What can we, the people, do about it?

Unfortunately, we live in a capitalist society in which certain environmental regulations are implemented based on the economical interest of big corporations, often from the oil, coal and gas industry, instead of scientific concerns. Through lobbying, these corporations aim to influence legislative decisions to the benefit of their shareholders instead of the environment. Politicians being under the pressure of campaign funding, more often than not undermine the real importance of climate change or try to convince us that an immediate transition to renewable energy would involve so much money and the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs that the only logical outcome would be an unprecedented economical crisis. In parallel, they often ensure that sufficient ‘pseudo-science’ is promoted to drown actual scientific facts into an ocean of confusion. And if that is not sufficient, they additionally try to deviate our attention from the climate emergency towards trivialities and non-existing immigration issues. The real problem, however, appears when us, the citizens, overwhelmed by work, daily struggles and the coronavirus pandemic, cannot fact-check every single piece of information launched at us, making us more vulnerable to their strategy. 

As bad as this may seem, it doesn’t mean that the game is over. Think about the current situation with the coronavirus, for instance. Regardless of whether the government enforces measures to prevent its spreading, the responsibility ultimately lies with us who understand the gravity of the situation and commit to reduce interpersonal interactions and keep social distancing, use face masks and focus on hygiene. Exactly the same applies to the fight for the climate. Regardless of the measures adopted by governments, as long as there is social awareness there is room for a systemic change on the climate front. And this is not just limited to putting the right people in the lead of our countries, but also changing the collective mindset.

Basic requirements that we should all embrace is a critical attitude about climate change and global warming related facts, and the use of well-sourced fact-checked information. A good practice is to keep an eye on the news from the IPCC, the intergovernmental body of the United Nations in charge of determining the state of the art of knowledge on climate change. This doesn’t mean that we should all spend 8 hours a day on this; following the IPCC on social media and spending 10-20 minutes a week on reading what they have to say will do just as good. We as S4F know that time is limited for everybody, which is the reason why we want to help making scientific information on critical issues accessible to everybody, especially to those who doesn’t have the time to conduct an extensive search on their own. 

A quick scan through science-based news is sufficient to realise the extent of the climate emergency and how important it is to take action immediately. And which actions can we take as individuals? Fortunately, the options are numerous:

  • First, we should try to reduce car and motorbike usage as much as possible. Road transportation accounts for around 80% of the global transport sector emissions, which have doubled since 1970 [1]. Reducing their usage will also lead to cleaner-air cities. Using public transportation is a very good alternative since it is a much more efficient way to transport people than private vehicles. The bike is also great.
  • We should try to exploit trains instead of airplanes when traveling abroad. A good example is the Rotterdam – Paris route. These two cities are less than 500 km apart, and there is a direct train connection that can make the trip in less than 2.5 hours. Yet some people choose to fly. And as long as there is demand, airliners will continue to offer this service. This is not on them but on us, who have developed the bad habit of abusing the airplane. We should try to curb that type of behaviour.
  • When it comes to daily practices, buying local products is very important. Every imported product has an associated carbon footprint to it, especially those ordered on the internet. Due to the current pandemic, this will also help small businesses make it through.
  • When going to the supermarket, it is good practice to bring our own bags instead of using disposable plastic bags every time. Avoiding heavily plastic wrapped items and one-time-use plastics is also a very important step towards a more sustainable lifestyle.
  • Regarding food, benefits of a plant based diet, not only for the climate but also in terms of heath, are compelling . The farming industry accounts for at least a fourth of the global greenhouse emissions [2]. But in addition, pasture land is much less efficient at absorbing carbon than land allocated for growing grains, beans, nuts, fruits and vegetables. This is depriving our planet from a very efficient natural way to revert climate change [3]. So we should definitely try to cut meat and dairy consumption. Even a reduction to once or twice a week, at a global scale, could already have tremendous benefits. 
  • And of course, commit to recycle as much as possible. Don’t be fooled by those who try to convince you that “at the end everything goes to the same pile” or that “it is not worth the fuss”. Every action matters.

These are just some examples that I hope made you think. The takeaway is not to wait until somebody else implements solutions that can revert climate change, because this may not even happen if we as citizens don’t show initiative. Few things we possess and we pass to next generations are more precious than our planet and its climate, and few things will affect them more fundamentally than our commitment today. Let’s make things right. 

SOURCES

[1] Sims R., R. Schaeffer, F. Creutzig, X. Cruz-Núñez, M. D’Agosto, D. Dimitriu, M.J. Figueroa Meza, L. Fulton, S. Kobayashi, O. Lah, A. McKinnon, P. Newman, M. Ouyang, J.J. Schauer, D. Sperling, and G. Tiwari, 2014: Transport. In: Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovern- mental Panel on Climate Change [Edenhofer, O., R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, E. Farahani, S. Kadner, K. Seyboth, A. Adler, I. Baum, S. Brunner, P. Eickemeier, B. Kriemann, J. Savolainen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow, T. Zwickel and J.C. Minx (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

[2] Shukla, P. R., et al. “IPCC, 2019: Climate Change and Land: an IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems.”

[3] Harwatt, H., and M. Hayek. “Eating Away at Climate Change with Negative Emissions: Repurposing UK Agricultural Land to Meet Climate Goals.” (2019).

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