If you ask who is responsible for climate change and who should pay, you get a lot of finger-pointing. Those responsible do not want to pony up their fair share – that includes most of us.
Consider that 23 rich, developed countries make up only 12% of the world’s population but are responsible for a half of all historical CO2 emissions and that the United States is responsible for 24.6% of those emissions.
Consider that 70% of all the emissions in the last two decades are attributable to just 100 fossil fuel producers and that many of those producers knew long ago that we were headed to a climate crisis but intentionally lied and spread misinformation, ultimately making a crisis a catastrophe, while maximizing profits.
Consider that in 86 countries, the richest 10% of people consume about 20 times more energy than the poorest 10%.
Consider the billionaires whose carbon footprint is in some instances a million times higher than that of the average person.
And consider that an American, a Canadian, Saudi, or Australian citizen has a carbon footprint score of about 15, a European about 6.8, a Mexican about 3.5, and most of the individuals who will be severely affected by climate change (that is, die, lose their homes and livelihoods) have hardly any carbon footprint at all.
It makes you want to scream. Maybe that is what we need: one big collective scream. For years economists and their lackey policymakers have been blind-sided by their own hubris. Neoliberalism, free markets, endless consumerism, are ideas that arose in the colonial era, when exploitation was the norm, global population small, and resources seemed abundant. Their mantras are still loudly chanted: More, more, more for those who already have far more than they could possibly need. Banish the thought of limited resources and a finite planet or a climate crisis turned catastrophe. And, of course, “None of this is my fault,” they whine.
Climate equity and climate justice have largely been empty words. But that may be changing. The recent COP 27, held this past November in Egypt, actually achieved something: an agreement to establish a fund to help poor, vulnerable countries cope with climate disasters made worse by the pollution spewed by wealthy nations. “This announcement offers hope to vulnerable communities all over the world who are fighting for survival from climate stress,” said Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s minister for climate change.
Careful not to call the fund “compensation” or “reparations” – it is diplomatically known as a “loss and damages resources” fund. As the New York Times reporter Brad Plumer stated, “In addition to a loss and damage fund, developing nations used the climate talks to push for reforms at two of the world’s biggest lending institutions, the World Bank and The International Monetary Fund (IMB).” These institutions arose after World War II to help Europe avoid financial collapse. Heavy debt is one of the main obstacles developing countries face in being able to respond adequately to climate driven crises.
As Al Gore pointed out at his brilliant COP 27 speech, (available on You Tube), in many developing countries the cost of financing alternative energy is seven times what it would cost in the developed world because the World Bank does not lend to these countries. So those countries continue to burn coal and cut trees for charcoal.
Managing climate change is not a “them” or “us” situation. It is an “all of us” or “none of us” necessity. The new Loss and Damage Fund needs to be accompanied by World Bank and IMF reforms. But individuals are not off the hook. We all need to engage directly in cutting our individual carbon footprint. The average European with a carbon footprint of 6.8 has a better diet, health, and well-being than we do.
There is something we all can do. Reduce your carbon footprint. Calculate it on one of the many carbon footprint websites. You will find that concrete steps like small modifications in what we eat, like the Mediterranean diet, switching to a hybrid car, less consumerism (only buy what you need), flying less, and reducing food waste might even cut our carbon footprint in half. You may think your actions don’t matter. With 8 billion of us on the planet, the actions taken by those with the highest carbon footprints are now matters of life and death for others.
Judith Polich is a New Mexico resident and a climate change columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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