I’m currently reading Naomi Klein’s latest book on the structural causes of climate change and the environmental issues we are facing globally. She argues that capitalism and consumerism need to be left behind if we want to act against climate change as she sees it as the core product of the capitalistic systems. Klein argues there is a need for a global revolutionary movement to change our old ways. I have a few doubts when it comes to that, however.
One of the problem I can think of when hoping for a revolution is that the digital development with creations such as social media has proved that human beings are more narcissistic than many of us would have expected. Klein talks about movements such as Occupy or the climate marches organised around the world during events such as the Paris COP21 2015 meeting, however I still think that it is not enough to make a proper change.
The change needs to happen at the policy level. Public protests could be a great tool in letting the current governments know that something has to change. Every little helps, it is true, however as some academics found, without structural cues needed for pro-environmental behaviours, public stays largely unresponsive and unwilling to perform ecological actions, not only because they don’t care, but also because they feel like performing eco-friendly behaviours could be overwhelming. For example, how do you recycle your rubbish when there is no facilities available? Crawford also highlights the trend of governments shifting the responsibility of pro-environmental behaviour onto the public. That needs to change.
Here I agree with Klein that people in capitalistic countries are so caught up in everyday problems that worrying about climate change and the environment becomes yet another problem they would have to face, and so they choose not to, especially if there is no government support or encouragement. Therefore, the change needs to focus on the policy making level. Facilitating the transformation to clean energy sourcing such as electric cars, providing incentives for buying them, building more charging stations, increasing the renewable energy feed-in tariffs, providing subsidies for private and corporate owners, providing the public with waste management facilities and programs, educating the public through communication campaigns, encouraging businesses to increase their sustainability performance, etc, etc, etc…
In a way I unfortunately agree with Klein that capitalism is a main obstacle to tackling the global problems we are currently facing, however am not sure how it could be brought down and what would be the alternative and whether people, so immersed in the consumerism culture, would ever voluntarily choose to give it up. Therefore, apart from singling out governments as actors needed to be responsible for change, I also think that businesses, could and should play a vital role in the transformation. This, however, could be tricky.
As Jacobson and Dellucchi note in their report, the technological tools are widely available for us to tackle climate change. The obstacles to renewable energy transition are not technological, but rather political and social. Innovations such as biodegradable plastic and other packaging, turning waste into energy, renewable energy and fuels are all already available, and could and are currently being implemented into use globally. What is therefore, you would ask, stopping the change from happening on a large scale? The corporate interests, of course. Suppose a company such as Shell would like to see the complete transformation of the car industry and the cessation of oil consumption? Probably not, and the problem lies in the fact that companies with significant stakes in the fossil fuel industry also have a lot of funds, which equals political clout, whether we like it or not. We need a force that would overcome these influences. We need a global political agreement that there is a genuine need to transform the way we all source and use energy.
People should all have the right to access energy, it is seen as a basic human right, however it needs to be clean if we want to keep living on this planet (well, until the Sun blows up in those few trillion years or so). If we have the technology needed, why wouldn’t we use it? One of the arguments would be the costs of the transformation, however as Klein also highlighted in her book, natural disasters (which have increased five-fold in since the 1970s) are already costing us $380 billion in 2011 alone for example. Transforming the way we source our energy would decrease these costs.
This could also be a chance for underdeveloped countries to obtain secure ways of sourcing energy. Third-world countries tend to be geographically placed in areas with abundant sources for renewable energy and therefore, if provided with the right technology and financial help, could make steps towards tackling not only environmental but also health, security and poverty problems they are currently facing.
There are also arguments against the transition when it comes to fossil fuel industry job losses and these would have to be addressed somehow. One solution would be retraining people working in the energy industry and providing them with renewable energy jobs. Another would be to instead of cutting down jobs like the 1,700 in the British government Environmental Agency, reviving these governmental departments and providing new workplaces.
If Klein is right, there is a social movement already brewing and people will bring the change to life. I would love to see that happening, however still think it is very unlikely and therefore think we should focus on changing and shaping global public policy making processes and changing the way all governments are treating climate change. This will lead to structural changes in the way we source energy, manage waste and consume all that our planet provides us with and help us retain it. Clean energy for all is achievable, we just need to make our governments agree and act.