Socialist Worker

We need to look for collective solutions to climate change

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2180

Growing concerns about climate change, fuelled by the failure of governments to address the problem, have led many people to ask what they can do to stop the destruction of the environment.

Some people see changing their individual behaviour, through lifestyle changes and consumer choices, as being key to saving the planet.

Whether it is eating less meat, recycling, reducing food waste, turning the heating down or cutting down on car use, there is a myriad of ways that we are told we can help stop climate change.

Of course, measures such as cutting energy use are good things – as is the fact that so many people want to take action.

But doing these things won’t stop climate change, because they don’t match the scale of the problem – and because global warming is rooted in the way our society is organised.

Promoting individual lifestyle changes as a way of dealing with climate change dovetails with the dominant ideas in society.

It assumes that everyone is equally to blame for climate change and can play an equal role in stopping it. And, most dangerously, it diverts attention away from the unsustainable, wasteful system we live under.

It isn’t true that everyone on the planet plays an equal role in causing climate change.

The carbon footprints of the very rich are immeasurably heavier than those of the poor.

The main culprits are the fossil fuel industries and the industries that rely heavily on them for energy, such as transport.

What we really need is for this dirty energy to be replaced with green, renewable energy.

But individuals acting alone can’t make this leap.

They need to come together as part of a movement that presses for the social changes that are required – such as government investment and regulation of energy companies’ emissions.

It also isn’t true that individuals have the same amount of power to make changes.

If Willie Walsh, the boss of British Airways, switched to investing in greener transport, that would have a much bigger impact than me walking to work every day.

And governments have the power to impose strict limits on businesses’ carbon emissions, and to directly invest in green initiatives.

Government policies can make it easier or harder for ordinary people to be green.

Of course, individuals can make changes to help the environment. People could put solar panels on their roofs.

They could even put mini wind turbines in their gardens or on their houses, like Tory leader David Cameron has.

But can this really be compared to the impact that a properly-funded government programme of investment in solar and wind energy would have?

Governments and business operate within the boundaries of neoliberalism and so dismiss anything that falls outside it.

World leaders want to look like they are taking action on climate change but they don’t want to challenge the interests of the powerful polluters at the heart of capitalism.

Putting the blame onto individuals is ideal – because it lets them get away with doing nothing.

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