Post No.: 0155
A lot of people who live in the long-industrialised nations of the world tend to automatically blame people and manufacturers in the ‘still-developing’ nations of the world for their growing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, rather than their own current high-consumption-per-head, consumerist, disposable-goods culture and relatively-affluent lifestyles, with their cars, regular holidays abroad and mod cons galore.
However, most people in these countries they blame are relatively poorer and emit nowhere near as much greenhouse gas emissions per head. It’s therefore plainly hypocritical, unfair and ultimately ineffectual to ask the lower-emitters-per-head to reduce their emissions (and to stay in poverty) when the higher-emitters-per-head won’t. It’s ineffectual because, like taxing the poor over the rich, there’s logically less scope to get much from the poor than you can from the rich; particularly when the poor, even though they are more numerous, emit or own far less collectively than the relatively-less-numerous rich collectively.
The richest 1 billion or ~13% of people of the ~7.5 billion total people on this planet today burn >50% of all fossil fuels. Moreover, most of the human-emitted carbon dioxide accumulated in the atmosphere right now was emitted by ‘the West’ over the last 50 years. Also, to blame any goods manufacturer from anywhere is hypocritical when one is a consumer of those goods (i.e. it’s like criticising a sweatshop that exploits child labour at the same time as buying their clothes because it’s cheap!)
So it’s generally the most affluent nations of the world (or really individuals wherever they come from) causing the most environmental problems, whilst the least affluent in the world suffer first and most from these problems too. Thus the effect of ‘the rich get richer and the poor stay/get poorer’ applies to fundamental unfairness at the level of nations too. This should be obvious because it’s generally the globally affluent who live the most luxurious lives and therefore produce the largest carbon footprints, whilst there are those across the world living in energy poverty, who don’t even have enough of the basics, and so lack the industrial capacities to lift their own nations out of poverty.
This means that we are not ‘all in this together’, hence there’s an issue of global justice and how it should be the richest nations and people who should bear the heaviest costs and changes to preserve and protect the global environment. The richest countries are polluting the most per person on average, yet for being rich, they are also the most powerful to resist doing their own fair part for protecting the common resources of the world (just like some of the richest individuals in the world avoid paying their fair share of taxes and have the most resources to make sure they can do this and get away with it too).
There’s no ‘central government of the world’ so it depends on the cooperation of different autonomous sovereign states under enforced international treaties to make solving a global issue like global warming work (again, the same with the issue of international tax avoidance schemes, hence the difficulty in solving such international problems). But who, even collectively, has the power or will to enforce these agreements on the most powerful nations whenever these powerful nations fail to do their part? Does ‘might make right’ i.e. is it acceptable for the richest, and therefore most powerful, nations to do what they want with impunity simply because no one else is powerful enough to punish their acts?
So far, it’s also proven not to be as simple as ‘win-win-win’ either (protecting the environment, continued economic growth via the ‘green economy’, and prosperous lives without real lifestyle sacrifices). The economic assumption of ‘everybody gets what he/she pays for/deserves’ has been debunked in this context too. The most vulnerable, ‘least-developed’ nations and poorest people in the world will have done the least to contribute to the problem of global warming, hence the rich are effectively scrounging off the poor i.e. making the poor pay for much of the costs that the rich produce from activities that primarily serve the rich’s own benefit. It’s a trickle-up effect that’s resulting in an overall widening of the gaps between the richest and poorest in the world. And whereas the rich, when they complain that the poor are scrounging off them, can e.g. use offshore tax avoidance schemes as well as fund political parties who support their interests, the poor cannot realistically do much about this global problem and moral injustice alone. (Yes, there seems to be a lot of parallel analogies between the richest passing their environmental costs onto the poor and tax avoidance!)
Thus to really deal with this pressing global warming problem, it predominantly requires prompt and significant collective action by the richer ‘developed’ and ‘rapidly developing’ nations and the largest greenhouse gas emitters. A lot of people living in the ‘developed’ world won’t consider themselves as ‘rich’ if they compare themselves to the millionaires or billionaires they see in the media all the time, but most people in these countries are when compared to the global average and largely ‘out of sight, out of mind’ relatively-poor in the world. Young people in ‘developed’ countries may also reason that it wasn’t their generation who contributed most of this pollution, and this might be true, but one’s generation is nevertheless benefiting from that history, and are still nevertheless contributing more pollution per head than people in ‘developing’ countries right now.
Mitigation (trying to lessen the negative effects of global warming) will require sacrifices to the lifestyles and levels of consumption and waste of mainly those living in the ‘developed’ world. Adaptation (trying to live with the negative effects of global warming) is hardest to achieve for the first and most affected poorer nations without sufficient help from the richest nations. We can hope for new technologies or geoengineering (trying to directly control the weather) to save us, but it’s currently just a hope rather than a bet that we can rationally put all our chips on at this moment in time i.e. don’t count on it when the matter is quite urgent and we have solutions today – if only every individual just carries them out – namely reducing, refusing (any excessive or single-use packaging), reusing, repairing, re-purposing, recycling, restoring and replenishing. Woof!
Enforcing mitigation would punish the relatively innocent, poorer, less-industrialised nations, who didn’t contribute much of the current levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide but are now told they cannot industrially and economically develop their own nations for this will increase global carbon dioxide levels even further. (Compared to pre-industrial levels, according to some scientists, we’re already more than halfway towards reaching absolutely critical, catastrophic atmospheric greenhouse gas levels right now.) Therefore this brings into the picture the issue of human rights i.e. pertaining to everyone’s least-controversial rights to basic necessities and security, such as water, energy and food provision. If we cannot lift everyone out of poverty without these poorer nations developing industrially then this again logically means that it’s down to the richest and ‘already-developed’ nations to vastly reduce our carbon footprints.
Maybe carbon offsetting and trading can be a part of the solution? (As long as it’s done without fraud or exploitation – and this is a big ‘if’!) Human population migration due to climate change (e.g. coastal submergence) will also need to be thought about (e.g. opening borders to migrants).
Responsibility falls onto all individuals, corporations and nations, but how should we apportion these responsibilities? By the amount of pollution caused, by the benefits gained from pollution-causing activities, or by one’s ability to pay, for instance? What if one option is more morally correct (such as the first two options) but another option is more realistically practical and workable to solve this urgent collective action problem (such as the last option)? For something so grave, will the ends justify the means? Fortunately in reality, these three options generally point to the same nations, firms and people anyway. But democratic governments must do what’s popular to stay in power, when sometimes what needs to be done for the people’s long-term interests is unpopular.
China is currently the largest polluter today in absolute terms as a country, but not by per head terms, and per head terms is more morally fair because country sizes are arbitrary e.g. imagine if China were split equally into two or more smaller countries – neither of those new countries would now be called ‘the largest absolute polluting nation’. Or imagine a world with only two countries – USA and the rest of the world – would this mean USA can then get on its high horse to the rest of the world?! China is also still currently regarded as a ‘developing’ nation. Yet it’s not that the Chinese government shouldn’t be doing its bit for the global future too for being highly industrialised in parts.
But moreover, it’s not so much about nations but individuals wherever they live, because both poor and rich nations have both heavily and lightly polluting individuals (an absolutely poor person in e.g. Germany, even though a citizen of a relatively rich country, shouldn’t really be blamed for his/her personal carbon footprint for it’ll likely be smaller compared to an absolutely rich person’s in e.g. Zimbabwe) – so primarily blame anyone, anywhere, if they live lavish and luxurious lifestyles of heavy consumption and inefficient waste. The size of the global population matters too (see Post No.: 0139), but from the perspective of justice, the responsibilities lay with individuals as individuals. No one anywhere is automatically worth more than one other person anywhere else.
Alas, the problem with individuals is that most care more about conspicuous consumption, status symbols and creature comforts than long-term discounted environmental costs that might not even negatively affect them significantly in their own personal lifetimes but will be largely passed onto future generations (i.e. it’s not ‘I’ll buy now, I’ll pay later’ but ‘I’ll buy now, future generations will pay later’) hence where’s the individually-incentivised, pressing, personal, self-regulatory motivation to change? Most people who must live resourcefully (with a low carbon footprint) aspire to live the lavish and luxurious (high carbon footprint) lifestyles of those richer than them, rather than the other way around. Premium/luxury-branded goods are generally expected to come with a lot of excessive packaging too.
So individuals must somehow solve this collective resource problem. But we sometimes hear rich politicians and celebrities, who live the relatively lavish and luxurious lifestyles that many of us wish to emulate, hypocritically preaching to those far poorer than them about our carbon footprints, and this doesn’t help (this is arguably similar to rich, possibly tax-dodging, individuals in their mansions asking for the poorer masses to eradicate a social ill via our charitable donations when the rich are the ones really with the most financial power and means to make a bigger change). Meaning that they’re generally not great role models or spokespeople at all; although some individuals are exceptions.
I understand that most readers of this blog will come from the relatively more industrialised and richer nations of the world. We’re the ones with the real power to modify our fuzzy ways and to make the greatest difference in overcoming this global warming problem. My carbon footprint is relatively small due to living a highly frugal lifestyle; although I will strive to improve my lifestyle further (e.g. I should help restore and replenish nature more). I hope you can look towards yourself to change the future of the world too. This is a global issue but it starts and ends with each and every one of us. Every little contribution from every single person adds up and contributes to the wider problem – just like every little bite of cake will contribute to weight gain over time even though one or two bites on their own won’t.
Woof. You do and will make a difference!