Last month David Wallace-Wells penned a now much-discussed article in New York Magazine on a potential worst case scenario of a world riven by runaway climate change. I don’t want to comment on the article, per se, as much has already been written on it both critical (here and here) and supportive.
What I want to focus on is how we inspire people to take and support the kind of climate action that is needed to realise the huge cuts in greenhouse gas emissions that are required to avoid dangerous climate change. People need to understand the severity of the threat climate change poses but also to be galvanised by a vision of the better world that can be created by tackling climate change and decarbonising.
Writer Kate Aronoff, in response (below) to the Wallace-Wells article, suggests the need to frame climate action as a means of creating a fairer, not just more sustainable, world.
The causes of climate change are deeply intertwined with global and national inequalities and power structures. Those of us who live wealthy lifestyles create a disproportionate amount of greenhouse gas emissions while those who will suffer the impacts of climate change most strongly are the poor and minority groups. Indeed, according to Oxfam, “the poorest half of the global population are responsible for only around 10% of global emissions” while 50% of emissions come from the richest 10% in the world.
As Aronoff suggests, tackling climate change presents a powerful opportunity for us to address these systemic issues and create a fairer world, one where more of us have access to affordable and clean energy enabling us to lead healthy, happy and prosperous lives. One where energy production is democratised and localised through new domestic or community owned renewable energy and energy storage technologies. One where air pollution is reduced in cities through widespread electric vehicle usage and cycling leading to better health. One where businesses, from multinational corporations to local corner restaurants, aren’t just held accountable for their social and environmental impacts but actively engage in minimising them as part of their responsibility to the society and environment they operate within. One where developing countries have access to clean energy technologies that allow them to prosper. And one where developed countries take responsibility for their legacy of greenhouse gas emissions by greatly reducing their emissions and aiding developing countries to grow in as clean a way as possible.
This kind of vision of climate action as a vehicle for creating a better, fairer world for all of us but is sorely lacking in contemporary political and media discourses. It may not have the headline grabbing appeal of doomsday articles but it just might help us avoid the kind of scenarios they envision.