Who is to blame for climate change?
During my holiday, the Guardian published an article on what individuals could do to tackle the climate crisis. Almost every point was to lobby somebody else to take action – personal change was dismissed as messing about with metal straws. I tweeted about this (on my political Twitter account) and was quite surprised at the negative reaction to the view that our personal choices have (carbon) consequences. I was blaming individuals for the climate crisis, while letting those responsible off the hook.
Hold on a sec. Yes, the oil companies are morally bankrupt and politicians’ efforts have always been too little too late, but are we not complicit? I mean, Boris Johnson has never force-fed me a steak (food represents 25% of the UK citizen’s footprint) and when I’ve taken long-haul flights (flying = 9%), I don’t recall being frogmarched up the steps of the plane by a fossil fuel executive. When I tweeted this, somebody responded that the Government should be taxing these things, so I retorted we would still need to change our behaviour whether we wait for economic pressure from Government or act entirely voluntarily now. Surely us Guardian readers of all people should be leading by example?
I recall seeing a presentation about 15 years ago which quoted research saying a majority of citizens thought that serious action needed to be taken on climate change, but that when the respondents were asked what *they* were going to do, they reacted with shock and/or anger. It seems nothing has changed in the meantime.
This “not me, Guv” attitude seems to be taking on ever more contorted arguments. Even the idea of a personal carbon footprint is apparently a nefarious attempt by Big Oil to shift blame away from themselves and on to the individual. But, but, but… if we take individual action on our carbon footprint, most of the actions we take will hit fossil-fuel companies’ profits, so how does that work? And, while the idea of the carbon footprint was pushed by BP (as a form of virtue signalling, IMHO), it’s just a simplification of an individual ecological footprint which was developed by academics and used for a decade without any controversy over ‘blame’. It’s a flimsy, self-serving argument, designed to clear our consciences without consequence.
As a middle-class, middle-aged, affluent (and Guardian-reading) man, I take full responsibility (rather than ‘blame’) for my sizeable carbon footprint over the years. I do not find that position in any conflict whatsoever with my desire to see rapid investment in green infrastructure, economic incentives for greener behaviour and the throttling off of fossil fuel extraction, all of which are within the power of the various authorities we elect.
Taking responsibility has led to (some) action. Our family has reduced the amount of red meat we eat by considerably more than half, we buy green energy, we’ve made holidaying in the UK our default option, our annual car mileage is down to about half the UK average, much of the clutter in our house is second hand, and we’re pushing up the range of things we cycle to as the kids get bigger (and safe cycle routes gradually emerge). We are conscious that this is not, and never will be, enough, but we want to send the right signals to the market, authorities and our social circle that this is the way we want things to go.
Doing nothing is not an option.