#OPINION | Solving climate change: Our battle, our hope
By Athena Ap-apid and Benjamin Jacob
They are marching out of laboratories and onto pavements, each decibel of their fervent shouts dedicated to the fight between lab gown whites and corporate grey — in the battle for going green.
Thousands of scientists have been protesting for the past two weeks, clamoring to be heard; demanding governments and companies to do better; pleading to let the Earth breathe. The recent report released last April 4 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reveals that the things they want are things we need. And fast.
While increasing global temperatures have been threatening humanity since the 1980s, the report warns that without “rapid and deep” interventions to greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, the effects of climate change on people, wildlife, and ecosystems will be much more catastrophic than they have ever been.
Despite over 826 cities and 103 regions targeting zero emissions, with some countries even setting measures to limit global warming by up to 2°C above pre-industrial times, as set by the Paris Agreement, we have been served the indisputable truth as to how much more can and should be done — and, more importantly, who should be held accountable for all the damage.
All about the money
Felt the heat lately? It’s not just in your imagination that summers — or, more appropriately for the Philippines, dry seasons — didn’t use to be this hot. Days are getting hotter as the globe is getting warmer. And this phenomenon of global warming is caused by the very air we breathe out.
Carbon dioxide and other air pollutants such as methane and nitrous oxide are called greenhouse gasses or GHGs. In their prolonged stay in the atmosphere, GHGs trap the heat coming from the sun in a phenomenon referred to as the greenhouse effect. Although the provided warmth is essential to sustaining our lives, too much warmth brings us closer to our end, as it does now. The Earth’s atmosphere currently holds inordinate amounts of GHGs, consequently retaining much more warmth than it should. Of course, it’s not our respiration to blame. It’s the fossil fuel production, deforestation, improper agricultural practices, and countless other human activities done without a conscience, without a care for the world.
More than 71% of all GHG emissions are caused by 100 companies from the energy sector alone. In fact, two of the great powers of the world, China and the United States, are responsible for the majority of GHG emissions. China’s rapid urbanization causes significant land-related emissions, as cement and steel emit large amounts of carbon dioxide during their refining process. Meanwhile, the United States burns fossil fuels as the primary source of energy for their population of over 300 million.
The IPCC established long ago that our climate’s trajectory is on a life-threatening path. Years later, nothing has changed, except that we’re now running out of crossroads, dangerously close to a point of no return. When will the IPCC report something different — a change for the better? Or, better yet, when will an IPCC report receive something different — an audience that listens? The facts keep falling on deaf ears. But we can’t and shouldn’t stop the facts, the brutal truths from coming when the issue lies in the governments and large corporations. It’s not that they’re unaware; they simply won’t listen.
One of the earliest battles against climate change can be traced back to 1988, the year the IPCC was founded. The following year, major industry groups such as the National Manufacturing Association formed the Global Climate Coalition, a lobbying group challenging the science behind climate change and opposing all preventive measures against global warming. In fact, this coalition was formed to oppose the establishment of the IPCC. Large fossil fuel firms such as Exxon and Shell joined the coalition despite having known since 1981 and 1988, respectively, that emissions from their companies would be detrimental to the Earth.
To this day, the fossil fuel sector remains one of the greatest benefactors of lobbying to misinform the public on climate change. They fund rallies that pressure the government into withdrawing from climate change agreements, with some notable successes being the United States’ refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and former President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.
Another part of the budget goes to backing public figures who deny the existence of climate change or support the use of fossil fuels. A study even showed that corporate funding motivates public figures to argue that carbon dioxide is “good.”
Even politicians are influenced by — or rather, are influencers of — climate change denial. Exxon, Chevron, and British Petroleum, companies within the energy sector, funded the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump who is a known climate change denier. With incentives to continue denying climate change, large countries can continue implementing laws that support the use of fossil fuels which massively contribute to GHG emissions.
If government officials continue to deny the existence of climate change or support greedy corporations, they will be committing a huge disservice not only to their countrymen but also to everyone else in the world. They do not recognize agreements that aim to protect every person’s right to a secure and peaceful life.
Only one thing prevents corporations and large nations from addressing the issue of climate change: profit. Many major companies, especially those who have been in the industry for a number of decades, aim only to gain returns from their shareholders. These shareholders will eventually bring in more investors, further benefiting these money-hungry companies.
While these corporations are willing to take small risks such as cutting ties with some countries, they will not be willing to take larger risks such as massively reducing carbon emissions, making transportation more carbon-neutral, and creating environment-friendly methods for manufacturing and production. These extend beyond the comforts of companies regulating themselves and giving into trends such as “being greener,” as they would have to embrace regulation from the government instead of operating independently. The IPCC report has proven that financial flows have to decrease six times lower than the present as there is a “sufficient global capital to close investment gaps.” Still, given the greed of corporations, it’s unlikely that they will budge.
Developing nations left behind yet again
The report suggests that regulations and economic sanctions have proven effective in reducing carbon emissions. However, posing economic sanctions to countries would yield catastrophic effects to many people. For instance, sanctions to countries such as the United States and China, who export their food to other countries, would affect developing countries that rely more and more on food imports. As corporations continue to take advantage of natural resources within these developing countries, deforestation and widespread malnutrition will ensue. Eventually, developing countries that rely on agriculture will lose their primary source of income. Otherwise, they might suffer from hunger.
All of these point to three things. First, economic transitions will remain challenging for developing countries. As mentioned earlier, there is sufficient global capital to close investment gaps. This task is more difficult for developing countries as they have fewer resources and weaker political capital in the global sphere. Thus, this responsibility should lie more within developed nations.
However, governments that deny climate change still remain, and with their incompetence, corruption, and ignorance of the opinions and suggestions of experts in climate, they will never stand a fighting chance against climate change. It is time for governments of developed nations to come to their senses, stop pretending they know everything, and actually start listening to the experts.
Second, even though some countries play a major role, it is more effective to economically sanction companies within large countries instead of sanctioning the countries themselves. Historically, sanctioning countries tends to accelerate the degradation of our climate. For instance, Iran faces serious economic damage under U.S. sanctions. The United States, while at risk of being economically sanctioned, has never changed the environmental policies of its states. It has, however, influenced private entities such as corporations and banks to withdraw from targeted countries. Therefore, to increase pressure to improve climate policies while protecting developing countries, we have to sanction on the right scale.
Most importantly, the blame on climate change can never be shifted towards any individual person, which is why companies have to stop shifting their accountability to the average person for problems they themselves have caused. For years, many large companies have not taken climate change seriously and have instead only considered it a business opportunity. Sure, it’s “amazing” that companies such as Shell have been taking in more customers since claiming that they want to make hydrogen more available as a transport fuel or that their products are more carbon neutral. But nonetheless, they still plan to grow their fossil fuel business by up to 20% within the upcoming years by investing in fossil fuel mining. Even if these companies propose several new projects on renewable energy, it would be impossible to keep global warming within control if they do not reduce their use of fossil fuels.
In the near future
If no one does their part in protecting the Earth, effects to its wildlife, ecosystems, and quality of life will be catastrophic and possibly irreversible. Global temperatures will increase by approximately 2°C, which many scientists agree is the line between a secure future and a disastrous one.
Once GHGs are released into the atmosphere, they will continue to spread until they affect every country in the world. Although many of the culpable countries are in the Northern hemisphere, the hole in the ozone layer (caused by GHGs called chlorofluorocarbons) near Antarctica causes the ice caps to melt to this day. Owners of the fossil fuel industry are willing to comfort themselves while being financially secure, even at the cost of everyone else.
Aside from increasingly hotter days around the world, putting this into a more local perspective, such an increase would see the Philippines bearing the brunt of fewer yet stronger typhoons. These will have winds of up to 170 kph more often, classifying them at Wind Signal 4 or 5. We have seen what typhoons as strong as that have done to us. Take for instance Typhoon Odette (Rai), with maximum wind speeds of 195 kph. Houses were torn down, villages and rice fields were destroyed, and power lines were turned over. The affected areas being agricultural regions, Filipinos also lost their primary sources of income. To this day, many have yet to recover.
Climate change has already caused events this catastrophic. Imagine how much worse it would be if we do nothing to mitigate it.
A mainstream battle
However, we are doing something, right? #LetTheEarthBreathe has been trending on social media as millions around the world use the hashtag to raise awareness about the environmental crisis, this following a video showing NASA scientists’ emotional plea for urgent action towards alleviating climate change going viral. People have been sharing and posting online, echoing the call and expressing outrage over the scientists’ arrest after their peaceful demonstration. One after the other, environmental groups like Earth Shaker and Youth for Environment in Schools Organization (YES-O) have been releasing their official statements on the matter. The scientists have spoken, and the people have been listening.
For how long will we manage to listen this time around? How long until the next big thing catches our attention, turns our heads, so that news feeds are emptied little by little of #LetTheEarthBreathe posts and infographics on how to reduce our carbon footprint? How long until fighting to keep our planet alive isn’t mainstream anymore?
Yes, there’s more initiative from regular citizens today than there was yesterday and in the hundreds of years before that. But with the current pandemic limiting our social frames to the internet, most of that initiative is limited to the internet as well. We can’t ignore the physical protests held around the globe, but it remains that for hundreds, maybe thousands of people, it started online and it continues online — on social media that has the power to influence public opinion and shape public mood. This gives us something else to fear, perhaps more than the environmental crisis itself, that the increased movement towards saving the world we see right now is simply a passing trend.
Should netizens successfully keep the issue relevant for a long enough time, surpassing the relevance of several other major issues or events, only then will our initiative overcome the risk of being reduced to a fad. Only then will advocates be advocates: when they stop being accused of just jumping on the bandwagon and when major GHG emission contributors realize that we won’t move on to other news after all and finally feel the pressure. Only then can this movement count towards change.
Even after then, we still cannot stop. We should never stop. Fighting for a healthy natural environment must be a lifetime commitment for each and every one of us and for each and every one who will come after us into a clean world if we succeed. Our fight is for our generation’s children, and their fight will be for theirs. We owe them what the previous generations should have given us.
Not the end of the world
Extreme events, intense heat waves, temperature rises, and droughts. Our future is set — or at least part of it. While these events have been deemed unavoidable in the IPCC report, the rest of our future will depend on what we do from this point on. To quote Dr. Friederike Otto, one of the report authors, “We are not doomed.” Not if we do this right.
The IPCC report presents us with a goal: to halve our GHG emissions by 2030. Our game plan includes limiting the rise in global temperatures to a threshold of 1.5°C by 2025. This should be the peak, and the numbers must continuously fall from there if we want a good chance at fixing things. We have roughly four years; how should we spend them?
First, we need leaders to guide us. Who are these leaders? The government? Company CEOs? Non-profit Organization heads? Actors? All these people can take on the role, as the report describes leaders as those who are capable of catalyzing the positive change we need to accomplish our goals. These people have to use their power to significantly reduce our carbon footprint in ways that ordinary citizens can’t.
While actors and other influential figures have the power to shift public appeal towards change, government officials hold the additional power to actually enforce these changes, across a large population.
The government must support scientists, for one, and help improve research on environmental crises. Without sufficient support, funding, and data, it would prove difficult for scientists and other professionals to accelerate the energy transition and technological change necessary to reduce our emissions.
Enforcing policies that improve technology and protect the environment would also help greatly. For example, they can support more sustainable living and make it more accessible to citizens (i.e., with safe biking systems and infrastructures). Such policies are invaluable to the battle against climate change. And with the authority of government officials, tides can turn on another battle — one against corporate greed.
Large corporations have to look beyond the money and act for the greater good. But if they don’t answer our calls, the government must strictly enforce laws to keep their emissions in control. We cannot, however, ignore the money entirely. Cutting down on the use of current environmentally harmful methods should be in line with efforts to advance technology as a way to provide alternatives that would keep industries afloat.
Now, what about us? We should have our leaders, but they should have their followers. What can we do as ordinary people?
We must first be informed. Read the report. Watch the news. Educate yourself. If you have doubts, keep an open mind and look for answers from reliable sources. Don’t be easily swayed by peer pressure or bandwagons. Think for yourself, and act for the world.
Next, inform others. We can’t do this alone, so we each have to make sure that those around us, both within and beyond our spheres, are carrying out their responsibility of being informed with us.
Even though businesses are the ones that play a major role in negatively impacting the environment, and despite the lack of initiative from the government to make sustainable options feasible, we can’t put all the blame on them. Each of our lifestyles and the carbon footprint it draws out, though relatively small, still has an impact but one we can dampen. Each of us is just one tiny dot on this Earth, but small as we are, we aren’t helpless. Not completely. All of us — no matter the years, standing, or damage we sustain — hold the power to bring about change: change to ourselves, change to others, and, together, great change to the world.
So, we must use our voices. We must speak up to ask for and instill the change we need in order to get the healthy environment we were given and are entitled to. Riots aren’t necessary; peaceful demonstrations, posters and infographics, petitions, and even determined stances against climate change in simple discussions should be enough for now. Every voice counts in going from a whisper to a battlecry.
Before all this, however, the government, the companies, and the people alike must be called upon to listen. Listen to the scientists, listen to the people, and listen to the songs of the birds whose homes we destroy with each passing day.
As Dr. Peter Kalmus said, “This is not a joke.” The environmental crisis is very much real, and we must act against it now. We may not have all the time in the world, but we still have time to save it.
However, we must remember that this won’t be easy; battles never are. But in times of difficulty or fear, think of the victory. Every rise and fall of an air-filling chest, every beat of a flapping wing, every touch of flowing warmth beneath soft skin, every bit of hope for humanity — this victory, one of keeping even the smallest fragments of life on Earth, is always worth fighting for.