Climate catastrophe compromised by profit
I've written this admittedly awful red-top style headline to illicit an emotion. If the emotion isn't pure anger, then I have some bad news for you; you should be angry.
We've all seen the comedic meme post of some cartoon dinosaurs looking at a meteor crashing towards the earth. A speech bubble from a green t-rex has the dino exclaiming, "but the economy!"
It's a funny meme because it's unbearably true. And as we enter 2023, despite all of the academic research, scientific journals, easily-accessed books and websites on the topic, we're still in a virtuous cycle of protecting our number one asset: the economy.
But the economy is crashing. The cycle of a decade-plus of bull markets, booming sales and hyper growth with low inflation is over. It's a natural conclusion to reset the economic structures of the world, to tee it up for another few years of "clean living." It's a great opportunity to grab the bull by the horns and put climate first.
I've been saying this for years, but the climate catstrophy isn't just an existential threat we need to solve for. It is. But it's also an opportunity to change how our economic systems operate. The COP conference has agreed in previous years to allocate a carbon budget, allocate money for developing nations (albeit not calling them what they are, but natural resource reparations). But there is a missed chance to really go big on it, tying climate to the economic intrinsically.
And this is why I've got my red-top garbage headline subject.
The climate issue today isn't sustainability. Almost every facet of our lives today could be fairly easily maintained sustainably right now. There's existing tech and some changes required, but there's nothing fundamentally unsustainable about the way we live.
Take the energy crisis right now. Fossils are clearly an enormous problem. But we have wind and solar tech, right now. But that's competing with profits and margins from "big oil," gulf states and vested interests (vehicular companies, forecourt retailers, etc., who tend to be indirectly represented by "associations" or lobby groups).
Take waste. Electronic, plastic wrapping, etc. All of it could be reduced drastically if we didn't benefit the economics of "planned obsolesence" (literally designing things to have a shelf life that requires an upgrade or replacement). Imagine if your phone had parts replaced every few years, rather than the whole thing. Now imagine if the tax rate on those parts were significantly lower to encourage that thinking. Imagine the ecosystem around the device, then. Profits and margins would be fine, just not absolutely milking your wallet at every opportunity as it does today; because that's the system we built.
Our entire society is structured around profit and benefitting the economy. Humans, life on earth, and our biosphere are actually secondary factors in how we make decisions. It's grotesque. And it's how future generations will write about those of us alive in the post-WW2 to 2020's era.
Remove the climate impact from "sustainability." It's just common sense and logic. Why do we have so much milk contained in plastic containers, when it's infinitely more logical to have glass that can be returned to a store and refilled? Because there's a whole ecosystem, underpinned by economic growth exclusively, not logic.
Civilisation is constantly ebbing, flowing and self-editing. This is why it's not worth running yourself into a nihilistic mode of despair. You can make small changes that encourage macro trends. Talk about your little changes. You don't need to be vegan, but make meat a weekly/monthly treat. Grow some veggies in the garden if you can. Get solar panels on the roof. Drive an EV if you need a car. Cycle/walk more, and use public transport. Talk about those experiences, even if they're bad.
But ultimately, shop local, shop sustainably and even if things are slightly more cumbersome at times, avoid mega-corporation vested interest slave trade companies that are incentivised, by our habits, to not think about the climate.
The inspiration for this thought was an article from futurist.com titled "Stanford scientists warn that civilisation as we know it is ending."