What can you do about climate change?

Climate change is one of the greatest threats our planet today faces. Despite its unanimous scientific understanding, we are still not able to do what is needed. There are a number of reasons for it which I will highlight below before moving to steps we can take to fight climate change.

You almost could not design a problem that is a worse fit with our underlying psychology.

says Anthony Leiserowitz of Yale University about climate change. This is true for all the reasons. Climate change is an unprecedented problem so most of us fail to comprehend it per se. Secondly, its effects are in the future, so we cannot resist ignoring them. Our short-termism poses a real barrier in fully acknowledging climate change.

The only solution to the problem of sustainability is long-term foresight, and long-term foresight is something that Darwinian natural selection does not have.

writes Richard Dawkins. Thirdly, those who will bear its burden the most are not known to us, be they be residents of low-lying countries most at risk from sea-level rise or the future generations yet to be born.

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Rigorous actions against climate change demand applying brakes to the levers of fossils use. Practically speaking, that is not doable. World needs continuous supply of energy for humans’ survival. Such meticulous actions will also demand writing off in-place as well as proven reserves of fossil fuels, and all the existing and planned infrastructure that all together amounts to trillions of dollars. To make it worse, countries are obsessed with growth which requires burning even more fossils. Countries are competing to raise their GDP which requires using more and more coal, oil and natural gas. ‘Tragedy of the commons’ befalls the climate change issue just as well. Though most of the countries today intend to cut down on their emissions, no one wants to be the first one to do that, and definitely not the one doing the most. Especially when others do not show the same willingness in cutting their own emissions.

There is no short and easy recipe for solving climate change. Humanity’s greatest threat requires serious, quick and global measures. There are starting points, however, that can lead us in the right direction and if done in time, we might be able to avert the catastrophe that looms larger than ever before. Even today, there exists huge climate denial in countries which, by no surprize, are also the biggest polluters. To begin with, it is time for us to talk about facts and not opinions. It is not a matter of belief and subjective partiality. Those responsible need to do a better job at conveying the true graveness of the paradox we are faced with. Latest scientific evidence needs to be continuously translated in lay terms for the vast majority to comprehend. We need to talk about it more and get our message out loud and clear. It might actually be sensible to talk about it with a war-time urgency as time is running short for us to act.

We are clearly the last generation that can change the course of climate change, but we are also the first generation with its consequences.

said Kristalina Georgieva, the CEO of the World Bank. While both top-down and bottom-up approaches are needed at national levels to confine the emissions, nonetheless, both of them, even when deployed together, are not stringent enough in the absence of a global carbon cap. Once a worldwide ‘carbon budget’ has been agreed, countries can then work out who gets to burn how much and when, provided the total is within a globally agreed limit. Reaching such an arrangement by countries itself seems to be a daunting task considering the number of countries and their relative levels of growth, nevertheless there is no other viable option that would allow averting climate change. Today, many developed countries do have aspiring national goals for reducing emissions. Frankly, this alone is not enough. As much as countries need to think of reductions within their boundaries, they need to think of their impact globally. Reducing emission from their own mills while ignoring the carbon-intensive goods imported from overseas factories is a zero-sum game. A holistic ambition is needed. International trade and domestic climate policies need to be interwoven.

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It needs no telling that fossil fuel sector is rich and powerful. It has a great say over domestic policy making, thanks to its monetary muscles. Fossil industry spends billions of dollars annually lobbying for favourable policies. That is a big challenge. Their political weight needs to be reduced. That can be achieved when citizens are better informed and take actions to force their respective governments to make environmentally stern policies. Policy-making and citizens’ demands both determine each other; without well-informed citizens, decisive domestic policies cannot be drafted and implemented.

One more aspect that has become evident over the past climate summits is the importance of high-level representation. It is not enough for only the environmental ministers to attend the events and talk about the issues. Highest-level presence is vital. Not only world leaders but also influential luminaries from various walks of life – including showbiz celebrities and religious figures – need to come forward. Celebrities enjoy great power and can prove instrumental in bridging the awareness gap.

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Technology can be our saviour. Pushing hard for the right technologies and making them available in time – both scalable and affordable – might be all that is needed to avert the threat. The world cannot rely on clean technologies alone. Minimizing the use of fossil fuels in one sector – use of green technologies at homes for instance – will lead to more of its use elsewhere, e.g. industrial usage. This is just like squeezing a balloon. Pressing air on one side will lead to expansion elsewhere. All efforts need to go hand in hand. It is not to say that renewables are not vital. They are in fact absolutely crucial. What is important is that their usage is regulated such that they substitute for the fossil fuels in the real sense rather than only adding to global energy supply.  We need to roll out clean energy, develop carbon storage and constrain the use of fossils simultaneously. Ideally, fossil-rich countries and corporations with huge vested interests in the use of coal, oil, and gas should see an investment opportunity in carbon sequestering technologies. Debates around fossil fuels should not fade away discussion of the effects of greenhouse gases. Tackling methane and black carbon can have huge impacts of emission reductions, avoid millions of premature deaths each year and help save considerable amounts of food productions from getting wasted.

Forests are home to biodiversity, homeland for forest-based indigenous groups, and hold valuable wood. Unsustainable deforestation has detrimental consequences. While developed nations historically have relied on deforestation for meeting their production needs, today, however, the world cannot afford the loss of these carbon sinks. Therefore, it is a moral case for developed nations to fund poorer nations to conserve their forests and make up for the value lost from not clearing their forests. Governments, companies, and consumers can boycott products that are associated with uncertified deforestation. Illegal logging is still a big problem. It is hard to keep it in check. Reason being that most of this activity takes place hundreds of miles away from settlements. Moreover, corruption and stronghold of forest-mafias worldwide has been hard to cater. Thanks to the satellite today, monitoring deforestation was never this easier. Strict monitoring and enforcement are needed to help preserve world forests.

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On a more micro level, there are small behavioural and lifestyle changes that can add up to big savings for the planet. Better management of fertilisers, smarter farming, supporting the local economy, consuming less meat – as a starting point: shifting from beef and lamb towards chicken and pork (former two having greater carbon footprint than later two) are some of the choices domestic producers and consumers can make. Lab-grown meat might become a viable substitute in the future. Availability of usable water is already straining patches of our planet. Food production uses large volumes of water. Speeding up the development of technologies that allow plant growth with dramatically less water can help reduce water vulnerability.

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Total food production worldwide is enough to feed everyone on this planet. Reality appears to be anything but. Food wastage is another big challenge. If only the affluent parts of the world can reduce their food wastage and manage food production better, a lot of otherwise hungry mouths can be fed while taking the strain off the land that results from food produced but wasted. In some less-affluent places, even basic food storage equipment is enough to limit food losses. Retailers and policy-makers need to take serious steps around better food production management and decrease in food wastage.

Climate change needs our collective leadership. It’s no more a matter which we can hand-over to the ministers to look after. They have a critical role to play, indeed, but we all have an individual responsibility too. We all need to start making conscientious choices when it comes to eating, traveling and buying. Citizens need to use their democratic rights to put pressure on government representatives, investors need to reconsider their portfolios. Wealthy individuals and philanthropists can fund the campaign groups fighting for climate change, businesses can incorporate sustainable practices in their working and show leadership in demanding the right policies from their respective governments. Mankind has a collective responsibility to act and save the future of all of us which is intricately tied to individual actions of each of us. Not playing our part in fighting climate change is a big gamble. It puts at risk the future of our current and coming generations, future of all other species and the future of the only life-supporting planet known so far – Earth.

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