We can’t solve climate change only on the individual level
As climate change is threatening all people on earth, it is logical, that we should all try to do our personal best to fight it. But in debates on solutions this individual role is very often describes as a much bigger impact than it actually is. The ban on plastic straws for example might be a good step in the right direction, but does not make a serious difference given the magnitude of the climate crisis. Yet transforming customer choices are often considered an effective way towards a more sustainable future, and is loading the responsibility on the individual. The proble is a systemic problem though so it needs a systemic change as solution.
Who is responsible?
Around 70 percent of the world’s historical greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions can be traced to only 100 investor and state-owned fossil fuel companies. And instead of taking this responsibility, Fossil fuel interests spend billions on climate science denial to conceal the truth behind the crisis and to slow down measures that would endanger their profits. Further on, by lots of lobbyism they secure subsidies, making it more difficult for alternative renewable energy sources to compete fairly.
Holding the industry accountable
There might be ways for holding the industry responsible for past emissions.
A series of lawsuits filed against ExxonMobil are seeking financial penalties because of the obfuscating climate research and deceiving of the public, by which ExxonMobil forced communities affected by climate change to pay for future damage caused by the crisis thy are not responsible for.
Holding the fossil fuel industry accountable becomes more complex when considering that most of the companies are diversified into various products, which are not all equally harmful to the environment. In recent times some initiatives towards cleaner energy have been started also by fossil fuel companies.
Fossil fuel use emmits GHG that cause climate change. In order to reduce these emissions, climate solutions must as a first step eliminate fossil fuel subsidies. This would help make the energy sector a truly even playing field, allowing renewable energy sources to compete fairly with fossil fuels and proving cheaper in the long run. To make faster progress towards GHG neutrality the subsidies could be even shifted towards sustainable energy technology.
Carbon taxes can be another tool used by governments to induct a change in product production as well in customer choices. For not disadvantaging poor people who often have no choice but to use fossil fuel based products the money earned from the tax could e given back to the citizens in form of social benefits or tax exemptions.
While it remains important for individuals to make more sustainable consumer choices, they must also be aware of such changes’ limited efficacy. To effectively act on climate change, it seems that people must focus more on organizing for large-scale solutions like a carbon tax.
So the most effective thing we can do as individuals is voting for representatives that are taking the climate crisis serious and want to shift the system away from fossil fuels and towards sustainable alternatives.
This text is based on an Harvard Politics article written by Elliott Hyman on January 2, 2020. For further information I recommend to read the article and also check out some of the many additional links with further information on the topic.
By Till Stoltenow