I have already attended six climate change conferences and I still remember the happiness of the first, in Cancun, and can feel the hope of the last, in Paris. During these six years, I have lived in Bonn, the city where the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat is located, having many friends and acquaintances working on climate change issues. However, after this first-hand contact with the places and moments where actions are supposed to be taken, my views have not changed very much since my second semester at university in 2005 when I had the chance to study climate change in depth.
In this blog article, you can find my reflections #InsideValue about climate change and how I think that collaboration of ‘the 99%’ can make a real difference.
It was 2005, I was 18 years old, I was surprised that despite the potential impacts of climate change looking bad, there were no signs of collaboration. I remember I felt a special fascination for the topic and said to myself that I wanted to do something in the future (of course living in Venezuela this chance looked really distant and totally unachievable). During the following semesters, I tried to analyse the logic of climate change from specific theoretical lenses ranging from games theory to international regimes and when I was about to finish university, I got to a more refined and academic conclusion, very similar to the one during my second semester: Climate change is a fundamental world problem where the lack of collaboration generates immediate maximisation while in the long run, everybody will be affected.
As I said, this view has not changed that much. The tragedy of the commons explains this very well, a shared resource (with no defined owners but with collective benefits) is exploited by users who are maximising their own interest, and the result in the long run is depletion of the resource.
What is the real problem? Climate change is only the visible part of it
Although climate change is one of the issues that are and will be clearly affecting the world, it is only a visible manifestation that there is something wrong with the current system. The way we have been living, consuming and making decisions is having an impact and threatening the life of future generations. The facts that in 2015 the global carbon dioxide levels reached the record of 400 parts per million, that 2016 it is likely to be the hottest year ever and that unfortunately the poorest will suffer the hardest effects, demonstrate that we need to rethink the way we live before it is too late.
After all the clear scientific evidence, and that the very likely cause of climate change is human action, I still wonder why people do not feel that climate change is imminent. And there is no clear and compelling answer to answer this question …
What is the perception of people around? My 6.7% sample
When I speak with my family and friends, and I mention something about climate change, I get different viewpoints and impressions: from the ironic tone of denial or a mysterious one that ‘oh yes, climate change is the apocalypse’ to the blame shifting ones ‘it is all the government’s and UN people’s fault who are making money out of it and travelling to host expensive summits’ or ‘It is the companies and the big powers so there is nothing we can do’. The most optimistic comments make me feel burdened with a very heavy load—despite it being a distortion of how I see my reality: ‘It is great you are dealing with these issues so they can be solved’.
The common thing here is that the problem is somewhere else, caused by somebody else, barely solved by ‘a group’ of people. There is a clear disconnect between the facts and the different perceptions. And the moment I get very pessimistic is when I realise that my small world of family and friends, all with university degrees; doctors, lawyers, engineers, humanists, are only part of the 6.7% of the world population with university degrees. Of course, it is clear that if I go to a place where people are really suffering the impacts of climate change, I will get very different, valuable and unique impressions.
Who is responsible: the 1% or the 99%?
Sustainability problems become visible due to the actions of big superpowers such as companies and policy players. It is true that the bigger the player, the bigger the impact. However, we have the bad habit of justifying the things we do not understand because it is somebody else’s business or responsibility. We go happily to the supermarket and feel totally free to choose because we have options among 50 tomatoes so we can choose the ‘best one’ we will take home. And for most of the things, we display a similar behaviour: we take things for granted and there is nothing we can do apart from getting the greatest benefit.
Global inequality is growing and only 1% of the world population owns 50% of the world’s wealth—having the responsibility and also the potential to change things. The part we do not connect very well is that this 1% keeps running in part due to the 99% who use and benefit from the rules they set (for good or bad). The big question here is why the 99% of the world does not feel empowered enough to drive change if they are the ones who drive the 50% wealth of this 1% … This is of course only a rhetorical question.
It is time to care—it is time to take action!
Climate change is happening and sooner or later, it will be near us. 2016 is not a very promising year, and unfortunately countries in different latitudes will suffer the hardest weather-related events. The good news is that it seems that big players and governments have stopped denying the issue of climate change and the Paris Agreement is a clear sign of that. In the same order of ideas, big companies also realise that the impacts of climate change are translated directly into value chain risks and therefore, it is important that they adapt and mitigate those risks.
It seems that the 1% is kind of aware of the problem and is ready to ‘act’. Therefore, we have reached the moment where the 99% (I am just doing an exercise in generalisation) must achieve the big power needed to take action. From individual actions to joining collective entities, communities and NGOs we can do something to stop climate change. It is time to start caring about what we have beyond our eyes, to stop blaming others and feel empowered!
This article is part of the #InsideValue journey, where the obvious and mainstream is unpacked with the hope we all learn together how to make a better world. Climate change is happening, so we need to understand that individuals are at the core of sustainability and all of our decisions matter as we have to mind the gap between consumer and citizen.