Systemic Change is Needed to Tackle Climate Change

This is the introduction to a series of articles about the systemic actions needed to address climate change. This piece lays out the case for focusing on the big picture rather than being caught in a cycle of focusing on individual actions.

Climate change will be the defining issue of the twenty-first century. As a planet, we are in a position where we can choose to sink or swim, to tackle the emergency of our own making or ignore it and allow things to worsen. To prevent catastrophic climate breakdown, environmental concerns need to be woven throughout all policy areas. There is no one solution to the climate crisis, there is no one policy that is more important than others on this subject. This is an introduction to the importance of the subject, and subsequent pieces will explore certain policy suggestions and initiatives in more detail.

It has become fashionable for large corporations to promote their ‘green’ initiatives, while encouraging consumers to recycle and be responsible citizens. Then, these same corporations ship your online order in five bundles of excessive wrapping at different times of the same day and blame you for the fact that your local council cannot recycle a rare type of plastic bent in a thousand angles.

Corporations boasting about their environmental initiatives while continuing destructive business as usual is called greenwashing, and is becoming more common across the globe. Oil companies will boast about planting a million trees, while they continue to ask governments for exploratory licenses to find yet more fossil fuels to burn and emit greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere. Their advertising teams work hard to make the companies look good, when really, they’re continuing to lead us to our destruction.

Governments are getting in on the act too. Poster campaigns encourage people to eat less meat, recycle more and shop local pop up every so often, placing the onus on ordinary people to make changes. Yet this ignores two simple, undeniable facts. First, merely 100 companies are responsible for 71% of greenhouse gas emissions. Second, many of these suggested personal changes are extremely expensive in our current system and are impossible for people on low incomes.

By telling people that individual change can stop a climate catastrophe, governments and corporations are telling a lie that could endanger the future of our whole planet. Even if every person went vegan tomorrow, the polluting industries would continue to pump their greenhouse gases into the air, heating our planet and leading us ever more quickly down the road to our own ends. Those who push the message of total individual responsibility are denying their own role in the systematic exploitation of our planet.

In order to tackle climate change and mitigate the damage already done, we need to examine and change our society’s priorities. Infinite economic growth is not possible on a planet with finite resources, and that’s the first truth we need to understand. We cannot keep growing our economies indefinitely as eventually we will use up all the resources we have, and then we’ll really be in trouble. For people who grew up in capitalist societies where all growth is always seen as desirable, this is a difficult idea to process.

When we look for solutions to the climate crisis, we need to make sure that we are including everyone. Disabled people, women and those in the Global South will be most affected by worsening climate breakdown, so these groups need to be at the forefront of discussions around actions we can take. Solutions that only work for the privileged are not solutions, so when we discuss climate change, we need to remember to include discussions of social justice. These things are linked, and such discussions are often referred to as discussions around climate justice.

We cannot rely on new, untested technologies to solve all our problems for us. Ideas such as carbon capture are still on their drawing boards, and we need to look at options that are proven to work. Betting our future on things not yet invented is a risky venture indeed. Nature-based solutions also have their place in tackling climate change, but yet again we cannot rely on nature to solve our problems, especially as we have been continually destroying it throughout our short time on this planet. We need to look at cutting emissions immediately, and as much as possible.

 Humans are a wonderfully innovative species, but we are also a species that tends to think that we are untouchable. Climate change is proof we are not. Natural disasters still kill hundreds every year, and as climate breakdown worsens, this number will only increase as they become more frequent. We are currently living through a human-caused mass extinction period. We, as humans, have used more of the resources of our planet than we safely could. And we, as humans, have a responsibility to solve the problems we have caused.