Emissions Aren’t Everything

by | Feb 21, 2023

As a climate activist, I often get asked what is the most profound action someone can take to address the climate crisis. When I tell them there is no one solution, that there are in fact plenty of ways they can start taking action, they bring up the idea of lowering our individual carbon footprint – a term oil corporations coined to shift the blame for emissions from corporations onto consumers. While I agree that each of us can start making lifestyle changes today to help better our world, such as reducing our use of single-use plastic or opting for public transportation rather than personal vehicles, it’s not that simple.

While greenhouse gas emissions are one major cause of global warming, there is a lot more to climate change we need to consider. Focusing on technological, energy-focused solutions leads us to forget about the many interconnected crises of our time. The climate crisis is inherently connected to biodiversity loss, social inequalities, and the dire consequences of oppressive systems. To design solutions that address all of these, rather than just emissions, the bigger context needs to be addressed.

Graphic by Future Earth

Reducing emissions without restoring what has been destroyed merely stops the damage. We’re too deep into the climate crisis to continue with the same governance that led to this disaster in the first place. On top of stopping the damage, we have a responsibility to reverse the destruction caused by man-made industries. To bring back the balance our planet desperately needs, we can partner with other living things and rejoin nature’s ways. Take Detroit Hives as an example. After a couple decided to revive abandoned lots in Michigan, they began a nonprofit dedicated to protecting pollinators and spreading awareness for conservation, while improving the quality of life for residents in underserved neighborhoods. Everyone involved benefits. Partnering with nature teaches us to learn to live within Earth’s boundaries, and that will allow us to support a sustainable quality of life for all people and for years to come.

Working with nature isn’t a linear process. Living soil combined with the power of photosynthesis partners with wildlife to harness the energy of the sun. When soil is covered with vegetation, filled with diversity rather than monoculture plantations, biodiversity will rebound and the complexity of living ecosystems will return. The powerful process of eco-restoration will vary depending on the region, local resources, and the gravity of the damage. There is no silver bullet solution for the climate crisis and its associated crises. Renewable energy alone won’t get us the greener, more equitable future we want and desperately need. Along the same lines, eco-restoration alone will not be enough to counter the wreckage of fossil fuels. When we get carbon tunnel vision, we frantically search for whatever solution works – without considering the potentially horrifying consequences.

Shifting society from relying on fossil fuels to adopting renewable energy is necessary, but exploiting more of Earth’s resources to generate this transition will only replicate and exacerbate the crises we’re already facing. Mining for cobalt, a material needed in batteries that power electric vehicles, can lead to the devastation of landscapes and local communities. It requires extensive water and involves profound drilling. The increasingly high demand for cobalt begs the question: are we justly transitioning to a sustainable society, or are we replicating existing extractive-based systems under the ‘renewable’ label? The overconsumption of any material, even in the name of sustainability, will repeat past mistakes. Ways to enforce responsible mining include expanding recycling programs to reduce the demand of raw materials, requiring companies to empower workers, and guaranteeing a voice for local communities when designing regulations that impact the natural resources they rely on for survival.

Another consideration is how renewable energy is distributed. After gathering the ingredients and assembling the technology, companies look to build solar farms. Placing solar panels on rooftops, above parking lots, and in other already-developed areas utilizes spaces wisely and increases access to energy. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. In many places, untouched forests are being sacrificed in order to build solar farms. Deforestation effectively gets rid of a carbon sink – something we need to reverse global warming. Ironically, we’re further damaging the planet in our efforts to address the climate crisis. In order to advance human society, and to do so in a way that transforms rather than clones our current detrimental policies, we need a new mindset and not just new gadgets.

By adopting an intersectional mindset, one where we appreciate the links between overarching solutions, harmful consequences are prevented. The holistic perspective benefits nutrition and health, quality of life, and leads to clean air, water, and nutrient-filled food for all sentient beings. Intersectionality also allows us to get to the root of each cause, instead of scratching the surface by only addressing the symptoms. When the focus shifts from a narrow, single-issue view known as carbon tunnel vision to an over-encompassing systems view, we begin to embrace the systems that govern life on our planet.

Seeing climate change as the urgent, life-or-death crisis it is allows us to recognize the severity of the situation we put ourselves in. However, we can also see these next few years as an opportunity – to implement social, cultural, racial, economic, political, and communal regeneration. Transforming from an extractive to a restorative lifestyle won’t take place overnight. Our separation from nature is deeply intertwined into our daily lives, and it will require us to relearn how to collaborate with one another and with other living things. Even our science, language, and ways of understanding are largely based on domination rather than reciprocity and mutual relationship. It will take changing how we view, talk about, and treat other species to achieve the results we seek.

When we work together, physical and ecological resilience come within reach. That will lead to economic and community resilience for us all, and that will signify the beginning of our abundant futures. Western scientific methods will need to combine with the knowledge of Indigenous peoples. Many Indigenous cultures teach the ‘seven generations’ perspective, meaning you inherit the Earth from the seven generations before you, and the actions you take today will impact the next seven generations after you. Knowing this, why not ensure that the tradition of ecological healing continues?

Related Posts