Can YOU solve the global warming crisis?

By Nallely Guillen Rodriguez, GCC 3011 student

The global warming crisis has lived as a background topic in my mind. Now more than ever, it brings no little concerns to my life, as its consequences just keep getting are more and more evident and extreme. And I know I am not alone in the feeling, as “climate anxiety” is something that exists and it is on the rise, especially among young people[1][2]

So, the question always arises: What can we do about it? Nowadays we get bombed with all the suggestions of different things that we can do: Use public transport! Eat less meat! Stop using plastic straws! You, dear Earth citizen, can stop global warming one tote bag at a time, right? And if YOU do not help by, say, using fewer plastic bags at the supermarket, YOU are the one to blame for it… right?

The climate change escape goat

Nowadays we are aware of the term “individual carbon footprint” that depends on what you eat, what you wear, and how you move around, etc. We are always encouraged to decrease it, so we can achieve our quote of saving the world. But truth is, if you were to cut ALL your individual GHGs emissions for the rest of your life, you could only save the world 1.12 seconds worth of emissions in comparison to the yearly emissions from the energy sector[3]. Of course, if we all did it, we could collectively make a big impact, but it is not as simple as that: with the technologies, products, and services we have access to now, it is impossible to totally reduce your emissions by your own, because we form part of certain systems which we do not have control over. 

Let’s look at how the GHG’s emissions are distributed per sector[4]:

As we see, most of the emissions comes from the energy we use to make things, to keep our activities going. We could argue that collectively, as average citizens, we could reduce the amount of travel we do by plane, or how do we use the energy in our houses. But can you single-handedly stop the industry of iron and steel, that produces 7.2% of the total of GHGs? Could you one day knock at BP’s door (the ones who started the individual footprint campaign [5]) and kindly ask them to stop using oil and change to solar panels?… Blaming only the individual for a systematic problem is irresponsible and misleading, since some of the big changes need to be made from a different place. 

 

The privilege of fighting climate change

As we cannot be fooled and take all the blame for climate change, at the same time we need to consider how inequality plays a big part of the distribution of our individual emissions. By 2015 the richest 10% of the world’s population were responsible for 52% of the cumulative carbon emissions, while the poorest 50% were responsible for just 7%. The 40% in the global middle class accounted for 41% of the cumulative emissions[6]

So, from the individual side, we need to do a reality check and see how our socio-economic status allows us to fight against climate change. Our lifestyles play part on how the industry behaves, as at the end of the day, we are the consumers of the products it generates. Then, we need to ask some difficult questions: What parts of our lives, especially in the ways we consume and waste, should we be willing to give up to decrease our emissions? How can we guarantee that the poorest people can have a better life quality? Should we all continue to aim for a wealthy lifestyle in a world that obviously does not have the resources to accomplish that? And how can we use our democratic power to collectively push the industries, our governments, and the wealthiest people to hold them accountable in the sectors we cannot control directly? 

 

I think that we are on a good track: as individuals, we are already questioning how we impact our world, and we are really interested in doing the best thing. So, let’s focus our efforts on the places where changes are being made. Who representative is pushing bills against climate change? Which organizations and institutions can give you more information to take the best course of action, and how you can join them? In which spaces can you open this conversation?  

There is a lot of work we need to do. I am still anxious; I am still worried. But you are here, reading this. And that means that, even if I cannot solve the global warming crisis alone, there is the chance that WE will.

Bibliography

[1] S., Clayton. “Climate Anxiety: Psychological Responses to Climate Change.” Journal of anxiety disorders. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Accessed April 4, 2022. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32623280/. 

[2] Gregory, Andrew. “’Eco-Anxiety’: Fear of Environmental Doom Weighs on Young People.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, October 6, 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/oct/06/eco-anxiety-fear-of-environmental-doom-weighs-on-young-people. 

[3] “Sources – What Can You Do to Stop Climate Change? and Should You?” Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell. Accessed April 3, 2022. https://sites.google.com/view/sources-climate-how/. 

[4] Ritchie, Hannah, and Max Roser. “Emissions by Sector.” Our World in Data, May 11, 2020. https://ourworldindata.org/emissions-by-sector#sector-by-sector-where-do-global-greenhouse-gas-emissions-come-from. 

[5] Kaufman, Mark. “The Carbon Footprint Sham.” Mashable. Mashable, July 9, 2021. https://mashable.com/feature/carbon-footprint-pr-campaign-sham?europe=true. Accessed April 6, 2022.

[6] Gore, Tim. “Confronting Carbon Inequality.” Oxfam International, September 23, 2020. https://www.oxfam.org/en/research/confronting-carbon-inequality.

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