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What can we do about climate change?

I’ve written extensively about our dire situation in relation to climate change. I’m not optimistic that we have time to turn the juggernaut around, but I believe we must do everything in our power in attempting to do so. I will be expanding on these comments over time. The actions are general in nature.

Become engaged, acknowledge the crisis, and fight for change

Politicians in a democracy seldom lead on difficult issues; they generally react to the demands of the electorate if their hold on power is at stake. We face a potentially overwhelming threat to our way of life and the welfare of future generations and other species. We must demand emergency action from politicians who establish laws and national strategies, in terms of energy generating infrastructure and other essential measures.

Here are some thoughts from former coal, oil and gas industry executive, Ian Dunlop [1]:

“Honesty about this challenge is essential, otherwise we will never develop realistic solutions. We face nothing less than a global emergency, which must be addressed with a global emergency response, akin to national mobilisations pre-WWII or the Marshall Plan . . . This is not extremist nonsense, but a call echoed by an increasing numbers of world leaders as the science becomes better understood . . . In the face of catastrophic risk, emission reduction targets should be based on the latest, considered, science, not on a political view of the art-of-the-possible.”

Someone who has acknowledged the dangers and is taking decisive action is former New York mayor and billionaire businessman and philanthropist,Michael Bloomberg. He is a co-chair of the Risky Business Project, which focuses on quantifying and publicising the economic risks from the impacts of climate change. His fellow co-chairs are: former Treasury Secretary under George W. Bush, Henry (Hank) Paulson; and Tom Steyer, philanthropist and founder of Farallon Capital Management.

Those parties engaged on the issue must include media outlets. The Guardian newspaper has decided to place climate change “front and centre“, and others must do the same. [2] Petty political squabbles and celebrity gossip may help to sell media products, but they generally do not pose a threat to the future of the planet.

A critical threshold?

Convincing others of the need to act can play a key role. One person convinces another, two convince two, four convince four, and so on. In that way, the message can spread exponentially until politicians take notice. “People power” has overturned governments and brought about fundamental social change, and it can do so again.

It may not be necessary to overthrow a government, but if they know that their future power relies on them acting urgently and effectively in relation to climate change, then they will do so.

Political scientist Erica Chenoweth has analysed data on the overthrow of governments, and has reported that between 1940 and 2006 (my underline):

“No single campaign in that period failed after they’d achieved the active and sustained participation of just 3.5 percent of the population.” [3]

Emission-reduction measures by individuals, although helpful, will not be enough. Social commentator and author, Clive Hamilton has quoted professor of social sciences at Yale-NUC College Singapore, Michael Maniates: [4]

“A privatization and individualization of responsibility for environmental problems shifts blame from state elites and powerful producer groups to more amorphous culprits like ‘human nature’ or ‘all of us’”

Ignore denialists

Skepticism is an essential element of science. However, generally, the more active climate change denialists do not appear to be true skeptics; they seem to oppose meaningful action for ideological reasons and/or to pursue vested interests. My article Relax, have a cigarette and forget about climate change” outlines sophisticated PR techniques used by the fossil fuel sector, and before them the tobacco industry, to falsely create doubt amongst the general population about valid, crucial scientific findings. [5]

Grasp change

When we advanced from the horse and carriage to the automobile, blacksmiths lost their jobs. However, new jobs were created. In 2008, the ACTU (Australian Council of Trade Unions) and the Australian Conservation Foundation estimated that Australia could create around 850,000 new jobs  by 2030 by investing in green technologies, including renewable energy. [6] (Many opportunities will have passed by since then, but others will be available now and in the future.)

Keep an open mind

Don’t ignore potential components of the solution, such as expanded use of carbon-free nuclear power generation, the dangers of which appear to have been significantly overstated. I will expand on that issue in the near future.

Other actions

Leading climate scientist, Dr James Hansen has advocated the use of the courts by those with the power to do so, to force governments to act. [7] Bill McKibben of 350.org has a strategy of convincing pension funds and other institutional investors to cease investing in fossil fuel interests.

As I have written elsewhere, a general move away from animal agriculture is an essential mitigation measure. [8] Governments must play a key role by creating price signals through carbon pricing mechanisms such as a carbon tax that include the agriculture sector. When its environmental cost is factored into the end price, a product such as beef would be considered a luxury, with a substantial reduction in demand and supply. A similar approach must apply to other products. All proceeds from a carbon tax can be returned to the community through personal income tax reductions and adjustments to welfare payments (as advocated by James Hansen).

Conclusion

In terms of lifestyle threats and challenges, the post-World War 2 “baby boomer” generation, and those who have followed, may have become complacent relative to those who came before them. We may, understandably, fear existential threats to the point of ignoring, rather than facing, them. It is essential that we break free of that complacency, and act to retain a habitable planet.

Author: 

Paul Mahony (also on Twitter, Scribd, Slideshare and Viva la Vegan)

References:

[1] Spratt, D., “As Tony Abbott launches all-out war on climate action, what’s the plan?”, Climate Code Red, 28 January, 2014, http://www.climatecodered.org/2014/01/as-tony-abbott-launches-all-out-war-on.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+ClimateCodeRed+%28climate+code+red%29

[2] Rusbridger, A., “Climate change: why the Guardian is putting threat to Earth front and centre”, The Guardian, 6th March, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/mar/06/climate-change-guardian-threat-to-earth-alan-rusbridger

[3] Fisher, M., “Peaceful protest is much more effective than violence for toppling dictators”, The Washington Post, 5th November, 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/11/05/peaceful-protest-is-much-more-effective-than-violence-in-toppling-dictators/

[4] Hamilton, C, “Scorcher: The Dirty Politics of Climate Change”, (2007) Black Inc Agenda, p. 110

[5] Mahony, P., “Relax, have a cigarette and forget about climate change”,Viva la Vegan, 7 Aug, 2012, http://vivalavegan.net/community/articles/358-relax-have-a-cigarette-and-forget-about-climate-change.html

[6]  ACTU and Australian Conservation Foundation, 2008, “Green Gold Rush: How ambitious environmental policy can make Australia a leader in the global race for green jobs”,http://www.acfonline.org.au/sites/default/files/resources/Green_Gold_Rush.pdf

[7] Hansen, J, “Storms of my Grandchildren”, Bloomsbury, 2009, p.291

[8] Mahony, P., “Climate Change and Animal Agriculture” (undated page), Terrastendo, https://terrastendo.net/the-issues/climate-change/

Image: 

People s Climate March NYC © Erica Schroeder | Dreamstime.com