The recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is alarming, to say the least. It maintains that the Earth has heated up 0.7 C in the last 120 years. That unprecedented rise in temperature, it found, is due to human activities associated with burning fossil fuels causing increased Co2 in the atmosphere. In addition to merely higher temperatures, the report maintains that the environmental consequences of food shortages, wildfires, violent storms, rising water levels causing the displacement of millions of people, the loss of most of the world’s coral reefs, etc. profoundly affect our daily lives. And the situation will only get critically worse as early as 2040 if we don’t reverse the trend.
What to do? There have been excellent reports describing the dangers we are all facing, such as the recent one by the IPCC, major meetings like the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, excellent books exemplified by This Endangered Planet by Richard Falk or This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein. There have been large intergovernmental actions, such as the 1997 Kyoto Protocol or the 2015 Paris Agreement. On the local level, there have been marches, such as the one in Geneva on October 13. All have warned about the dire consequences of continuing as we are.
But not everyone is on board. There are climate change deniers. Asked about the IPCC report last week, President Trump could only say, “I want to look at who drew it—you know, which group drew it.” Trump’s description of “clean coal” ranks near the top of his numerous absurd declarations. He has not only eviscerated the Environmental Protection Agency – like so many of the regulatory agencies in the U.S. government – he has encouraged the coal and gas industries and refused to tax carbon dioxide emissions. In addition, the president intends to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement. (One can only wonder how things would be different if Al Gore had won the 2000 presidential election. One can also wonder if, ironically, the devastating hurricanes ravaging parts of Florida – the deciding state vote in that election – have been amplified as a result of climate change.)
Even if one is a climate change denier or even a sceptic, there are obvious things everyone can do to improve the environment. At least there are things we can do to not make the situation worse. It doesn’t take a scientist at the World Meteorological Organization to observe that there are islands of plastic floating in the Pacific Ocean or that using plastic bags is detrimental to the environment. (Plastic bags are not permitted in Rwanda and are confiscated at the border.) One doesn’t need a diploma from the EPFL to understand that separating garbage in different bags is helpful.
My point is that instead of just focusing on intergovernmental meetings or conventions, we should all focus on small, individual actions. After all, the civil rights movement in the United States was energized by one black woman, Rosa Parks, refusing to give up her seat to move to the back of a segregated bus. One woman, one stand, and the effect multiplied throughout the country.
While certainly not trying to compete with Rosa Parks, I have started to refuse plastic straws in restaurants, just as I refuse plastic bags in shops. I am also trying to use my car less and less, relying more and more on Geneva’s public transport.
Now you will say that my efforts are minimum, and I agree. You will also say that I am only one person and that my efforts are very small in the grand scheme of things. That’s also true. But that’s exactly my point. If more and more individuals stop talking about global responsibility or state inactivity and begin looking at their individual actions there might be significant change. As the functionalist David Mittrany wrote: “Peace through pieces.” No more plastic straws!