Climate Change and Our Future: Does Culpability Matter?
Are humans culpable in climate change? Are the problems human-induced?
The following is a video from 2008 by Greg Craven, who challenges us to dissect the climate change debate and acknowledge we only have one decision: to try our best to counteract it.
The video is a phenomenally simple diagram of cognitive reasoning. However, I'd like to come to a similar conclusion, but from a wider lens. Since this video was made, millions of dollars in research have concluded that the planet's climate is changing. So, I'd like to amend the discussion a bit by supplanting Craven's question of whether climate change is going on, with is climate change the fault of humanity?
I propose the idea that instead of using climate change as a zero-sum doomsday scenario to influence policy and lifestyle change, we should emphasize fundamental socio-politico-economic shifts that must happen in our modern society regardless of climate change. What's more, I believe using climate change as an argument may prove a disservice to real change.
With respect to climate change, whichever set of beliefs you have on the subject, it simply doesn't matter. Beliefs should not determine action.
Why? Because regardless of culpability, the very political and economic systems in place that may or may not be causing catastrophic climate change are the very political economic systems that negatively effect our human society and perpetuate our failed attempt at human self-determination and happiness.
I can't say for certain humans are causing rising sea levels and a hotter (in some places cooler) planet - and no one can, not even scientists can be completely sure. However, for the sake of this segment of my argument, let's say we are. Humans are 100% the cause of global climate change.
If so, what's causing this climate shift?: 1) Emissions from fossil fuels, 2) deforestation, desertification 3) methane emissions from landfill waste (among others).
Who are the main culprits in this scenario?: 1) Oil usage in planes, trains, and automobiles, 2) Coal and natural gas power plants, 3) Petrochemicals used in many ways (namely agriculture), 4) international logging (clear-cutting, burning), 5) large-scale farming conglomerates, 6) waste management (or lack thereof).
These industries are directly related; however, nearly every facet of our political economy relies on these industries - multinational corporations, military-industrial complexes, energy sectors, manufacturing, et cetera.
Now, I have written before on the dangers of these industries and the need for more local ideas and industries to benefit people, planet, and profit.
Why? Because these industries perpetuate what be altered in our society - overdependence on personal and dirty transportation, mass-produced and centralized food production, top-down economic order, a growing divide between first world and third world, reliance on harmful and finite energy resources, negligence to all waste issues, and toxicity levels in our air and water, just to name a few.
What we should be striving for is emphasis on walkability, denser and more vibrant communities, local and healthy foods, fair and mutually beneficial economies, global collaboration and unity, cleaner and more renewable energy, closed-loop and holistic waste systems, and insistence on making our environment cleaner, healthier, more diverse.
The socially harmful industries make billions of dollars. Whether they wake up every morning and decide to do their darnedest to pollute and continue society down a dangerous path is up for debate (I'm pretty sure they don't). However, they are waking up every morning wanting to do their darnedest for their company, and in turn, for themselves. They want to maximize the company's profit so they can maximize their income to pay for their food, shelter, family, and the leisure activities they've been accustomed to enjoying. A cog in a well-oiled machine will not change the way it works. Any one of us, given that opportunity would do the same thing - it's a product of our current society, which incentivizes capital accumulation and a narrow systems perspective.
To counteract this, we must utilize our wide, global perspective on the socio-political-economic world order and attempt to improve humanity's quality of life. Focus outside energy toward changing the system, not toward the blinded individual cogs that reside inside the system.
Everything that these industries do is supported by political economic dogma and policies that reward maximized profits and higher yields.
Our addiction to finite fossil fuels, and the political economic systems on which our addiction thrives, perpetuates deeply harmful global problems.
Locally, multinational corporations out-price local competition and concentrate wealth. A process that governments incentivize.
International MNCs have the money to manufacture in third world countries - a process which mires the third world in poverty due to wealth concentration, mostly due to involvement in economic restructuring programs and domestic political-economic corruption, which encourages short-term thinking. The more powerful MNCs get, the more resources they exploit. From political backing, to legal council, to technological investment, to public relations, to natural resources, global behemoths emerge that can act without restraint and without remorse.
Their influence can be felt throughout each community. On a local level, a town or city will invest in a strip mall or tax breaks for a certain industry over public transportation or other community building initiatives. While looking good in the short term with slight "job growth" or capital investment, these community investments do just the opposite - funnel capital to a select few and burden the rest. We must investigate the pros and cons of reliance on these investments, not just over one political election cycle, but over the lifetime of the community.
In Brazil, among other countries, slash and burn clear-cutting is incentivized by a global industry that demands the cheapest logging possible. Regardless of the emissions created by the practice, it contributes to huge losses in biodiversity as well as poor labor conditions. In fact, as of 2006, the Brazilian government acknowledged at least 25000 Brazilian laborers worked under "conditions analogous to slavery" when clearing Amazon land for farming and logging conglomerates.
Take sweatshop labor. Many acknowledge that worldwide shipping via container ships and planes contributes to a large amount of emissions that may resulting in human-induced climate change. But are the risks involved with harmful emissions more insidious than the ramifications of the frenzied pursuit of cheap resources, which causes the third world to prostitute itself with cheap labor and textiles? Or the complementary hyperconsumerism that destroys the first world through credit addiction and loss of cultural identity? Or the hegemonic power enjoyed by MNCs and the politicians who are rewarded for maintaining and growing that power? These poignant issues will cause change.
From Greg Craven's video there's a decision between “guessing” and “choosing” our future. If we accept that climate change is happening, regardless of culpability, human action must be to choose an alteration of the current systems to benefit humanity.
So, when we take away the climate change negatives from evaluating harmful industries, we are still left with deeply cutting global problems. As such, moving away from the these types of industries that control our world and sustain global injustices should have nothing to do with climate change. In my view, the negative effects of these industries are abundantly more pernicious to human society than to climate change. If we tackle the harmful practices and systems that plague our society, potential human-induced climate change will take care of itself, because the necessary changes are inherent in a paradigm shift that focuses on a local, sustainable, pluralistic socio-politico-economic system.
Using climate change as an argument to shift political economic policies turns a simple and all-inclusive idea of a better, more just world into an abstract, zero-sum game where there are believers vs. non-believers. When it comes to belief systems, people rarely change. So, instead of forcing a belief change, we can take it out of the equation altogether.
Whether you believe in human-induced climate change or not, it doesn't matter. Choose whether we should continue down a road with more obesity, dirtier air, diminished connection to fellow man and its planet, less biodiversity, but maybe a little more money for a select few in power... or will we live in a more just world, with vibrant, happy, prosperous communities, a cleaner planet to inhabit, and a healthier population, with respect and integrity.
The choice is yours, but I'd prefer the latter.
Other Posts by Zachary Hirschfeld
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- This Big City
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- Centre for Cities
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- IFMR Financing Small Cities
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- Adam N Mayer
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- Walid Norris
- Cape Town Partnership
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- Project for Public Spaces
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