Climate change has been relegated to the category of old news. Yes, we know it. We can no longer eat or fly, and the greatest sin we can commit as consumers is to bring yet another generation of over-consuming kids into the world. After three years of climate studies, I am beginning to wonder if there is even a single way out of this doom scenario. So let us look for something positive today; who will save us from Armageddon coming in the form of climate change? Already you hear many calls like the one from Sylvia Earle, in the Netflix documentary Seaspiracy, who points out that there is no panacea otherwise:
“no one can do everything, but everyone can do something and sometimes big ideas can make big differences.”
However, is it fair to put the burden of answering an issue of this magnitude on the individual? No, I certainly do not think so and yet many stakeholders make it sound that way. British Petroleum once invented your carbon footprint. This shows you that if everyone lives the way you do, we will never be able to keep the world going sustainably. So we are the problem, that might be true, but we individuals cannot solve it. So if the individual is not the solution, what is left for us?
Let us go through them. First of all, there is the sum total of the individuals addressed by Sylvia Earle, or the masses. A characteristic of this group is that we are slow to respond to change, even when the urgency is evident. We believe that there are surely others who will solve our problem. And if we react at all, it is often on the basis of the adage, too little, too late. After all, the masses are nothing more than the sum of all those individuals who, rather than saving the future for the next generation, are trying to make the best of today and who consider making it to the end of the month an achievement in itself. In itself, not a bad thought when you consider that economics as a science has always tried to convince us that taking care of yourself in the most optimal way leads to the most beneficial situation for the greater good. Unfortunately, this line of thinking does not work with problems that fall prey to the concept of the tragedy of the commons. In short, the masses only react when they actually see that stopping climate change is better for them. And that will only come about when we experience the direct consequences, meaning that it will always be too late.
Then we turn our gaze to the government and pretend for a moment that it is not us. Yes, the urgency is now felt very strongly and sometimes even imperatively, and some politicians have started to make the appropriate and desirable noise. Especially when individual citizens take up the gauntlet and force the same government through a lawsuit to hold them responsible for more measurements they agreed to take in order to create a small chance that the Paris climate objectives will be achieved. But real changes? Why should they, apart from some small activist groups, the population only demands limited change. And it is the silent majority of the population that holds the key to the next re-election for the politicians, for the aspired ticket to power. It is only logical that politicians appease the voters with half-measures that affect our wallets, preferably as little as possible. After all, you only have to promise that you will immediately abolish all coronation measures in our little country, and you will be rewarded with no less than eight seats in parliament. A more extensive election programme is not even necessary, let alone measures to save the climate. The result is that we end up with a government that is trying to save both the coal and the goat. Emissions regulations are slow to be adapted, and if they are implemented at all, it is often in a diluted to a form where it does more harm than good.
Okay, so the government does not seem to be an option either, at least not without first rallying the masses, and we just discussed that that might go too slow if at all. The latest trend in many opinion pieces is the appeals in which the arrows of hope are directed at the corporations. And especially the large, internationally operating corporates. The directors of these companies are urged to take responsibility and step away from the never-ending pursuit of shareholder value, once introduced by Milton Friedman. They must act in together and work towards a new world in which the interests of society, a sustainable and cyclical economy take centre stage and simulatinously taking responsibility for all harm done in the history of the company. Believe it or not, it also seems as if the corporates are actually responding to this call. Never before have so many annual reports been provided with a separate section on the sustainability policy pursued, and even separate sustainability annual reports see the light of day on a large scale. If you then zoom in on all this verbal violence, it turns out that it is mainly about window dressing, not deeds but words, so to speak. Sustainability labels are used all over the place, and their main purpose is to give a ‘feel good’ feeling to an ignorant and naive consumer who, in turn, wants to be disturbed as little as possible in his consumption pattern. Deeply radical transitions are still being held back by corporates, with outdated argument about the necessary value creation for shareholders still being put forward time and time again. And the few chairmen of the board who actually promise and strive for change are slaughtered by the shareholders in no time. Because making delicious desserts in an ecologically responsible way is fine, but our wallet comes first. Because if we do not do it, the competition will anyway.
Has that exhausted our portfolio of lifesavers? I do not think so. There might be a positive side of our capitalist economic system that we not yet have explored. A side in which wealth accumulates and accumulates in a very small group of the super-rich, a group of super-rich that may have exactly the qualities needed to act directly and impactful! They can act swiftly as individuals without mobilising collectives, are not accountable to voters, do not need to circumvent regulations with corresponding interest groups, have almost infinite resources at their disposal and have absolutely no problems with intervening shareholders. In short, the ideal knights in shining armour. Fortunately for us, we are seeing the emergence of a small group within these super-rich who have now also embraced the need to change course in an attempt to mitigate the effects of climate change, hopefully they can be the quick change we need. This of course means that we will conveniently forget about the ethical dilemmas that arise from the fact that they have donned this shining armour by initially behaving like the classic and oh so successful highwayman of our time. After all, someone has to save our planet! The lesser of two evils, so to speak. But are we sure it is the lesser evil? Do we really want to put our future in the hands of so few individuals, won’t that make them even more powerful, even less controllable! Questions to which I do not know the answers.
So what positive message could we find in this blog? I would think that we are not yet without a chance, and that is quite something! Unfortunately, as ordinary citizens, we can contribute very little to the solution of the big giant, so we are left with little choice but to listen to the wise voice of Sylvia Earle, who continues her appeal with:
“That is what you can do right now. Look in the mirror, figure it out and go for it”.
And with this quote, I wish you all good luck with saving your piece of the world.