Coronavirus is teaching us crucial lessons on how to tackle climate change, write
How can I reduce my carbon footprint? As sustainability researchers, we regularly field this question, from friends and family but also journalists. The answer is simple: cut down on flying, driving and eating animal products. Google is awash with thesame adviceand thescience backs it up.
Of course, changes to our diet, travel and lifestyle areentirely necessary to avert climate breakdown. These are most needed in high-income countries, given theirdisproportionate responsibilityfor greenhouse gas emissions.
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will finally dedicate for the first time since its first report in 1990 an entire chapter todemand sidesolutions in its upcoming sixth Assessment Report. The UK governments advisory Committee on Climate Change recognises that society will need to change fundamentally for the UK tomeet net zero emissionsby 2050. And each individual can help this effort.
If you live in a developed country, not taking that one long-haul flight a year could reduce your annual carbon emissionsby up to half. Going vegan cancut your food-related emissions by over 70%. And switching to a renewable energy provider can knock anothersizeable chunkoff your carbon footprint. But were still sceptical about whether these changes can really scale up to whats needed.
To have any meaningful impact, measures to reduce carbon footprints require everyone adopting them. But even among the most well-informed people, theres little evidence of positive environmental behaviour. Conservationists, despite their acute awareness of the ecological and climate crisis, haveenvironmental footprintsthat are no lower than their colleagues in medicine or economics, for example.
Even if everyone adopts a low carbon lifestyle, we can only hope to influence at most half of the emissions linked to human activity, with the remainder beinglocked up in infrastructure, such as roads, airports, and buildings. Arecent studyfound that with reasonable levels of adoption, green consumer actions could only reduce the EUs carbon footprint by 25%. But the actions commonly taken to reduce carbon footprints recycling, reusing bags and changing light bulbs have little effect.
Instead of obsessing over our individual carbon footprint, we need to realise our collective power. The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated this beautifully.In many places, people have surprised their own governments by overwhelmingly obeying lockdown restrictions and supporting their extension.
People who are healthy and to whom the virus poses little risk are isolating to protect the most vulnerable in their community. And its working. These individual actions are helping suppress the transmission of the virus andreduce the number of new cases. This shows how our individual actions can add up when theyre taken in solidarity with others.
Building collective power
The real culprits of the climate emergency have been eclipsed by individual guilt and blame. If we invested the energy we currently do in challenging each others green credentials into calling out how governments and businesseshave derailedenvironmental action instead, we might be further ahead.
A recent report found 134 countries have commitments to reduce emissions over the next decade that areinsufficientfor limiting global warming to well below 2C, as outlined in the internationalParis Agreementon climate change. Building the movements to challenge and ultimately change this situation will be profound. Acting alone simply isnt an option.
Even before the pandemic, recent history vindicated collective action by ordinary people. Movements such as Extinction Rebellionand the Greta Thunberg-inspiredFridays for Futurehave placed the environmentfront and centrein political debates. Electoralgains for green partiesillustrate a new appetite for solutions to environmental problems.
Grassroots campaigns have pressuredgovernments and corporationsto honour their commitments on climate change.Legal actionhas helped advance the notion that a safe climate is a fundamental human right that must be respected in law. Calls for fossil fuel divestment have leduniversities,pension schemesandwhole countriesto abandon investments in fossil fuel companies.
Direct action, such as protests disruptingairport expansion, has stirred public support for scaling back major infrastructure decisions that would accelerate climate change. Blackrock, the worlds largest asset manager,announced after global proteststhat it would stop investing in companies that threaten the environment, such as coal production.
Individual action will only disrupt business as usual once we realise we are not one, but many. As we try desperately to flatten the coronavirus curve, we should reflect on how, through cooperation, we can do the same for climate change.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original articlehere.