Is the looming climate change apocalypse real? In the clearly-demarcated battle lines, the good guys are those who believe it is and the bad guys, like US President Donald Trump, are the doubters as any progressive and most of the media would affirm.
Yet it is also the good guys, the warriors against climate change, who strain the credibility of the phenomenon’s reality – and it is for them to affirm its reality through their personal examples.
On Thursday, former US Secretary of State John Kerry published an op-ed in The New York Times headlined, “Forget Trump. We All Must Act on Climate Change.” While he had suggestions for US lawmakers on forcing Trump to act, he was silent on the personal responsibilities for fighting climate change.
At the time that leaders were grappling with climate change strategies at the United Nations conference in Katowice, Poland, he had been to India and danced at the wedding of a petroleum billionaire’s daughter.
On the round trip by air he would have been responsible for about 2.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, besides other greenhouse gases like nitrous oxides. (For comparison, a typical car in the US puts out 4.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide in a year.)
Here is a fair question: If the climate change apocalypse was imminent, as he noted in his article, why did he undertake that journey?
It’s easy to preach about fighting climate change to the government, lawmakers and countries like India and China (which are often hypocritically blamed for the greenhouse gas buildup by the progressives – though not this time by Kerry – and less hypocritically by the deniers).
Here’s the bottom line: An American emits nearly 15.53 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, which is nearly ten times that of an Indian’s 1.58 tonnes. (And Canada under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the high priest of sanctimony, is not far behind Trump’s America: the per capita emission is 15.32 tonnes.)
And countries like France have a comfortable standard of living with a per capita emission of 4.37 tonnes, which is less than a third of an American’s.
So, realistically, action has to begin with appeals to individuals to cut down their greenhouse rather than looking to governments and lawmakers – or telling developing countries to do it for them.
According to a 2016 Pew Research Center survey, 63 per cent of Americans believe that lifestyle changes are needed to combat climate change and 68 per cent of Democrats believe it is a serious problem.
Despite all that, it is easy to see why it is almost impossible to call for lifestyle changes.
Just look at France. A violent popular uprising drove President Emmanuel Macron to retreat from his daring attack on climate change in the name of the Paris Treaty with an with enhanced tax on petrol.
Forget about rousing individuals or society in the climate change war; the Democratic-run New York that riles against Trump and the deniers is not going to enrage its citizenry by banning the 30,000 lights on an eight-kilometre strand on the city’s Christmas tree in a country that produces about 30 per cent of its electricity from coal.
Meat diets are another glaring example of the hypocrisy. A study led by researchers at Linda Loma University concluded that because cattle farming for beef is greenhouse intensive, the US can right now reach about 50 to 75 per cent of its greenhouse gas reduction targets for 2020 by merely giving up beef for legumes as a protein source.
Not only would some of the activists not speak out against meat-eating in their own countries, but some of their Indian counterparts want to promote beef-eating in India.
As for Indian activists, greenhouse gas-generating trips to tell the British Parliament to stop mining in India is an ego trip, but not demanding the British do something about the 5.99 tonnes of carbon dioxide gas that each of them generates every year – especially the politicians who put out a lot more gas, literally and figuratively – than the average Brit.
So is the situation so hopeless and the apocalypse inevitable?
The Pew survey found that 24 per cent of Indians believe that technology can solve the climate change problem – and definitely that’s the way forward as technology is bringing down the price of green energy. And China and India can make the most significant contributions as they leap-frog to greener technologies – and no thanks to preaching from the activists of the industrialised West. So can the other developing countries.
In the industrialised nations (as elsewhere), the greenback is more powerful than greentalk: As technology advances, corporations are seeing the monetary benefits of adopting a greener way of doing business.
Meanwhile, may be the generals of climate warriors could tone down their holier-than-thou sermons on the climate change apocalypse and instead lead by example – and try to mobilise their armies of believers to adopt drastic lifestyle changes.
(Arul Louis, who pleads guilty to contributing to greenhouse gas pollution, covers the United Nation from New York. He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @arulouis)