Will the top CO2 emitters change their ways? And if not, who is going to save the day?

Bottom line, we are asking these companies, many of them fossil fuel behemoths to forget their bottom line, and also their top line. Companies might talk about serving a human purpose, like making slavery-free clothes, or beef that did not burn down the Amazon, or insurance that was not allergic to claims, but they can’t run away from that necessity of making money. It’s not personal, it’s just business.

Proponents of corporate responsibility call for these companies to divest from fossil fuels and invest in renewables, and a lot of these corporations are already doing that – but more as CSR strategy, their prehistoric cash cows are still in oil and gas. Exxon will Shell out on a wind farm on a British Petroleum savings project, but behind the responsible façade they will still drill baby drill.

And asking these corporations to do their part makes sense, any problem solver will advise you to get the biggest ripest lowest hanging fruit. But the problem is these are not fruit, they are syrup taps that are designed to choose themselves before the tree. In fact, a lot of these companies have done the opposite of help, spending money to lobby politicians into climate inaction and even into further subsidizing fossil fuels and misleading the public on the science of the climate change.

So, what do we do?

Surely, we can’t convince the other seven billion of us to do something? For starters we do not need seven billion people. In an earlier article I argued that it was the global top 1% of income earners that caused and could influence the solution of climate change. Even if you took that number as a billion (as per the late great Hans Rosling), these are still the people flying around, driving cars and using energy intensive appliances. But more importantly these are the same people who can get their companies to use renewable energy, or influence governments to act as officials and through voting and lobbying. You might not be a millionaire, but just using your influence in the smallest way adds up.

And we don’t need to get a everyone to act immediately, as we have seen in renewable energy, just the adoption of solar and wind in Germany and a few other European nations was enough to push these sectors into the fastest growing energy suppliers in the world.

We only need to get a threshold number of people to carry out a threshold amount of action. The scaling up of things is a human story, how cars replaced horses, how computers replaced typewriters, and how Starbucks replaced reasonably priced coffee. So no, we do not need everyone to be on board for our fight on climate change to work.

Just look at Sterling, Massachusetts, a small town in the US, adopting a microgrid system that will pay for itself in 8 years while giving them more energy independence, or Feldheim, Germany which is 100% renewable powered, or Shakimali Matborkandi, a village in Dhaka trading solar power over the internet. Our decarbonization is happening. Our energy liberalization is happening.

Look at the companies leading the charge (literally) in renewable energy. The only company most people can think of when it comes to renewable energy is Tesla, and yes, they talk a big game on solar and storage, but they don’t figure into the most successful companies in this realm. The industry really is a collection of relatively smaller players competing their pants off to get prices down. On a side note, isn’t that capitalism? Businesses competing to bring value to consumers. Not monopolies influencing our democracies and encouraging state or royalty owned enterprise that in turn attack any attempt at regulation.

Now the more circumspect of you would point out that billions of people in the world demand fossil fuels. But that’s not entirely correct – I have never met anyone who consumes fossil fuels as a product, unless they are looking for an alternate alcohol. What people want is energy, whether to electrify their rides, to light up their homework assignments, or cool down that beer (or fossil fuel beverage)

Tastes familiar…

Sure, the fossil fuel interests outspent environmental groups advocates 10 to 1 from 2000 to 2016, but while they may have dollars, we have Greta. And recently it seems the Bill Gates has overcome his nuclear inertia to endorse wind and solar, with storage. We need to leverage their voices, on traditional and social media, getting more people to act and further influence their leaders.

I do get that we need action from the big emitters, but apart from them not designed to take climate change seriously, I sometimes feel like the power of the rest of us is underestimated. When we talk about the power of the individual we generally talk about eating less meat or even procreating less, which by all means I think is important. But between the individual and the government/corporations, there is a huge spectrum of activism available at our disposal. The building manager pushing for solar on his factory’s roof, the salesman asking his team to choose the train over plane, the architect using wood to build his tower, or even a sparkly eyed Greta standing out alone in the cold in front of parliament urging action.

We need to step up, on behalf of those who can’t respond, who are distracted from the issue and even those who are actively fighting for fossil fuels, because climate change is affecting us already. From worsening refugee crises to insurance collapses collapsing financial markets to potential wars, why are we even risking this, for what?

Outgo inequality… Income inequality’s less famous brother

I would like to leave you with an image of how I think about climate change responsibility and influence. We’ve all experienced rush hour traffic at some point in our lives, our minds desperately trying to calculate the crawling bus arrival to walking time ratio multiplied by the boss’s sarcastic comment on tardiness. You are imagining, why does the whole country have to be out at the same time? Then you notice all the cars around you with a single driver. From LA to Jakarta, that’s just ten to twenty percent. If those cars were to disappear traffic would too. That’s what climate change is to me, six billion people in the bus, while all we have to do is turn off the engine, and join them, or at the least find a way to fly.

What space travel TV shows can teach us about inequality?

Imagine you are aboard a spaceship flying through space at six hundred kilometres per second, travelling to Mars, you are a maintenance engineer, you injure your foot, you get taken to the sick bay and given the appropriate medical attention. Your injuries stop you from continuing in the same role, your privileges change, smaller quarters, less entertainment credits. But your basics like everyone else on board is met, food, healthcare, extended learning, and a slick high-tech V-neck onesie.

You do not have to imagine that hard, you are already travelling on a spaceship right now. It has forcefield protection from meteors, asteroids and solar particle radiation. It has supplies in its lands, atmosphere and oceans. It has opportunity for nature and humanity in its vastness. But life on this rocky tract is not all the same as our Mars expedition.

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For most of us on earth our experience of how we take care of each other is a universe apart of what happens on these imagined space explorations. We are mostly a world of an assumed meritocracy, you get what you work for.

Some of the meritocracy stalwarts reading this might say that those voyagers earned their way onto that ship, which would be true. But isn’t it also true that our own entrance to this world was by nine months of unbridled effort and care by our mothers, and our own striving defying every obstacle to being born. From there it was then about who your parents were, who were the people around you, which school you went to, and how hard you worked. Yes! That must be it, how hard you worked! But find me a CEO who works as hard as a construction worker, or a sanitation worker, or a member of our armed forces. The argument might then be, that you also must work smart. But then find me a business leader who is smart as the scientists who keep warning us about climate change and pandemics. 

An interesting idea that Covid-19 has revealed is that the pandemic was no one’s fault. We should help those disadvantaged by the crisis, shoring up trillions for monthly allowances, suspension of loan repayments and other stimulus. The virus has given our leaders a chance to show us that we can care about the less privileged, and to provide a baseline of humanity for everyone.

Covid-19 has shown us that meritocracy does not need to be a barrier to our common humanity

And this inequality between human beings does not even start to describe our inequality with the environment. So much of our standard of living, our measures for productivity and growth require an unbalanced exploitation of the earth’s resources. In our imaginary spaceship this resource unbalance would jeopardize everyone aboard. It is jeopardizing everyone on earth too, we would be doing something, if we were willing to listen to scientists.

There is enough research to show we can fulfil a lot of pro-humanity, pro-environment policies. A Yale study on how Medicare For All would be cheaper for the American tax payer. A Stanford study showing renewable energy would be 57% cheaper than alternatives for 143 countries. We should also look beyond economic metrics when understanding what’s better for us, and the environment, but that’s beyond what I want to focus on here.

So if being great to each other and the earth, is so beneficial why aren’t we already doing it. It’s a complicated why. I think a common thread is our leaders. If you are in an autocracy then it’s tough to out-voice monied interests. But if you live in a democracy, then you must start voting for candidates who support pro-humanity, pro-environment policies. A lot of these policies are usually designed not to have a net cost on the middle class. Don’t boo, vote.  

Meet the Andromedians!

Back on our Earthship, we are sailing towards the Andromeda galaxy, we should land in about 5 billion years. Covid-19 has marked 2020, as a year of great loss, but wouldn’t it be great when we meet the Andromedians, we can tell them that 2020 was when we picked up the pieces and created an Earth that was better for all. 

This article was originally published on Medium.com