COP26 and the Climate Crisis
“Don’t use plastic straws.”
“Don’t choose flights, take the train instead.”
“Everyone should become vegetarian.”
“Walk to work instead of driving.”
“Use your own water bottle rather than plastic cups.”
“You should calculate your own carbon footprint.”
These are phrases that we often hear when talking about the climate crisis. We often hear about the importance of not using plastic straws to save the planet. We frequently hear about how we should not fly as much, or if we do, we should select a flight that has lower carbon emissions. We often hear about making sure that everyone should go vegetarian or vegan, and the environmental benefits that come with this. Time and time again, we hear about taking public transportation, or just walking, to work in order to reduce emissions. All of this results in many saying that we should all be monitoring our own carbon footprints.
On face value, this seems reasonable. If everyone makes small personal sacrifices in their daily lives, we will be able to solve the climate crisis. However, this line of thinking could not be more wrong. While this may seem overly pessimistic, this is, unfortunately, the truth, as this article will outline.
One of the main contributors to global emissions today are massive fossil fuel corporations, and the demand for cheap energy from the public. In 2017, according to The Guardian, only 100 fossil fuel producers were responsible for a staggering 71% of global greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, the top 25 fossil fuel producers (both privately and publicly owned) have contributed to more than half of the emissions since 1988.
This suggests that if we want to tackle the climate crisis, we should be directing our ire towards those massive corporations, and the governments who fail to monitor them.
We should also not be fooled by corporations who talk a big game about climate change and being sustainable, but who never follow through. This is greenwashing. Greenwashing is when corporations attempt to hide their dubious environmental practices behind symbolic actions, overinflated phrasing, and vague notions of environmental sustainability. One example of this is Aramco, a Saudi Arabian energy company. Amarco has been very vocal about planting 2 million mangrove trees as a way of “reducing their impact.” Great, right? However, this practice will only reduce its CO2 emissions by about 130,000 tonnes. In comparison, Aramco’s total emissions were estimated to be 1,600 million tonnes of CO2, over 12,000 times more than what their mangrove planting would reduce. Let us all be aware - this is nothing more than a PR stunt. Whenever a corporation goes on and on about their environmental sustainability, it is best to look under the microscope to see how much they are really doing.
Here is the bottom line - climate change is far more existential than planting mangrove trees. It requires a top-down approach with clear plans from governments about how they will make the transition from fossil fuels to sustainable energy. It requires concrete action - policies that can be passed into law - rather than just talk from governments and greenwashing from large polluters. The climate crisis requires real solutions.
One of the solutions that is commonly discussed is geoengineering. In short, geoengineering is using technology to alter global weather patterns and mitigate the disastrous impacts of climate change. One type of geoengineering commonly discussed is solar geoengineering. The idea is to deflect sunlight away from Earth using a variety of technologies, such as stratospheric aerosol injection or marine cloud brightening. These technologies aim to reduce sunlight from hitting the Earth in the first place, and thus helping cool the climate.
Carbon capture and storage is another technique commonly discussed regarding climate change and geoengineering. The idea of this is to capture the carbon emissions, whether directly or indirectly, and then either removing them from the atmosphere or storing them. However, there are still lots of questions over these technologies, including their effectiveness and practicality as a short term solution to climate change.
The bottom line is that geoengineering and other technologies will be a part of the climate solution, but will need to be accompanied with strong emissions reductions from transitioning away from fossil fuels and moving towards sustainable energy.
Climate change also requires a global approach, which is why conferences like the COP 26 recently held in Glasgow are so important. While we do not have the final language of a deal, it seems that one is imminent, but watered down from original expectations. The deal is likely to be the most ambitious ever, but will still fall short in addressing the climate crisis. It seems that a few countries are the main problem. One example is the language of how fossil fuels will be reduced. The original text of the agreement had the words “phasing out of fossil fuels,” but this was changed to “phasing down fossil fuels” after objections from developing countries like India. This kind of problem has occurred all over the agreement, with it being extraordinarily difficult to find a deal that everyone can agree on. So, like geoengineering, global climate conferences like COP 26 are important but are not enough.
So if changing individual habits, geoengineering, and global climate conferences are not practical solutions to the climate crisis, what is?
In my view, from an individual level, the most effective use of time is relentless advocacy on the issue. While progress continues to move at snail’s pace, if it were not for the work of people all over the world who are standing up, progress would be even slower. We would not be in a situation where global leaders are racing to put out net zero targets, due to political pressure, without this advocacy. In the US, we would not be seeing local climate action in places like New Mexico, Boston, and Seattle without this advocacy. We have seen climate change move from a smaller, boutique issue to a problem that is much more mainstream.
Advocacy can be frustrating, annoying, and disappointing. While this may seem like it won’t work (and it may not), it is the best of bad options in the current dilemma. The solution is to use every political and social tool available. This goes from pressuring elected and unelected officials in power to do better on climate change. It includes electing as many climate change fighters, and removing those who are not in favor of serious climate action. It means holding people accountable to their promises and removing them if necessary.
At the end of the day, it will require an enormous amount of hard work by everyone to pressure as many elected and unelected officials all over the world to prioritise climate and do better on the issue. There is still a lot that needs to be done on climate change – and now is the time to get it done.
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