Global temperatures have risen 0.85°C since 1880 as a result of greenhouse emissions, bringing about increased frequency and severity of floods, droughts, tropical storms and wildfires. These temperature rises have accelerated desertification of agricultural land, threatening many livelihoods. These temperature rises are destroying the natural equilibrium of many ecosystems – threatening the existence of countless species. These are just a few of the impacts of rising global temperatures – yet they evidently affect people from all walks of life, from farmers in the Philippines to medicinal researchers in the Amazon.
Despite negatively impacting us all climate change is arguably one of the biggest causes of social injustice. Consider that the average person from the U.S.A is responsible for producing 16.5 metric tonnes of CO2 emissions a year compared to the 1.22 tonnes produced by a person from the Philippines. Yet on the global climate risk index (2015) the Philippines is listed as the most affected country by climate change. The people suffering the direct consequences of climate change are not the ones contributing to increasing global temperatures the most. Therefore, in order to reduce rising global temperatures, we must bridge the divide between those accelerating climate change and those suffering its consequences.
To make this possible we must use our power as consumers to change the actions of the most powerful players in contributing to climate change – transnational corporations. The power these businesses hold is the result of demand – they are only as powerful as their supporters. Over 70% of greenhouse gas emissions come from just 100 companies. Yet which companies these are is not common knowledge. Even though we have mandatory carbon reporting in the UK this is not widespread and widely practiced globally. All companies should legally have to report their emissions (including methane which is 30 times as potent as a heat trapping gas compared to carbon dioxide). If the media widely publicised this information rather than scandals of vegetarian burgers containing meat they could actually inform consumers how to best combat climate change. We need headlines telling us which companies support fracking in the Arctic, which companies have the greatest food- miles and which companies have the greatest emissions. This way consumers can make informed decisions that don’t give power to multinational companies that run for profit at the expense of our planet. Furthermore, better labelling of products will allow consumers to make choices that reduce global temperature rises. Consumers can only make these sustainable decisions when they realise, they are making a choice when they purchase products. Food systems contribute to over 20% of global emissions and we could reduce that figure if our food packaging showcased the associated carbon footprint of each product.
Another globally influential force on climate change is governments. It was found that of the 184 pledges for the 2030 Paris Climate Agreement Target 75% were insufficient. Meaning that climate change is not being prioritised by world leaders. Yet we continue to elect political representatives who fail to truly recognise the significance of climate change. For example, in the UK Brexit has taken up the majority of parliament’s time since 2016. Parliament was even prorogued - most likely for a Brexit deal to be reached. Yet climate change has been a well-established threat since the 1980s and the UK government ignored advice from the Climate Change Committee last June. This encapsulates a wider institutionalised problem with our global political systems. As wider political systems encourage short term aims rather than long term ones as most countries have short terms for elected leaders such as the five-year term in the UK. As a result of this system leaders are often pressured to act on policies that have immediate results so they can keep voter’s support while in power. This short-term thinking is damaging for the environment as it often means leaders neglect to tackle climate change. To combat this system voters in more economically stable countries must put more pressure on governments to take immediate action to tackle climate change. Voters in lower income countries have more pressing concerns like sanitation, health care and food security, hence more privileged voters should use their power for global and not local benefits. For example, the questionable statistic that the UK sends “£350 million a week to the EU” which infamously appeared on buses for the Leave campaign fuelled fear about the national economy in Britain. Yet perhaps people in higher-income countries should be more concerned with the international economy. As by 2030, the failure to reduce emissions will cost the world a minimum of $2 billion per day as a result of weather events made worse by climate change.
We must remember the governments we elect are acting on a global stage as well as a national one. Climate change is the biggest political issue of our time and future and therefore we must vote accordingly. Young people who are unable to vote can still influence politics through actions such as strikes – with the largest global school strike for climate taking place last year. Strike action is an undeniable reminder to older generations that climate change will dominate the futures of young people. This way, whether it be through tactically voting or striking, people can put pressure on those in power to reduce the rate of rising global temperatures. As well as the fact that crucially governments are only as powerful as their supporters.
However, you can’t vote for leaders that will prioritise climate change if you don’t understand the significance of climate change. In 2012 28.5 million children didn’t receive a primary school education, this figure predominantly being children from low income countries (the countries suffering worst from climate change). The more children educated about climate change, the greater potential they have to combat it in future. In addition to this, education about climate change is often restricted to those studying sciences or geography. This is problematic because these subjects are not available to some students or dropped at a young age. To change this, the issue of climate change should be embedded into the teaching of other core subjects. For example, you could study poems about climate change like the “Last Snowman” by Simon Armitage or the large data set used in A- level maths could show global temperature increases. If the aim of education is to prepare children with skills for the future, knowledge about climate change is vital. It is crucial that the next generation takes climate change seriously, so they have the means to help reduce rising temperature through their political voice and the consumer choices they make. Along with the next generation it is necessary we educate all age groups.
It is particularly necessary to educate older workers in agricultural positions as demand for food is ever increasing and farming emissions contribute so much to rising temperatures. For example, there are farming techniques that could potentially cut methane build up in rice paddy field by 90% and methane from rice fields alone contributes to 1.5% of global greenhouse emissions. We must also improve education on the alternative methods to challenge climate change that are constantly being developed.
An example is a plastic alternative made from seaweed that currently lacks the necessary funding to make a difference. Plastics are made using fossil fuels and alternatives like this could make a vast difference to greenhouse emissions and, hence rising global temperatures. Unfortunately, many alternatives and inventions to reduce global temperature increases do not receive enough media attention and therefore funding. We have never lived in a more interconnected and globalised society and we should utilise that to our advantage in combating climate change. We must look for more innovative ways to spread the awareness of climate change. For example, last year in Iceland a funeral was held for the first glacier lost to climate change. However, ultimately, we need a global scheme to amplify the issue of climate change to many. Perhaps we should remember the lives already taken by climate change and the many at risk. The World Health Organisation’s estimate that 250,000 lives a year will be taken by climate change is now deemed a conservative estimate.
Surely as humans we can empathise collectively at these tragedies and use our empathy to inspire us to take drastic actions to ensure we protect future generations. Many small actions can be effective, yet we should stop putting the pressure on individuals to address climate change. The rising global temperatures are the result of generations and generations funding unsustainable businesses. We now rightfully condemn the colonisers that exploited the resources of other countries.
Yet effectively that is what we continue to do today in order to meet our high energy consuming lifestyles. Without realising it millions of us are contributing to rising temperatures which are destroying lives. Effectively, in order to work together to reduce global temperatures we must address the disparity between wealthier and poorer countries in their emissions. To do this requires a shift in our global economy and the way we perceive items as consumers – we must remember that our consumption comes with consequences.