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Why We Aren’t Tackling The Climate Crisis


Rojina Parchizadeh discusses the importance of taking action for climate change and how we are failing as a society to prioritise our planet because of our greedy economy.

Climate change is rapidly accelerating, with the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) reporting that the global average temperature in 2019 was 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels. This steers dangerously close to the 1.5°C set by the Paris Agreement. In fact, the figure below made by the Climate Action Tracker warns that if the world continues to rely on its current policies, the earth will warm by 2.7-3.1°C by 2100.

While the majority of people accept that we must act on climate change, there has been little to no legislation that would meaningfully address the issue. The question is, why?

It is difficult to address why we aren’t acting on climate change without discussing the mechanisms of our economy and how they contribute to climate change. Our economic model stresses providing goods and services because they are profitable. We measure the growth of the global economy through the growth in annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which encapsulates the market value of all goods and services produced in an economy. Therefore, in order for our economy to grow, producers must produce more, and consumers must consume more, emitting more greenhouse gases.

Growth in consumption is the culprit of climate change. A 2015 study found that production and use of household goods and services contributed 60% of global greenhouse gas emissions. A UN report found that the wealthiest 1% of the global population emits double the amount of greenhouse gases than the poorest 50%. Evidently, wealthier consumers have a greater net impact on the acceleration of climate change because they are consuming more and consuming inconspicuously. However, the revelation that we need to consume less to combat climate change conflicts with our economic model and how we measure its success.

Therefore, companies divert the conversation to recycling more, consuming ‘sustainable’ products and increasing efficiency in production even though they know these measures will not address the problem. Dittrich (2012) found that even if producers adopted best practice in efficient resource use, resource consumption would rise to 93 billion metric tonnes per year by 2050. This amount of resource consumption far exceeds the ‘sustainable’ limit of 50 billion metric tonnes per year. Therefore, no amount of technological efficiency can successfully counter climate change. Similarly, market-based mechanisms on their own such as a hefty carbon tax would also be ineffective in significantly reducing carbon emissions.

However, this does not stop companies from green-washing and manipulating consumers into purchasing more of their products. Below are some examples of companies making false claims that their products are sustainable or eco-friendly. For example, Nestlé claims its cocoa beans are sustainably sourced when the key ingredient of its products is driving mass deforestation in West Africa.

Unsurprisingly, excessive corporate influence is an obstacle to effective environmental legislation. The biggest corporations mostly trade carbon intensive products, and they have vast amounts of political power. Not only do these corporations ensure their interests are protected by the government through lobbying, they also largely control the public discourse around climate change. Since the 2015 Paris Agreement, the top five oil companies in the world have spent over a billion dollars on lobbying, marketing and greenwashing. In fact, large pollutants such as Air France, EDF, Renault-Nissan and BNP Paribas paid for 20% of the funding needed for the Paris Agreement.

The question becomes, how does Australia compare? Despite what the Federal Government says, Australia is projected to far exceed its Paris Agreement target in 2030. The target recommendation during the Paris Agreement was a 45-65% reduction in carbon emissions compared to 2005 levels. Australia pledged to reduce its carbon emissions by 26-28%. Moreover, Australia has been reluctant to phase out coal because it is too profitable for the economy. The vast political influence of fossil fuel industries in Australia is astounding. In 2018-19, fossil fuel companies donated almost $2 million to the ALP, Liberal and National parties, ensuring their interests are protected regardless of the majority party. Even more discouraging is the fact the true figure could be 5-10 times higher given the amount of untraceable ‘dark money’ donations. The Federal Government spends an estimated $12 billion on tax based fossil fuel subsidies annually. In 2010, Kevin Rudd proposed a mining super profits tax. The mining industry responded by spending $22 million in advertisements against the tax, claiming jobs would be cut and the economy would be devastated. Afterwards, Kevin Rudd was replaced and the tax was never considered again.

While states have tried to provide incentive for individual households to install solar panels, electricity usage in industry is almost triple the amount of residential use of electricity. Similarly, transport makes up almost 19% of total GHG emissions, emphasising the need for us to create a systematic change rather than an individual lifestyle change.

Earlier in this piece, I mentioned that climate change reflects a structural problem of our reliance on overconsumption and consumerist culture. Wiedmann et al. (2020) reported that consumption of affluent households worldwide is the greatest predictor and accelerant of climate change. The study also warns that climate change will continue as long as the global north continues to consume beyond what they need. However, this does not mean that we will have to live hard lives. Trainer (2019) found that Australians will be able to maintain a decent living standard with approximately 90% lesser per-capita energy use by phasing out positional goods (goods that are expensive and signify social status).

Even though transitioning to renewables and better technology are part of the solution, we must radically change our lifestyles to save our planet. There is a possibility of degrowth, which can be done through mass organisation.

The earth will continue to exist in the foreseeable future. The only question is, will we survive with it?


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