My parents recall being warned about climate change. They were told to be ecologically conscious, for their actions were shaping the planet they were leaving behind for their grandchildren. Today, this future is much nearer than they thought. My parents, and even my grandparents, will live through the consequences of our hyper-consumerist, irresponsible lifestyles. Indeed, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) October 8th report rings the alarm bell and predicts a dying planet as early as 2030.
It is time to stop avoiding our responsibilities, action is needed now.
As a child of the early 21st century, my education had a focus on the environment. I grew up with mantras such as “reduce, reuse, recycle”, understanding the impact of carbon emissions and individual responsibility in being eco-consciousness. The IPCC sets out personal steps one can take, such as reducing meat and dairy consumption, favouring public transport or cycling, and using washing lines instead of tumble dryers. While I admire all personal efforts, in particular people who take on challenges such as “zero-waste” lifestyles, I believe that relying on individual choice to save our planet from its dire future is not only naive and optimistic, but also a marker of our incredibly limited political imagination.
We need to envision and comprehend the management and preservation of our planet as a broader issue-area that cannot be solved through piecemeal solutions, but rather requires a broader, collective political framework. Today, we see a lack of impetus for institutional, political and collective action to remedy environmental ills in favour of issues such as economic growth and social policies. Our environment is a common good, and therefore it will impact everyone, regardless of political affiliation or social status.
We shape our government’s actions and they shape ours. Our power lies in voting. Vote for the politicians that will care for our planet; hold governments and institutions accountable for their decisions. Let us renew citizen political engagement, participation and collective identities for a better future. I believe in the power of states and international organisations in providing solutions for the continued degradation of our environment. Indeed, they have the most resources, be it economic or scientific, as well as the loudest international reach. Regulations, incentives and sanctions will influence our behaviour and assure that more consistent and harmonised eco-conscious lifestyles will be sustained around the globe.
Likewise, consumerism is adapting to how individuals are making choices everyday. Today, there are marketers studying how consumer behaviour is affected by the call for eco-conscious lifestyles. Not only will multinational corporations be restricted by government guidelines, they will also seek to meet our demands. And so, by the principles of basic economics, if the demand for polluting products such as cars, single-use plastic, or meat decreases, so will their production. Similarly, the production of reusable, green and eco-friendly goods will increase.
All in all, the problem is clear, but the solution is not as straightforward. It is certain that we must work together towards healing our planet, at all levels – be it individual, institutional, or international. For me, the ideal situation would be the following: individuals put pressure on their governments to incorporate the environment into their agenda and civil society obtains a place at the decision table. Governments will hear the concerns of their people and seek guidance from both scientific and local knowledge. I also believe that governments have the responsibility to implement further environmental educational measures, so that the new generation can be eco-aware from an even younger age. Business and manufacturing should transition to a greener production, so that the upcoming generation can grow up in a responsible-consumer friendly world. Our personal actions do matter, and they can have a positive impact, but they need to be matched by higher decision-making bodies for concrete change to happen, quickly.
Laure de Montgolfier, MA International Studies and Diplomacy