Climate change: focusing on individuals is very convenient for corporations

Obstacles

What can be done to limit global warming to 1.5°C? A quick internet search offers a deluge of advice on how individuals can change their behaviour. Take public transport instead of the car or, for longer journeys, the train rather than fly. Eat less meat and more vegetables, pulses and grains, and don’t forget to turn off the light when leaving a room or the water when shampooing. The implication here is that the impetus for addressing climate change is on individual consumers.

But can and should it really be the responsibility of individuals to limit global warming? On the face of it, we all contribute to global warming through the cumulative impact of our actions.

By changing consumption patterns on a large scale we might be able to influence companies to change their production patterns to more sustainable methods. Some experts have argued that everyone (or at least those who can afford it) has a responsibility to limit global warming, even if each individual action is insufficient in itself to make a difference.

Yet there are at least two reasons why making it the duty of individuals to limit global warming is wrong.

Individuals are statistically blameless

Climate change is a planetary-scale threat and, as such, requires planetary-scale reforms that can only be implemented by the world’s governments. Individuals can at most be responsible for their own behaviour, but governments have the power to implement legislation that compels industries and individuals to act sustainably.

Although the power of consumers is strong, it pales in comparison to that of international corporations and only governments have the power to keep these interests in check.

Usually, we regard governments as having a duty to protect citizens. So why is it that we allow them to skirt these responsibilities just because it is more convenient to encourage individual action? Asking individuals to bear the burden of global warming shifts the responsibilities from those who are meant to protect to those who are meant to be protected. We need to hold governments to their responsibilities first and foremost.

A recent report found that just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions since 1988. Incredibly, a mere 25 corporations and state-owned entities were responsible for more than half of global industrial emissions in that same period.

Most of these are coal and oil producing companies and include ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, ChevronGazprom, and the Saudi Arabian Oil Company. China leads the pack on the international stage with 14.3% of global greenhouse gas emissions due to its coal production and consumption.

If the fossil fuel industry and high polluting countries are not forced to change, we will be on course to increase global average temperatures by 4°C by the end of the century.

If just a few companies and countries are responsible for so much of global greenhouse gas emissions, then why is our first response to blame individuals for their consumption patterns? It shouldn’t be – businesses and governments need to take responsibility for curbing industrial emissions.

Governments and industries should lead

Rather than rely on appeals to individual virtue, what can be done to hold governments and industries accountable?

Governments have the power to enact legislation which could regulate industries to remain within sustainable emission limits and adhere to environmental protection standards. Companies should be compelled to purchase emissions rights – the profits from which can be used to aid climate vulnerable communities.

Governments could also make renewable energy generation, from sources such as solar panels and wind turbines, affordable to all consumers through subsidies. Affordable and low-carbon mass transportation must replace emission-heavy means of travel, such as planes and cars.

More must also be done by rich countries and powerful industries to support and empower poorer countries to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

All of this is not to say that individuals cannot or should not do what they can to change their behaviour where possible. Every little contribution helps, and research shows that limiting meat consumption can be an effective step. The point is that failing to do so should not be considered morally blameworthy.

In particular, individuals living in poorer countries who have contributed almost nothing to climate change deserve the most support and the least guilt. They are neither the primary perpetrators of global warming nor the ones who have the power to enact the structural changes necessary for limiting global warming, which would have to involve holding powerful industries responsible.

While individuals may have a role to play, appealing to individual virtues for addressing climate change is something akin to victim-blaming because it shifts the burden from those who ought to act to those who are most likely to be affected by climate change. A far more just and effective approach would be to hold those who are responsible for climate change accountable for their actions.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. It's written by Morten Fibieger Byskov, Postdoctoral Researcher in International Politics at the University of Warwick. Read the original article here.

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  • Twitter threats, abuse, murder: what women face defending the environment

    Obstacles

    Isabel Cristina Zuleta is a human rights activist in Antioquia, northern Colombia, where she works for the Ríos Vivos Movimiento de Afectados por Represas (movement of people affected by dams). According to the NGO Global Witness, 27 activists were murdered in this country in 2017 alone. 

    Since 2010, Zuleta has opposed the construction of the Hidroituango hydroelectric dam on the river Cauca, Colombia's second most important. Ríos Vivos is trying to raise awareness of problems the dam could cause – including environmental damage, forced evictions, and the impoverishment of local residents whose livelihoods rely on the river.

    Because of her activism, Zuleta has faced threats, harassment, attempted forced disappearances, criminal charges as well as sexual violence. In 2013, she said she was kidnapped by agents of the government’s so-called Mobile Anti-Disturbance squad who also photographed her “partes íntimas” (‘private parts’) while she was in detention.

    According to a 2018 report by the Fondo de Acción Urgente (Urgent Action Fund, or FAU) human rights network, when Zuleta reported this treatment to the Attorney General, she was told that it “was not the important thing”, and instead she was accused of promoting attacks against the company building the dam.

    In August, Zuleta told 50.50 that activists had received a myriad of recent threats, including: people approaching them to say they cannot protest, or threatening to kill them; people tailing them on the streets; and death threats via text messages, phone calls and Twitter. The next month, two family members of activists from her organisation were murdered.

    “I think that land and environmental defenders, we confront capitalist interests, and this means [our work] involves a higher level of risk”, Zuleta told 50.50 via a WhatsApp message voice recording. However, “without this land we don’t have any life possibilities”, she added. “We cannot negotiate our lives”.

    We confront capitalist interests, and this means [our work] involves a higher level of risk.

    In November, seven men were found guilty of murdering Berta Isabel Cáceres, a Honduran indigenous campaigner who'd long battled to block the construction of a dam on the Gualcarque river, considered sacred by the Lenca people.

    The supreme court ruled that Caceres’ murder was ordered by executives of the company Desarrollos Energeticos SA behind the Agua Zarca dam project because of delays and financial losses linked to protests led by the activist.

    Cáceres was 44 years old when she was shot dead in her home on 2 March 2016, after receiving death threats for years. Her murder shocked the world and brought greater international attention to the plight of human and environmental rights defenders in Latin America.

    According to Global Witness, at least 207 human, land and environmental rights activists were murdered around the world in 2017 – 60% in Latin America. This region is also home to the country with the most recorded deaths: Brazil, where 57 people were killed, 80% defending the Amazon rainforest.

    While most of these recorded murders were of men, the NGO noted that women activists also “faced gender-specific threats including sexual violence”.

    It said in a report: “They were often subjected to smear-campaigns, threats against their children, and attempts to undermine their credibility; sometimes from within their own communities, where macho cultures might prevent women from taking up positions of leadership”.

    They were often subjected to smear-campaigns, threats against their children, and attempts to undermine their credibility.

    The FAU network also monitors the situation of women defenders in the region and provides them with logistical and financial support. In 2018 they published another report that highlighted the ongoing challenge of impunity for perpetrators of violence.

    They also drew attention to the specific vulnerabilities and different types of violence that women activists face – including criminalisation, threats, harassment, attacks and femicides (gender-based killings of women and girls).

    One of the cases covered in their report was that of Lottie Cunningham, at the Centre of Justice and Human Rights of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua (CEJUDHCAN) civil society organisation.

    She works with more than 100 indigenous communities who've faced attacks, assassinations, kidnappings, crop burning and forced evictions. Denouncing these human rights violations has earned her repeated death threats.

    One of the messages she received said: “In our country trash exists like these people who dedicate their lives to diffusing trash… against the government… I’m sick of these trash [people] and if I have to defend my blessed Nicaragua against this trash then it will be an honour to do so”.

    Cunningham was also followed in the streets and told there were “rumours” she would be murdered.

    Another case covered by FAU's report was that of Macarena “La Negra” Valdés, in Chile. In August 2016, one of her children found her hanged from the beams of her own home. She had also received death threats for months before this.

    Valdés had campaigned against the construction of another hydroelectric power station by the Austrian-Chilean company Global Chile Energías Renovables, in Paso Tranguil, where she was a leader in her community, the Mapuche.

    Her former partner, Ruben Collío, told 50.50 that Valdés was murdered in "a clear attempt to delegitimise our fight and try to make us react with violence”. He said: “It is so hard to ignore this basic instinct and fight them with their laws”.

    Collío insisted she hadn't shown signs of depression, but authorities claimed her death was the result of suicide. He said her family requested a second autopsy – which showed that her body had been arranged to simulate this.

    He is still fighting for justiceTwo years after her death, state prosecutors have not acknowledged the second autopsy; Collío and the Mapuche community continue to search for evidence to prove she was murdered.

    At the regional level, the FAU is calling for the UN resolution 68/181, which was adopted by the general assembly in December 2013, and focuses on protecting women human rights defenders, to be enforced and respected.

    Cases of violence must be better documented, FAU says. It's calling for new observatories to focus on this – as well as more thorough, independent investigations into threats against women defenders of land and human rights.

    This article is republished from Open Democracy under a Creative Commons license. It's written by Bérengère Sim, a freelance journalist based in Mexico. Read the original article here.

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  • Hema is working to produce a vegan rookworst

    Solutions

    Last Monday, we wrote an article asking Dutch retail chain Hema to consider introducing a plant-based alternative of their rookworst, the beloved smoked sausage that is a staple of traditional Dutch cuisine.

    Hema didn't shy away from our request and, on Twitter, a company's spokesperson replied that efforts to produce a vegan rookworst are indeed underway: 

    We can only be happy about Hema's decision to look into the feasibility of a vegan smoked sausage.

    However, as indicated, it might take a while before we'll be able to cheerfully sink our teeth into a vegan rookworst.

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  • Spacebuzz wants to send 100 million kids a year to space (sort of)

    Solutions

    Last December, I published on Forbes and subsequently on Kinder World an article on why — if we want to tackle today’s global challenges — we need to start thinking of planet Earth as a single entity, beyond the narrowness of national borders.

    Ruminating over these issues, I bumped into a freshly-launched Dutch organization called Spacebuzz that is working towards this goal.

    In particular, they want to help children aged 9-12 experience the so-called “overview effect”, a cognitive shift in awareness reported by many astronauts that make them experience our planet as a boundaryless “tiny, fragile ball of life."

    Since the logistics of shipping throngs of mini Buzz Lightyears to space might get a bit arduous, Spacebuzz figured out a nifty workaround.

    They created an experience that combines VR and AR technology to give children a first-hand (or first-eye...) taste of the overview effect.

    Sounds cool? Not cool enough for the Spacebuzz folks that decided to set up the VR/AR experience inside a real looking space rocket mounted on a truck and use it to tour schools across Europe.

    Now, this is cool.

    And since I like cool things, I reached out to Hidde Hoogcarspel, the founder of Spacebuzz foundation. I wanted to know more about the foundation’s work and where it’s headed. The answer? Far, really far.

    To infinity and beyond

    When we discussed Spacebuzz’s plans, Hidde pitched me his many ideas with a contagious, exuberant passion. The guy had a dream, that was doubtless.

    Together with Dutch investor Zoran Van Gessel, he raised a pretty penny to build the epitome of coolness — a slick space rocket on wheels — but that was not all. Actually, in the long term, the rocket is not even that important.

    “Our goal for the future is that people all around the world will be inspired by our mission and will ask us the VR video to replicate the Spacebuzz experience in their own country. The video is all you need to set it up,” Hidde told me.

    Spacebuzz’s moonshot is that, in a few years, 100 million children will get to experience the overview effect yearly.

    The hope is to raise a generation that — conceiving planet Earth as our shared home we need to look after together — will be cognitively better equipped to tackle global issues such as climate change.

    But Spacebuzz’s plans aren’t just a bunch of grand ideas high up in the sky. The project is minutely detailed and well thought-through too.

    “Children will embark on a journey that is composed of three phases: the pre-flight training, the mission, and a post-flight mission debrief,” adds Hidde, “during the post-flight mission debrief, for example, the kids will be asked to hold a ‘press conference’ to share some insights about their experience.”

    To guarantee that the experience will actually have a positive impact on the children’s education, Dr. Max Louwerse, professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Tilburg, will supervise Spacebuzz missions’ results.

    Moreover, WeTransfer founder Bas Beerens and astronaut André Kuipers —  the second Dutch citizen to ever make it to space — are Spacebuzz ambassadors. Kuipers' voice will also guide the children during their missions.

    If Kuipers has been the second, physicist and astronaut Wubbo Ockels was the first Dutch citizen to ever travel to space, having participated in a flight on the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1985.

    I'm not mentioning this information just to feed the curiosity of all the nerds of Dutch astronautics history out there, but because also Wubbo Ockels played a pivotal role in making Spacebuzz come together.

    Wubbo Ockels’ dream

    “His ideas profoundly influenced my world’s views,” Hidde told of Wubbo Ockels, “his dream is Spacebuzz’s dream."

    The Dutch astronaut and physicist spent his scientific career researching how to make our life on planet Earth more sustainable.

    For example, he developed a proof of concept for a 15-meter-long electric coach-like limo car capable of carrying 23 passengers at speeds of up to 250 kilometers per hour. The car is called “Superbus” and the assonance with “Spacebuzz” is no coincidence.

    Wubbo Ockels died of kidney cancer in 2014. Before he died, he delivered a moving speech in which he expressed his dream to transmit the knowledge he gained as an astronaut to all the people in the world.

     “Suppose that I can transfer the experience which I have to you,” he said, “then you would go out and see the Earth and you would see the blue sky. Not the blue sky that you see outside. In space, you see you’re the only one. You’re the only planet, you don’t have another one. And so you have to take care.”

    “I had the idea to create Spacebuzz before I heard Wubbo’s last speech,” Hidde confided me, “But when I finally listened to it, it was really a powerful confirmation: yes, this is our vision - I thought - this is the dream we want to pursue.”

    If you want to help Spacebuzz realize this dream, you can support them thanks to the widget below. A Kinder world is just a click away 👇🏻

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