Reversing Climate Change: Our Enemies, and Our Allies

Oct 2, 2021 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

by Mina Chan

{excerpt from September 1st, 2016}

Dear Diary,

I came across a Guardian piece this morning that showed the shocking news of the fact that climate change could halve coffee-growing areas. As a burgeoning coffee addict (let’s not use that word, perhaps connoisseur? appreciator?) this is highly upsetting news. Would that mean I won’t be able to afford coffee, sometime in the future? No, this is unacceptable. But scientists would be able to do something about it, right? I mean, they somehow managed to make acid rain go away. On top of that, veganism’s a thing now, and people are becoming more conscious about going green and all that. Shouldn’t that account for something? I’m sure they’ll be able to figure something out.

……

July 1st, 2021

Dear Diary (and to my past, naïve self),

Join me on the path towards nihilism as we survey the state of our planet and its implications for the future!

Despite our best wishes, scientists have not been able to retract the effects of climate change on the dwindling coffee production the last couple of years, and neither have the veganism, environmental, and green trends that proliferate social media. Proof, you ask? Simply switch to another tab and take a look at the headlines of every major news outlet. Heat waves! Floods! Droughts! Millions of climate refugees!

But don’t blame the scientists—they’re not at fault here.

Ah, if it isn’t the consequences of our actions.

Or are they?

‘Our’ is used here as the general ‘our’, as the human race within the course of human history. But somewhere along the line, this ‘our’ has shifted to underlie a very pointed, accusatory message pointed towards the individual, proclaiming: ah, if it isn’t the consequences of YOUR actions.

(It was probably the corporations that started it.)

Shorter showers? Not using air conditioning in the sweltering heat? Reducing my carbon footprint? None of these actions that I sacrificed at the expense of comfort is going to change much, in the long run. This may mean I get to save a couple dollars on bills, but under no circumstances are these individual energy cuts going to make a notable impact towards sustainability when individual energy expenditure isn’t even a fraction of what corporations use up.

Coca-Cola continues with its single-use plastic bottle plan, producing 200,000 bottles a minute, many of which continue to end up in landfills. Tyson Foods, The US’s biggest meat supplier, is the main contributor to the Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone, as the carcasses of the ocean’s bounty pile upon the gulf as far as the eye can see. Starbucks strives to empower coffee farmers for ethical trading–and don’t get me wrong, that’s fantastic news for coffee farmers—but it stands firm on dishing out single-use crockery.

I’d just like something fizzy, to stave off the heat. I’d just like some meat for lunch, a cup of coffee to go with it. These little things that are part of our everyday life are affected by the choices these corporations make, and the policymakers that implicitly allow—and even encourage with subsidies—these deeds.

Small, individual changes encouraged by corporations are the “plastic straws” of the climate change discourse: feel-good distractions that guilt-trip you into frantically fixing up personal habits instead of addressing the real, systemic problems that facilitate climate change at the basest level.

In a capitalist society, governments and private sectors essentially live inside each other’s pockets. What role does the weak individual play in this arrangement, then?

The consumer, that’s what.

In a democratic, capitalist society, individuals serve as consumers. Natural competition, and all that. The daily options we make in regards to our life, collectively, is a force to be reckoned with.

Boycotts. Social media’s viral trends. Cancel culture and callouts. Stock crashes and rises. These actions, collectively, play an indomitable force to be reckoned with. Of course, these in itself are a privilege some cannot access—consider China’s hold on the market, even with a burgeoning capitalist market—but the argument stands; just take a look at corporations’ new focus on corporate social responsibility. In your face, corporations. You might have forgotten we’re all part of the invisible hand, but we haven’t. Not so invisible now, are we?

However, I caution against over-relying on this narrative for change. This narrative with the focus on personal activity both on an individual and community basis, though effective for our capitalist overlords, neglects the main actor that impacts society: policy-makers and governments.

Corporations decide to stick to the status quo of plastics and waste production, but it is the government that allows for these misdeeds to happen in the first place. Governments actively fear-monger the public with baseless claims from wind turbines causing cancer to the misuse of the term “clean air”, thwarting the efforts of climate activists in sounding the wake-up call everyone needs but are wont to ignore.

Climate change activists, through sheer force of will and a lot of heart to give, are pressuring governments to take effective action, at the systemic level.

The problem is: reversing the effects of climate change is going to be a slow and gradual process. In today’s fast pace of information, climate change is not a topic that the vast majority ascribe attention towards. Climate change is like a horror story: it’s terrible and gives us nightmares. Like a gloomy cloud of utter despair, it oscillates in the public conscious between falsehoods, exaggerations, and a very scary reality. It’s a long-term problem that creeps up to us, unaware…until the very moment where it manifests in the most terrifying ways. Forest fires that destroy ecosystems. Drought and floods that leave millions homeless, lives forever upended.

And now you’ve got a bunch of people out there faced with existential dread. The uncertainty of the future, the lack of stability–the younger generations’ mental health are suffering. This intersectional, apocalyptic threat of epic proportions looming over our heads, while we try to live the semblance of a normal life as we go about our every day.

We’ve all experienced the debilitating effects of climate change, in some way or form—this summer has just proven that the effects of climate change are finally rearing its head. We NEED striking change, and it needs to happen in the next 30 years, or the collective planet is going to metaphorically—or even literally, who knows—implode.

It may start with coffee production and prices. Global heat waves in five years, water scarcity in ten. Then what?

Feeling a tad nihilistic? Burdened with a pessimistic outlook on the future of the planet? Might I draw your attention to drawdown.org, a website with a detailed list of solutions for climate change and the progress we’ve made so far. Reversing climate change is going to be extremely difficult, but it’s not impossible.

You may also like:

We Can’t Escape This: On Breathing & Social Justice

The day after George Floyd’s murder, the neighborhood residents around S. Carrollton Ave. in New Orleans began their daily nine-minute silent protest, as silent as a protest can be with the St. Charles streetcar rumbling down the tracks on either side of the street....

Opinion: My personal story of how I overcome fast-fashion addiction and become a conscious consumer

Disclaimer: Opinion pieces are representative of the opinion of the individual, rather than Fifty Percent as an organisation. “But that's how it is when you start wanting to have things. Now I just look at them, and when I go away I carry them in my head. Then my...

On Independence and Colonialism

I’m writing this by the ocean, staring at the mountains piercing through the horizon line. I look at all the green – the Palawan local…

Youth Empowerment & Sustainability on Campus: A Conversation with Perry Dripps

Author’s note: The interview has been condensed to fit. I was once a student on a college campus, and I’ve been around people like Perry…

Sustainable Consumption, Gender & Justice: A Conversation with Lucie Middlemiss

By Hasheemah Afaneh Sustainable Consumption, Gender & Justice: A Conversation with Lucie Middlemiss Hasheemah Afaneh Author’s note: The…

Children

By Manasa Narayanan How far can these tiny feet walk? On the land that spews blood Where do these feet stop? Where is home? Is it the…

Reading Climate Change

By Mina Chan Media is a necessity – that’s been long established. The Fourth Estate, institutions that have the indirect power to…

Why Avocados also Suck

By Bodil S. Lund The truth is that I really, truly, deeply love avocados, and I want to eat guacamole with everything all the time….

Something About Truth

Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels When speaking of climate change and other environmental and sustainable issues thoughts connected with…

The Personal, Global & Local in Climate Action

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels One of the most defining images of the global climate movement in recent history was of Greta Thunberg…

ACTIVATING A GENERATION