Human activities over the past couple of centuries are responsible for causing excessive Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, thereby influencing climate system of the planet.
Some people think GHG emissions can be tackled by simply focusing on coal plants, automobiles, air conditioning, airplanes and cow burps. Therefore, they mostly tend to limit themselves within simplistic solutions, such as arrays of solar panels, large wind farms, hydropower, electric cars, organic farming, sustainability blah-blah, and not to forget your “personal responsibility”.
One of the popular narratives of our time is that every individual of this planet is responsible for the accelerating climate change and thus everyone needs to act responsibly. So, people started doing their bits by using electric stoves, riding electric cars, switching off lights, avoiding meat, eating organic, saving water, stopping to use plastic-bags, recycling, bicycling, etc.
The narrative is so effective (also true to some extent) that people even feel bad when they are unable to carry out their so-called “personal responsibility” to reduce GHG emissions. This sentiment presents business opportunity for companies which take advantage of your guilt and make profit by selling you yet another product which is labeled “green” and leaves less “carbon footprint”, so they say.
In the meantime, what we don’t realize is that the “responsibility” was cunningly shifted from giant oil industries and carbon emitters to an ordinary layman. The emotional buy-in strategy is effective for businesses and corporates, but switching “responsibility” to a common person is not likely to solve the actual problem on hand.
CO2 emissions could be cut down drastically if rich population favored climate over wealth and comfort. In fact, both rich and poor came quite close to doing the same in the year 2020. We all voluntarily became part of a global experiment in which we behaved responsibly by staying home, travelling less, entertaining less and shopping less. However, we were able to reduce CO2 emission by only 7% throughout the year 2020.
Nearly 20 years ago when British Petroleum (BP) rebranded itself as “Beyond Petroleum”, it cleverly popularized the term “carbon footprint”. The propaganda was a plain distraction as well as a clever deception in the sense that it indirectly held people personally responsible for environmental pollutions.
The narrative subtly indicates that the pollution is your problem (so, you choose your actions to solve it) and not the problem of the oil and gas giants, such as BP; the notion is far from reality.
If we look at the massive scale of the problem, asking average people to solve rapid climate change may get us nowhere. Owning the problem and taking personal responsibility to reduce your carbon footprint is great; Bravo! Nonetheless, let’s face it; these efforts can only take us so far. They can easily be overshadowed by systemic reality of corporate greed and ever-growing global GHG emissions as well as the lack of political will and consensus over how to quickly stop them.
We spent over three decades in pep talks and we know that it didn’t work. Had it worked, the GHG emissions would have significantly decreased by now. Moving forward, we will face more and more extreme environmental and ecological challenges which will be unavoidable as well as irreversible to a large extent.
Of course we need to be hopeful, but one thing we desperately need more than hope is real action on the ground. I have to agree with Greta Thunberg when she says “Hope is not passive. Hope is not blah, blah, blah. Hope is telling the truth. Hope is taking action. And hope always comes from the people.” We must actively correct our past mistakes by immediately coming up with strict measures to reduce GHG emissions in all fronts.
Politicians, global leaders, and governments must coordinate and collaborate before it is too late. But, it is very unlikely as long as their thinking is limited by national interests and geographical separations. It is even worse when their motivations are influenced by ideals, personal gain, corruption and sheer indulgence of big tax payers, mighty corporates, campaign contributors, etc.
Nevertheless, people can make politicians think, understand and feel differently by making them realize that the voters really care and that their career or political success depends on honestly tackling GHG emissions; starting with energy, transportation, agriculture, food, forestry and waste management sectors. Every world citizen must feel personally responsible to make their politicians accountable at local, regional and global levels.
We already have technologies to capture industrial CO2 emission before it gets released into the atmosphere. CO2 thus captured can be permanently stored underground or used in the production of fuels, chemicals, building materials, etc.
Implementing such technology to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere would cost factories and power plants trillions of dollars per year. This would inevitably skyrocket their product cost or even increase the possibility of their bankruptcy, impacting billons of people around the world.
As a result, it will be expensive for power plants, factories and industries to suddenly implement carbon capture technologies. Therefore, the global need for reduced carbon emissions has to be compensated (even after generous government subsidies) by increased prices of their products having minimum carbon footprint. In the short term, prices of specific products and services will increase for sure, but the important question to ask ourselves is, are we prepared for such price hikes?
In addition to holding politicians accountable, this is one place where “personal responsibility” part can add sustainable value to bring about systemic change we all strive for.
Not everybody can afford to buy low-carbon products, but if you are well-off enough, you can contribute to the systemic change by purchasing or investing on such relatively expensive goods and services today and help grow demands for tomorrow. This will help drive down prices hence more and more affordable for larger populations.
Another meaningful way to add significant value to the cause is to just talk, spread awareness and speak about the impending climate crisis on as many platforms as possible. In the meantime, you can also keep recycling your waste, taking shorter showers, riding bicycles to work, eating less meat, planting trees, avoiding air travels, building bamboo houses, buying electric cars, and indulging less in consumerism, etc.
Although you can share love, joy and sadness with each other, unfortunately, in this case, you cannot share your personal responsibility, nor can you digitize it.
So, we have to do what humans are best at; i.e. cooperate and participate as responsible individuals of respective communities to achieve the common goal. Both people and politicians must work together towards climate change mitigation and adaptation activities committed by their NDCs.