When I bought my first house, way back in 2001, I was already an environmentalist. It started – as it so often does – with a childhood love of animals and a desire to save them. Back then it was all about dolphin-friendly tuna, the ozone layer, and and Food Miles. That first house came with a recycle bin, and to begin with we were one of the only households in the street to make use of it. We watched as recycling became more mainstream, and more people started putting their recycling out, and then as rubbish collections shrank and the hold-outs were forced to recycle.
Since then we’ve phased out incandescent light bulbs, moved to more efficient appliances and cars with better fuel economy, and helped Fair Trade and Organic become mainstream words and concepts. Every time someone has come up with an answer to the question “What can we do?”, we’ve followed through with individual actions, and our desire for change has forced governmental action.
Except… nothing worthwhile has been done about climate change. Global leaders have spent 20+ years nitpicking about the details, during which time carbon emissions have been rising ever higher, meaning more drastic action – on which they will never agree – is necessary to prevent climate change ravaging the planet.
In the UK, on the face of it, there is some good news. In 2017, UK carbon emissions fell to levels last seen in 1890. This drop is driven by declining coal and natural gas use. We are using slightly more oil and petroleum, however. UK coal use is collapsing, and coal power output hit zero for the first time in more than 150 years in March 2016. Coal power output between April and September 2016 was less than that from the UK’s solar panels. Coal’s decline is due to a number of factors, including government policy, but it’s worth noting that there was a brief resurgence in coal use when the price dropped; in 2011 the European market was flooded by cheap coal after shale gas started to displace coal demand in the US.
However, it’s not all as rosy as it seems. These are only domestic emission figures, they don’t include the indirect emissions we are responsible for, as we now choose to buy our short-lived consumer items from overseas. The UK is also not on track to meet its emission reduction targets, and the energy sector’s carbon emissions are set to grow, for the second year in a row.
Add to this the fact that the government is allowing fracking, despite vocal opposition, and the fracking company INEOS is lobbying to have regulations relaxed:
So it begins, the lobbying at #Christmas. Bah Humbug!
But, but… the #frackers said they can frack under ‘gold standard’ regs – apparently not. 😂
So they beg for the regs to be weakened. 🤨😠
— Frack Free United (@frackfreeunited) December 26, 2018
In This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein ponders why we have made so little progress in tackling climate change, and examines some of the many answers that have been given to that question.
Is it simply too hard for that many nations to agree on anything? It’s certainly not easy, but Klein points out that in the same time period, global governments created the World Trade Organization, “an intricate global system that regulates the flow of goods and services around the planet, under which the rules are clear and violations are harshly penalized”. So let’s rule that idea out.
Apparently some people have suggested that we’re short on technological “fixes” for the problem, but we know that’s not true. We have made great strides in renewable energy technologies, and hybrid and electric vehicles. People all over the world have come up with ingenious low-carbon ways of living; they just haven’t become mainstream. So it’s not the technology that’s holding us back.
The easy fall-back answer is that it’s human nature. That we’re too selfish, and individualistic. That we’re not worth saving. It’s easy to think that, and we’re constantly bombarded with suggestions that life wouldn’t be living if we had to give things up, but we give things up all the time (the government call it necessary austerity). And in the wake of any disaster there are people rushing to help, risking their lives, donating goods and money, and generally providing support to communities in need. There are thousands upon thousands of campaigns and organisations we support, and things we’re trying to save. We love to help, even when it costs us something, and that’s the complete opposite of selfish and individualistic.
So why haven’t we done more about climate change? Klein’s answer, and we all know it’s true, is that the neoliberal (or market fundamentalist, or late-stage capitalist, or whatever you want to call them) policies that have been adopted all across the globe are inconsistent with acting on climate change. The people in charge want to shrink governments, reduce regulations and allow ‘the market’ to rule the world. We know ‘the market’ cares nothing about the environment, it only cares about profits.
In the US, a government report highlighting that global warming will reduce the American economy by as much as 10% by the end of the century was buried by being published on Black Friday. There are organizations and shadowy figures ploughing billions into muddying the waters around climate change, refusing to accept the (now irrefutable) evidence, campaigning against any action, and even preventing the publication of articles that suggest climate change is real, and a threat, and requires urgent action. They’re doing that because the necessary action threatens their economic ideology, which they have spent decades exporting across the world, and because they think that they’re rich enough to survive whatever is coming.
But, as often as it seems the opposite is true, the government does care about you, or at least your opinion. They love it when you feel helpless, or when you you decide that people are not worth saving. Voter apathy lets them get away with murder. But they have to listen when you raise your voice, and when we raise them together it makes a difference. They have to change, because they know that their job ultimately rests on convincing us they have our best interests as heart.
People care about the environment. No one votes for pollution. We don’t vote for dirty water, unbreathable air or avoidable earthquakes. And yet the government we did vote for has backtracked on environmental commitments and allowed investment in green energy to collapse.
So let them know that’s not what you want. Sign petitions, write to your MP, and hold our government accountable for their actions. We have to tell them what’s important to us, and we have to be louder than the companies lobbying to be allowed to pollute the planet for profit.
And, ultimately, if they don’t live up to your expectations, vote for someone else. There’s no prize for voting for the winner, so don’t choose the ‘least worst option’. Vote for the people who do care, but who look like they have no chance of winning. Because when enough of us do that, they will.
In the meantime, vote with your feet (and your wallet) by switching to a green energy supplier. There are two in the UK, and I have has positive experiences with both of them: Ecotricity and Good Energy*. (There’s also Green Energy, but I am not familiar with them.)
*If you’re switching to Good Energy, check out their list of partners, and choose which one you’d like a charitable donation to go to 🙂 The list currently includes the Soil Association, Friends of the Earth, the Centre for Alternative Technology and the Permaculture Association.