March 14, 2019
We have been duped. Every day, social media and news articles tell us that we are responsible for a world that is slowly dying due to our gluttonous lifestyles. We have been careless. We used too many plastic bags, filled up too many gas tanks, and bought too many genetically modified avocados; soon the oceans will rise, the fields will drown in sand, and humanity will be forced to hide away in post-apocalyptic bunkers and cry into our Hydro Flasks. As the landscapes of Blade Runner and Mad Max haunt our dreams, we are being told to fix this ourselves.
It is true that we have each contributed in some way to humanity’s carbon footprint on Earth, but it seems we have been meticulously deceived. We have been lead to believe that climate change is the plight of the individual, that the waste and consumption of everyday citizens has careened the Earth off its natural path. However, there is a Goliath hiding in the shadows, continuing to rake money in while the rest of the population takes on the weight of this responsibility. The companies that contribute the most to greenhouse gas emissions continue to lobby against energy regulations while the populace busies itself with eco-friendly overhauls and compost bins. The ship is sinking, and we’re scooping out the water with a spoon.
According to a CDP study, 100 companies have been responsible for 71% of global emissions since 1988. Just 25 corporate and state bodies have produced half of these industrial emissions. In order to understand the magnitude of this, we have to dissect what is causing the greatest greenhouse gas effects. When looking at the figures produced by the IEA and other international organizations, it becomes apparent that electricity and heat generation cause the most emissions. The use of energy for transport follows, taking up a quarter of these figures.
The private companies with the highest emissions include oil companies ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, and Chevron. However, the list of top emitters is topped by public companies: Saudi Aramco, Gazprom, National Iranian Oil, Coal India, and China’s state-owned producers. Both the private and public sectors are using fossil fuels at an unsustainable level. The CDP report calls for a level of urgency; it reports that at the current rate, the world’s temperature will increase by four degrees by the end of the century, causing irreversible ecological change. This means that the entire global energy system needs an overhaul. Otherwise, our children will all be wearing SPF 70 when they step outside to retrieve their drone deliveries.
“I am not telling you to stop recycling or give up on buying reusable goods. You should absolutely do these things […] but we can’t let ourselves take the pat on the back and grow complacent. “
As consumers, we can change our habits and minimize our outputs, but the production side of fossil fuels is heavily protected by the state, lobbyists, and government subsidies. According to the IEA, decarbonising the power sector is essential to saving the planet. Despite increased investment in renewables, in 2017 fossil fuels accounted for 81% of energy demand, while progress in energy efficiency also dramatically slowed. Global fossil fuel subsidies are responsible for a large chunk of the blame, reaching US$260 billion in 2016. Without a change in subsidy policies, fossil fuels will continue to be supported as fuel prices are set low.
I am not telling you to stop recycling or give up on buying reusable goods. You should absolutely do these things. They help. It is a small improvement. With more and more small improvements there will be some change. At least through eco-conscious choices we can reduce pollution, protect wildlife, and keep our oceans cleaner. Ride your bike to work and ditch the gas guzzler. Transport is a significant enough emitter that this will substantially help. These are important choices, but we can’t let ourselves take the pat on the back and grow complacent.
If the organization of the global energy production system is not changed, the ship will sink regardless. Alongside our personal choices, we have to collectively influence the regulations and policies that decide how energy transitions occur, where investments are being allocated, and how fossil fuels are being subsidized. The beginnings of such collective action are afoot; this past Sunday, March 10, climate change protests took place in Amsterdam in the hope that necessary regulations and international commitments to renewable energy will take place. Slowly but surely, our voices are being heard. Governmental action upon our concerns must follow, as this battle is lost without it.
According to the UN, 166 countries have adopted the Paris Agreement. However, without implementation at the national level, the summit’s goals will not be met. Organizations like Greenpeace and Fossil Free have created their list of demands, focusing on influencing local energy switches up to and including the national level. Donation and volunteering can magnify non-profit and watchdog efforts. Write to your representatives, attend these rallies and meetings, and most importantly when it’s your turn to vote, support the candidates that promise shifts towards renewable energies, aim to reduce fossil fuel investments, and hold private companies accountable for their input to climate change. This is a collective issue, not an individual one. Only with the follow-through of international cooperation can we stop the chain of events that might change life on Earth forever.
Ivy Wade is a Master’s Student at the University of Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Amsterdammer.