From childhood, small environmentally friendly actions that each person can implement in the home have been ingrained into us by parents, teachers and media. We are asked, ‘What can YOU do to save the environment?’. We are led to believe that if everybody contributes with small lifestyle changes, we can build a greener, brighter future. This ideology is certainly tangible in UCD, where we covet our reusable coffee cups, swear off soy and begin to embrace veganism.
Unfortunately, we are beginning to realise that individual action is no longer enough in the fight against climate change. Despite our best efforts, according to National Geographic, oceans are now 26% more acidic than they were two hundred years ago. The terrifying effects of human recklessness are apparent in WWF’s claim that 20% of the Amazon Rainforest has already been lost, with a further 200,000 acres being destroyed every year. Despite our shift toward environmentally conscious lifestyles, climate change is more pressing than ever. However, we should refrain from internalising the blame for these statistics and look at where the majority of environmental damage is coming from. Martin Lucaks from The Guardian recently stated that more than 70% of the carbon emissions since 1988 are the responsibility of the same 100 companies. Evidently, it is not purely our individual actions that are cause for concern. As we are blithely chewing away at lentils and sipping tepid water from metal flasks, all this devastation is taking place in the background. We are so focused on individual action and on improving our own habits that we are ignoring the large scale damage that can only be tackled by governmental intervention and rigorous environmental policies.
Unfortunately, we live in an age of willful ignorance. The same way in which we avert our eyes from the homeless people lining the streets of Dublin, so too do we ignore the increasingly alarming statistics surrounding climate change. The earth’s global temperature has risen almost 2 degrees Celsius in the past fifty years and, according to NASA Earth Observatory, it is plausible that it rises another four in this century alone. And yet, despite the damning evidence, we go about our lives as normal and hope that there will be some miraculous, drastic intervention.
We live at a time when governing bodies are beginning to not only ignore but knowingly deny the existence of climate change. Donald Trump has explicitly stated via twitter that ‘The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive’. According to The Independent, Brazil’s new foreign minister Ernesto Araújo believes that ‘climate change is a Marxist tactic to instil fear, stifle the economic growth of western countries and benefit China’.
If we continue to elect those with such damaging attitudes into government, this anticipated and imperative change will never occur. Corporations will not be reprimanded for the environmental damage they create. Overfishing will endure, transport will continue to be car-centric. the search for alternatives to fossil fuels will come to a screeching halt. Despite our best efforts, as we cycle and turn off the lights, there is very little we can do as individuals to stay the massive onslaught of environmental damage being done.
It is important to question why anyone would disregard such a crisis as climate change. Sadly, the root problem and cause for such willful ignorance is financial gain. Neoliberal ideology stands in the way of a collective fight against climate change. The free market, as it stands, ensures that massive corporations rake in massive profits, regardless of the environmental detriment. Unfortunately, solar panels and catalytic converters are expensive. Even the physical regulation of corporations to ensure alignment with environmental policies is costly. The deregulatory policies of the free market grant many liberties yet is also its most ruinous property with regards to the environment. Capitalist ideology surrounding climate change is, in essence, economic gain masquerading as freedom.
However, the economics of it all is hardly limited to large corporations. Even on a smaller scale, if solar panels were cheaper, everyone would have them. If electric cars were affordable, we’d use them. If cycle lanes were not just dangerous extensions of the road, we’d use our bikes. The problem is that our governing bodies have chosen short term economic gain over the stability of our future. And yet we still blame and guilt ourselves into believing that we, as individuals, must keep making a sacrificial change to save the planet. The solution exists: put pressure on governing bodies. Climate change is not some intangible, far away thing. It is a very present dilemma that we are distancing ourselves from by isolating ourselves in the fight against climate change.
I do not intend to dissuade individual action. This is not an invitation to be lax with our rigorous standards of environmental action but rather is an effort to shift the focus of our endeavours to that of a more collective, global cause. It is an effort to change the nature of our actions to address the real nature of this crisis. We have been misled and persuaded to believe the lie that we must tackle climate change as individuals. However, what is desperately needed is for us to make a collective and focussed effort to elect and put pressure on a government who is willing and ready to treat climate change as the very real, very pressing threat that it.
By Aisling MacAree – Features Writer