June was met with grim news for our planet: human civilization could come to an end by 2050, the UN says you won’t survive climate change unless you’re a billionaire, and America reinforces its stance on withdrawing from the Paris Agreement.
The G20 Summit, Paris Agreement, and the US
The Group of 20 (G20) is an international gathering that convenes the world leaders of the 19 most powerful countries, and the European Union. It was founded with the aim to coordinate economic policy and trade relations. Last week, government officials and bank governors gathered in Osaka, Japan. One of the most important points of discussion during the summit was the reaffirmation of every member country’s commitment to the Paris Agreement, except one: the United States of Trump America, effective in 2020.
Signed in 2016, the Paris Agreement is a global action plan to combat the climate crisis, with nearly 200 countries pledging commitment to finding institutional solutions in their part of the world. Less than a year later, President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw the USA from the accord, making the USA one of three countries in the world and the only G20 nation not party to the agreement. The world is aptly shocked but not surprised, but can’t really do anything about it since there are no penalties or formal repercussions for this decision.
And at the recent G20 summit, he reiterates his decision, gaining criticism even from French President Macron. According to Trump, the deal disadvantages American workers and taxpayers, leaving them “to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs and lower wages and vastly diminished economic production.” This is an attempt to frame his decision as a move towards a nationalist agenda executed with populism. In an ironic turn of events, he’s now boasting about fighting climate change during his term. Not surprising, since it’s almost re-elections.
Although the rest of the world, including American companies and state officials, will go on without Trump’s administration formally implementing the action plan, there is no doubt that global goals will be harder to achieve as the country has one of the largest carbon footprints in the world, and is responsible for more than a third of the total carbon pollution in history.
Climate apartheid is our best-case scenario,
and the US is leading us towards it
Goldman Sachs kept its light on and its building secure when Hurricane Sandy hit New York.
This is exactly what the United Nations (UN) warns the world of in a press conference a few days before the G20 summit. The UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, presents us with a bleak best-case scenario of our future, where those who are responsible for and have benefited from greenhouse gas emissions will also be the ones most capable to mitigate its effects. He refers to it as “climate apartheid”, where the rich can buy their way out of overheating, hunger, and conflict, while the poor are left to bear the brunt of climate emergency. The poorest half of the world’s population is responsible for just 10% of carbon emissions, while the richest 1% use 175 times more carbon than the bottom 10% of the population.
“Climate change is, among other things, an unconscionable assault on the poor.”
The 21-page report cites that since 2000, people in poorer countries have experienced the devastating effects of global heating seven times more than the wealthier countries.
The Philippines is most threatened by climate change
So why should you care that the richest country in the world is opting out of helping save the environment? Well, the Global Peace Index 2019 shows that six out of the nine countries that are most susceptible to the climate crisis is in Asia-Pacific, with the Philippines topping the list. Manila, one of the top 5 super cities in the world, ranks 7th in the highest risk scores for single climate hazards.
Needless to say, the center won’t hold when
humanity is put on the brink of extinction.
American-brand lifeboat ethics and the “Tragedy of the Commons”
Most rationale behind today’s environmental efforts are just footnotes to Garret Hardin’s thought experiment, “The Tragedy of the Commons”. In reality, it’s merely an essay that pushes for a lockdown on America’s precious resources, as Hardin believed that countries needing aid “were threatening Earth’s carrying capacity”. Hardin blamed the welfare state for giving free riders a pass at selfishness, suggested that overbreeding should be its own punishment, and argued against relying on conscience when managing resources; which all embody lifeboat ethics. Trump has echoed these very sentiments, evident in his deadly immigration policies, but with more careful language.
The world is ending. Is there a point to even try?
A lot of reports and studies are giving us actual death-lines for our doom. Although these are meant to evoke a sense of panic and sense of urgency, it can also make people feel paralyzed, alienated, and hopeless. However, 2018 proved to be a year for the materialization of the worldwide efforts starting from the Paris Agreement two years prior.
Aside from people rallying behind plastic bans, wildlife conservation, and political demonstrations for climate justice, corporations and governments are starting to adopt green policies everywhere. It’s evident that there are big steps being taken towards an actual sustainable future. The EU has banned single-use plastics, and some cities in the Philippines have followed suit, with senate pushing for a national ban. Australia cut its plastic use down by 80% in just three months. The Green New Deal is also an American action plan that aims to address the climate crisis through social and economic reforms. More and more companies have started employing a carbon footprint audit on themselves, and they’re finally starting to understand that their consumers care about that. Startups are taking to market with them new tech that can help solve the crisis from carpooling to clean energy. This has also prompted clean tech to become cheaper. Here in the Philippines, Youth For Climate Hope got Negros to go coal-free. So, yes, there is a point!
Living a zero-waste lifestyle isn’t enough
“Eco-friendly”, “zero-waste”, and “sustainable” consumerism has seemingly become the only option to combat the climate crisis. However, this still rests on a fundamental flaw that Hardin and Trump share: it puts the responsibility of fighting the oncoming apocalypse onto the individual. It assumes that each person is on the line for overusing shared resources, when in fact, most of the damage to our environment is caused by corporations and the policies that allow them. It is then up to our political and economic leaders to lead us to a future that won’t look like the one that the UN posits.
Not everyone can buy into sustainability
If you’re still advocating for reusable straws without fully understanding that the problem is systemic, then you’re just employing an eco-purism mindset. The vision of a good environmentalist is a house that runs on solar energy, owning an electric car, and switching to veganism. While these are all undeniably better alternatives, they are also costly ones, and completely leaves marginalized people out of the equation. How can those below the poverty line, who are also denied a living wage, sustain such a lifestyle? In Metro Manila, the cost of living for a family of five is Php 29,190 per month, while minimum wage is set at roughly Php 15,000 a month. Can you really tell them to switch to refillable shampoo bottles when the sachet economy only allows them to purchase day by day?
I also fly ✈️ & use A/C
Living in the world as it is isn’t an argument against working towards a better future.
The Green New Deal is about putting a LOT of people to work in developing new technologies, building new infrastructure, and getting us to 100% renewable energy. https://t.co/DZGE1WwLbn
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) March 3, 2019
What can I do instead?
Although the real challenge is meant for those involved in policy and the private sector, there is something that you can do. The best thing you can start with is to stay critical but remain hopeful.
You can start with ditching single-use products, eating less meat, opting to walk or cycle where you need to go, and of course, recycling. These are standard changes you can make, but it’s important to take note that though there should be no shame in not being able to make green lifestyle switches if you can’t.
But this also isn’t a reason to remain nihilistic and complacent — you have to do as much as your capacity will allow you. The point is not to rank yourself in some convoluted environmentalism competition, but to do your best in limiting your own carbon footprint and to amplify collective action to push those deciding our futures to get better at deciding.
There is more to do, more to talk about, and more to fight for.
Do you have any questions about the climate crisis? Comment below!