By Nick Gutkin
The recent IPCC Sixth Assessment Report[i] has garnered headlines all over the world. The findings of the report are grim, sobering, and do not leave much room for debate. It is clear not only that humans are directly causing climate change, but that the negative impacts are already here and having their effect on people worldwide. Wildfires have wreaked havoc in Greece[ii] and Turkey, while especially intense fire seasons have caused damage to forests in Russia[iii], the United States, and Canada[iv]. Record-setting flooding has left hundreds dead in Western Europe[v], while floods in China[vi] and India[vii] have caused the evacuations of hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. The island of Madagascar is facing starvation due to climate impacts, and the heat dome in the north-western USA and western Canada has killed hundreds[viii].
If there is one key prediction from the recent IPCC report, it is that these extreme weather events are no longer unique, once-in-a-lifetime events. The climate crisis is worsening every day, driving more frequent storms, droughts, fires, and other extreme events. As carbon dioxide levels continue to rise in the atmosphere, the climate crisis will bring about unpredictable, disastrous, and deadly weather to populations around the world. The past few years have seen climate-driven weather events affecting not only developing countries, but also developed nations in Europe, North America, and Asia. People who previously thought the climate crisis would not be a problem in their lifetime or in their geographic vicinity are now forced to reckon with the realities of living in a world where disasters are more frequent and less predictable. However, these alarm bells should not toll in vain; the climate crisis must be a turning point for action.
In the wake of such dire reports of climate-induced disasters and a negative outlook on the future climate scenario, many people understandably feel lost and powerless to take any meaningful action as individuals. However, as the IPCC report states, this is the last chance for humanity to act to reduce the disastrous impacts of climate change. For citizens of Western countries especially, there are a number of actions that can have a real positive impact on the growing climate crisis.
- Reduce your consumption. An often-cited study found that just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of worldwide emissions[ix]. The vast majority of these are fossil fuel companies, whose products are used not only for electrifying homes and powering vehicles, but especially to fuel industrial production. In fact, the study identifies China’s coal industry as the highest polluter, which is directly linked to China’s position as the “factory of the world”. Corporate strategies have for years driven overconsumption and convinced consumers to purchase goods they absolutely do not need[x], leading to overproduction in the name of endless economic growth. One of the best things a consumer can do is reduce their consumption. As a consumer, rethink your purchases: consider whether a product is necessary in your life, if it is possible to get used rather than new, and if your purchase is motivated more by advertising than by genuine need. Reducing personal overconsumption can prevent profits going to fossil fuel-heavy production processes and choosing to spend that money on experiences or services can be more satisfying and mentally healthier[xi]. Especially as citizens of wealthy Western countries, our consumption is driving fossil-fuel heavy production processes, and it is up to us to reduce our impact to the maximum degree possible.
- Join a local chapter of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL)[xii]. This is a non-profit, grassroots organisation focused on advocacy for climate change legislation with almost 600 chapters worldwide. A major privilege of living in a Western democracy is the right to political participation, and the climate crisis is exactly the situation that should see higher rates of citizen participation and advocacy. The CCL advocates for initiatives related to green energy, fossil fuel divestment, net zero emissions goals, and most importantly, carbon pricing. Also known as a carbon tax, this is a tool through which governments can force polluting companies to pay for the emissions they produce. It is the single most powerful way to fight climate change, according to economists, and has already been implemented (to some degree) in at least 40 different countries[xiii]. Climate advocacy groups often push for a carbon tax as a major solution for climate change that is achievable within the boundaries of the current prevailing economic system around the world.
- Exercise your right to protest. Another key privilege of living in Western democracies is the right to protest. And despite solutions (such as those listed above) that work within the boundaries of a capitalistic system, many scientists and activists are fighting for an entirely different end goal: to change the very system itself[xiv]. Whether the goal is to motivate governments to action or to topple the system that has fuelled the climate crisis, protests can be an incredibly effective way to build momentum and spread awareness among individuals. As citizens, we can engage the power that lies within our communities and our shared experiences to fight back against corporations and governments that refuse to see the path forward. Protest and direct-action movements have played historical roles in creating change, with their most effective outcome being that citizens become more politically active and involved in the decision-making process[xv]. By exercising your right to protest, you motivate others to learn and become passionate about the issue at hand, which in turn shifts the political balance to bring about change.
It is clear from the worsening climate crisis that change is something the world desperately needs, and fast. Spreading awareness about the severity of the climate crisis, as well as educating yourself and the people around you about the climate crisis are key steps on the way to change and must be a part of any climate solution. As the findings of the IPCC clearly show, the climate crisis is not only very real, but the negative impacts have already started to appear. The world will become a more difficult place to live for billions of people as carbon emissions rise and we see the impacts of climate change. And if we are to save even a fraction of the beauty and wonder this world has to offer, people around the world must prioritise this crisis and act immediately.
[ii] Chris Liakos, Elinda Labropoulou and Amy Woodyatt, ‘Greece faces “disaster of unprecedented proportions” as wildfires ravage the country’, CNN, Last modified August 10, 2021, https://edition.cnn.com/2021/08/09/europe/greece-wildfire-warning-climate-intl/index.html
[iii] ‘Global wildfires: Hundreds evacuated in Greece, rains bring relief to Turkey’, DW, August 7, 2021, https://www.dw.com/en/global-wildfires-hundreds-evacuated-in-greece-rains-bring-relief-to-turkey/a-58794967
[iv] James McCarten, ‘Canada, U.S. seek new approach as blistering 2021 wildfire season drains resources’, CTV News, August 4, 2021, https://www.ctvnews.ca/climate-and-environment/canada-u-s-seek-new-approach-as-blistering-2021-wildfire-season-drains-resources-1.5534576
[v] Warren Cornwall, ‘Europe’s deadly floods leave scientists stunned’, Science Magazine, July 20, 2021, https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2021/07/europe-s-deadly-floods-leave-scientists-stunned
[vi] Richard Davies, ‘China – 80,000 Evacuate Floods in Sichuan’, FloodList, August 9, 2021, https://floodlist.com/asia/china-floods-sichuan-august-2021
[vii] Richard Davies, ‘India – Hundreds of Villages Flooded in Uttar Pradesh, 9 People Dead’, FloodList, August 10, 2021, https://floodlist.com/asia/india-floods-uttar-pradesh-august-2021
[viii] Seth Borenstein and Frank Jordans, ‘This year’s summer of climate extremes hits wealthier places’, AP News, August 4, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/europe-canada-science-climate-environment-and-nature-8752948ac9afcee5aec4811215dc7401
[ix] Tess Riley, ‘Just 100 companies responsible for 71% of global emissions, study says’, The Guardian, July 10, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/jul/10/100-fossil-fuel-companies-investors-responsible-71-global-emissions-cdp-study-climate-change
[x] ‘Tackling over-consumption: A key challenge for the European Green Deal’, Institute for European Environmental Policy, November 28, 2019, https://ieep.eu/news/tackling-over-consumption-a-key-challenge-for-the-european-green-deal
[xi] ‘Spending on experiences versus possessions advances more immediate happiness’, Science Daily, March 9, 2020, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/03/200309130020.htm
[xii] ‘Environmental Volunteering | Join Citizens’ Climate Lobby’, Citizens’ Climate Lobby, Accessed August 17, 2021, https://citizensclimatelobby.org/join-citizens-climate-lobby/
[xiii] Emma Newburger, ‘A carbon tax is ‘single most powerful’ way to combat climate change, IMF says’, CNBC, October 10, 2019, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/10/10/carbon-tax-most-powerful-way-to-combat-climate-change-imf.html
[xiv] Sahela Noor, ‘Why We Need to Change Capitalism for Climate Action’, Earth Org, July 30, 2021, https://earth.org/change-capitalism-for-climate-action/
[xv] Dan Kopf, ‘A Harvard study identified the precise reason protests are an effective way to cause political change’, Quartz, February 3, 2021, https://qz.com/901411/political-protests-are-effective-but-not-for-the-reason-you-think/