thus prices increase. Corporations will see this opportunity. A new avenue by which to make money and adopt it.
Much can be done in the wider political and social landscape to reduce climate change; however, I am a firm believer that corporations and markets should be left alone and allowed to self-correct as they always have and always will.
They will adjust in a way that is beneficial for the environment because this is beneficial for the economic man.
Written by Guest Conservative Writer, Thomas Fuller