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Collective control of climate crisis

Collective control of climate crisis

Jan 03, 2022

Chile has decided to draft a new constitution for the country due to climate and ecological emergency. It will decide questions such as how should mining be regulated and what voice should local communities have over mining? Should nature have rights? How about future generations? The whole globe is faced with these dilemmas as it is trying to take the climate challenge head on. As a nation, Chile is raising an important poser.

Since human activity inevitably causes damage, how much damage do we want to cause? Just enough to live well. In the past Chile prospered by exploiting its natural riches. But this led to considerable environmental damage. Inequalities grew up manifold. Consequently, anger boiled over into huge protests starting in 2019. Hence the attempt for repairs.

What is needed is climate innovations which will ensure transition to a low carbon future. Direct attack on pollution, energy efficiency, clean mobility and many more solutions offer immediate and practical solutions to adverse climate change. Mahindra Group has developed guidebooks and toolkits to focus on developing science based solutions for India’s construction industry. More than 150 materials have been identified that can provide thermal insulation, reduce energy consumption, and improve user comfort and wellbeing. The WWF is offering solutions to mitigate global emissions and meeting environmental challenges relating to energy efficiency, local environmental challenges, mobility, pollution, etc. In short technologies that can transform the world into being more environment friendly. Thus, for India EV battery charging, solar drying and space heating, reduction in horticulture wastage through efficient storage, and thermal energy storage for cold chains are being suggested. There are many such attempts at institutional and corporate levels. But are these enough?

Initial issue of global warming has led to full blown climate crisis, caused by a combination of rising temperatures, rising sea levels, intensifying and volatile weather events, erratic rainfall, depleting natural resources, and unbearable pollution. A rise of 2 degrees in temperature would certainly make the world unlivable. So the hypothetical idea of net zero emissions is being bandied about. In it the amount of greenhouse gases produced would equal the amount eliminated from our atmosphere using natural and artificial carbon sinks. If indeed we are able to contain temperature rise to less than 1.5 degrees (compared with the one prevailing in 1850, the pre industrial levels) on one hand and ensure net zero emissions on other, then perhaps we may be able to contain the human damage caused to the environment. By 2040-45 if we fail to hit net zero emissions, the climate crisis will blow over to being unbearable. 

Every small bit can help. Try to eat local as much as possible, if not always. If you can’t become vegan, reduce consumption of animal based products, resolve to use less plastic. If we set realistic goals, transition is easy and permanent. Gradually turn green eat organic. On a macro level we should support and nurture circular economy, not a linear one. Thus the global economy should put systems in place for products and materials to be shared, repaired, refurbished, recycled. Fewer virgin materials thus, will be extracted, there will be less wastage in production processes, our landfills will not overflow, rivers and seas will not stink …. Circular economy needs to be scaled up. But most importantly, in order that the idea is adopted by the producing units, it should generate profit. Currently what may be happening may be opposite. Thus in India the average farm size (at less than 1 hectare) has been constantly reducing due to piling up of number of farmers. The farm land is becoming more fragmented and climate more unpredictable. Naturally forest land is being converted into farmland. Sustainable farming is a big casualty overall. Similarly, India is the world’s second largest consumer of coal. Fossil fuel is the source of half of country’s electricity. And there seem to be little -  indeed none – chances of shifting to renewable energy in a big way. Our per capital generation of solid waste is a small fraction of the global average, but due to sheer numbers (135 billion inhabitants) we generate the highest volumes of solid waste in the world. We, like others, are a capitalist society where consumption fuels growth, so nobody wishes to slow it down. But in order to save the planet we need to indulge in mindful, responsible consumption.

The companies must aim for the triple bottom line. Thus while they cannot let go of profits (fair profit?), they should keep in mind people welfare, and mitigation of pollution. This is called 3 Ps approach – profit, people, pollution. The companies need to change processes to take care of climate. They need to recycle (water), replenish (plant forests), reduce (plastic), and so on. Alas, however, the profit takes precedence over the other 2 Ps. Companies merely indulge in green washing, i.e. projecting their gimmicky pollution mitigation activities into mere PR exercises to take care of only one, profit.

Not everything is depressing, however. Even if limited, there are measured and not insignificant attempts being made to reset the equation between pollution and production. Movements are afoot to patronize locally sourced, biodegradable, non-energy intensive materials and processes before industrialization and modernization kicked in. Sourcing locally, turning vegetarian, renewable power, resource recycling, etc. are practices being adopted. But like we said, the challenge is to take this to profitable scale, at affordable rates. Business cannot be mere charity.

While adopting a green lifestyle, we need to exercise caution. We have to trace the whole production – supply – consumption – disposal chain since polluting waste is generated at each stage. A seemingly green product may be environment unfriendly. New form of waste (waste is an item that is no more functionally useful) are being generated ironically even from environment friendly products. For example, lithium and cobalt used in batteries of electric vehicles are highly toxic. Equally damaging are photovoltaic cells once they die out. As yet we have no solution to manage these waste streams. Similarly micro-plastics are omnipresent, in water, in air, within all living beings, oceans, rivers, marine lives.

Then, there is the issue of environmental racism, at global and local level. The disadvantaged in any society always bear a disproportionately high burden of climate catastrophic actions born out of highly polluting consumption habits and lifestyles of the wealthy. For example, migration out of natural habitats adversely affects proportionately more the disadvantaged sections. This further perpetuates imbalance, injustices, and inequality. To ensure climate  justice, richer people and riches nation, who have contributed significantly more towards making this planet a hot gas chamber- need to sacrifice more to meet the challenge. They need to adopt net negative, and not merely net zero – style of living.

We need to support exercises, like the one taken in Chile.