Updated: Jul 6
Saving the planet is such an audacious phrase since we do everything but practically commit to saving the planet, not like we are doing a great job in saving ourselves and then I wonder, how do we save the planet when we are yet to fully commit to saving each other? One would preach a sustainable lifestyle on one side but then the more you dig, it becomes clear that the climate-friendly tag does not fully fit the claim. As I read different summaries of the 2022 IPCC Climate Change Mitigation Report one discovery was that nothing much has changed over the years. These publications like thousands tell us the same things about what we already know reinforcing the lack or slow pace of acting. We are doing everything else but taking practical steps in large numbers.
We already know the global concentration of Green House Gases (GHG) continues to rise, the planetary boundaries, the menace of fossil fuel, the biggest culprit still lingers and of course and we should embrace a low carbon lifestyle to aid carbon removal from the atmosphere. We already know these things because there is enough knowledge about climate change in different forms globally, even in the most remote places, and efforts to educate others about climate change exist. If GHG emissions are supposed to peak in the next three years to keep the world in the race for the 2.7 degrees F target according to the famous Paris Agreement, which I doubt the feasibility, of considering how complex humanity is, what else can we do? What are the tiny things we should be doing at the very least?
THE CYCLE OF A SINGLE EVENT
The idea of cutting down Carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere comes with grand invention approaches. The need to have these SDGish international launches with celebrities, heads of governments, captains of industries and popular activists grace these occasions with all the media razzmatazz and of course, the paparazzi overshadows the tiny everyday choices we should be amplifying. While good money is spent on launching these grand inventions, doing groundbreaking research, attend these “rinse and repeat” conferences, the details of the build-up to these events and the aftermath are probably counterproductive to the overall end goal of climate change mitigation. Questions on who makes the cut for these big research groups or source of funding have complicated answers. The gimmicks about who eventually gets to travel across the Ocean to represent their countries, and organizations in these international events, particularly in poor countries where attendance is dependent on extreme lobbying and available funding are often overlooked.
Then we have questionable backgrounds of many activists and NGOs who are mixed up with the same systemic corruption plaguing many governments relating to money (where is the money?). I should mention the shopping spree that goes behind the scenes of many attendees to these international “climate change” events. Not that it is bad to shop because shopping itself has become a form of therapy for an overworked (and underpaid) population, the thing is how that plays into the cycle of fast fashion, which contributes massively to carbon concentration in the atmosphere. A single brand can deliver up to 24 collections yearly, as much as 84% of these fast fashion items end up in landfills as was seen from the heaps of clothes in the Atacama Desert in 2021. Let’s not forget that the projection of emissions from manufacturing could be reaching 60% in 2030, driven by the cycle of demand and supply.
BEYOND SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
Should STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) be at the centre of climate change mitigation and reducing GHG cases? If approaches to climate change mitigation, a wicked problem still face criticism of being more reliant on influential natural science consensus compared to the social sciences then more needs to be done for practical implementation of policies and mitigation measures as a quote from the IPCC website mentions.
“This report recognizes the interdependence of climate, biodiversity and people and integrates natural, social and economic sciences more strongly than earlier IPCC assessments,” said Hoesung Lee. “It emphasizes the urgency of immediate and more ambitious action to address climate risks. Half measures are no longer an option.” IPCC 20fg22
In practice, continued focus and criticisms on science and technological inventions in managing climate change are such that we miss the little things that should matter. While we celebrate grand carbon-cutting inventions aided by science and technology on one side, the choices we make individually in society counter whatever progress is being made but we are not paying enough attention to the social dynamics of the climate change discourse. Some countries launch and fund big projects driven by the SDGs targeted at Climate Change impact, most of which end up as white elephant projects stalled when matched with implementation. A lot of PR, marketing and publications yet the substance is missing. An example is the continued use of different forms of plastics which persists and there are presently no overarching international laws to effectively break down the walls of state sovereignty, and geopolitical boundaries as the needed incentive to improve collaboration across states.
Challenges of managing existing and would-be free riders (more commitment), and productive implementation of the Pollute Pays Principle and Precautionary Principle is still an obstacle to transnational collaborations towards mitigation measures. While one country may effectively ban plastic within its geographical boundaries, it may not be able to control what happens within the borders of neighbouring countries with the use of plastic, which ends up in the marine environment where the effect like rising sea level does not respect geography. Same with oil spills and any resulting impacts on the everyday lifestyle of ordinary people which we are not yet paying enough attention.
CHANGE OF LIFESTYLE
Yes, the transformation of lifestyle is now central to our daily discussions. Organic foods, low fat, plant-based, low emissions and the like but then at what capacity is this feasible and who can afford such luxury? The foundation of switching lifestyles is also a thing about inequality and privilege. Who can afford what? What options are available? To start with, organic food and plant-based diet options are not exactly cheap, and it becomes easy for a large population of poor people trying to survive to stick with what is affordable. I should add that even the rich are not exactly open to a permanent switch, poor people should not be the only ones to take the fall. While it is easier to paint the made-made anthropogenic climate change impacts and push for a lifestyle change, the reality of the systems that drive society is often underrated. Lived experiences should not be underestimated in mitigation narratives.
Giving up high carbon, consumption-driven, or fossil fuel lifestyle becomes even more difficult when questions of existing alternatives arise. And if there are alternatives, what are the practical advantages over the other? If people were to give up plastic bags, what are the available and affordable alternatives? Many grand STEM inventions happen but then there is another mountain of affordability to climb which means another investment and more time while the climate gets warmer.
As I earlier mentioned, we already know what we should be doing but we are so focused on the next big technology, the next big research, the next huge investment, the next big conference, next big publication to our name that we miss out on the little steps we should be taking in our everyday lives that would make the difference. Perhaps, we should be more focused on implementing what we already know like how to make alternatives to plastic available and affordable to more people; initiate practical collaboration avenues that can break down the limitations of nation-state sovereignty in environmental laws; more equitable approach to representation in international conferences and check our consumption pattern of everything from food, fast fashion items, other luxury and consumer goods.
As the topic of this article says, I am just here rambling about the many issues of Climate Change.