Combating climate change
The rise of right-wing leaders across the globe has made millions of people become aware of the dangers of authoritarianism, white supremacism, and free-market capitalism. But most of the contemporary issues that have been put under the spotlight are all related to human rights, identity politics, and economic policies. Rarely do we talk about the biggest and most serious problem we are facing as a species: Climate change.
It was in 1979 when the world’s most powerful leaders assembled in Geneva, Switzerland for the very first World Climate Conference (WCC) to discuss global warming and how we should utilize our current knowledge on climate systems in social and economic development planning. Thirty-eight years, three WCCs, and 22 United Nations Conferences of the parties later, we have made admirable progress towards mitigating the causes of anthropogenic climate change while adapting to its effects. All over the world, we have harnessed renewable energy with the use of solar panels and wind turbines, reformed the agricultural sector, and conducted large-scale tree planting activities in tropical areas. But the question remains: Are these efforts enough to prevent and combat the worst impacts of global climate change?
The answer is no. While we have made great strides towards environment-friendly and climate-resilient development, the call for grander and more radical action is stronger than ever. The most effective of these solutions: Taxing carbon emissions.
A carbon tax is a fee imposed on burning fossil fuels such as coal, petroleum, crude oil, and natural gas. Enacting a legal policy that will penalize large-scale air polluters (especially industrial companies in China, the United States, and India) is the only way to make the largest emitters of carbon dioxide, methane, and other carbon-based greenhouse gases accountable for the damages they have done to our natural environment. Economically speaking, such policy has the potential to greatly reduce the demand for and use of fossil fuels in electricity generation and transportation as private companies would prefer and shift to using climate-friendly and energy-efficient technologies to eliminate costs of using fossil fuels. However, this would possibly be the most challenging political endeavor any government can undertake.
It is a fact that in almost every country in the world, national governments and public officials are used by multinational corporations to further their business interests. For example, according to Earthjustice, a non-profit environmental law organization, George W. Bush and the entire Republican Party’s campaign for the 2000 US national elections was funded with more than USD 740,000 by Exxon Mobil and BP Amoco plc (two of the world’s largest oil and gas companies) as well as US-based energy corporation ConocoPhillips. Furthermore, these companies also donated a total of USD 305,000 for Bush’s presidential inauguration in January 2001. Two months later, President Bush, motivated by corporate-funded campaigns against climate change research, announced the withdrawal of US from the Kyoto Protocol.
The problem is not so much about enacting and implementing laws that will penalize large-scale carbon emitters for their harmful business operations as it is about the very system that these entities operate in, especially when government officials are either affiliated with or sponsored by big-time capitalists. And so, more than crafting and enforcing environmental laws, what needs to be done is a major structural overhaul. We need to abandon neoliberal capitalism and shift to a new economic system that will prevent all members of the society, especially the private sector, from abusing our environment.
Perhaps the most dangerous practice of the current neoliberal capitalist system that we urgently need to abandon is privatization, which is related to environmental degradation as well as human rights violations.
Privatization entails giving every right to a private owner to do whatever they desire with their property or company. This often leads to activities that have negative externalities on communities and the natural environment. Case in point: Private mining operations in the Philippines that have resulted to the displacement of indigenous peoples communities, water pollution, deforestation, and ecosystem destruction.
Other policies of the current economic system that are equally damaging to the environment include deregulation, free trade, and austerity. A quick Google search will provide you real cases of how these neoliberal policies have damaged our natural environment.
We will fail to achieve our global commitment to combating anthropogenic climate change if we continue to resort to band-aid solutions and parliamentary reforms. What we need to do is to replace the very system that allowed these environmental problems to exist in the first place. And we need it now. Otherwise, the future of humanity will remain threatened by the gravest impacts of climate change.
Nable is the current 4 BS Environmental Science Representative in the Sanggunian.