How consumption is the core of the climate change problem, and the decline in climate activism


Looking back at the climate change movements for the past couple of decades, it is easier to notice the role of governments and corporations of the Industrial era, in triggering the massive climate change effect. When it comes to main causes of climate change and global warming, more than often, fossil fuels, chemical affluent and pollutants are the usual suspects. We usually imagine a billowing chimney, as the greatest catalyst to loss of habitat for animals, but we often fail to look at the problem on a per capita basis. Even when we think about the individual responsibility towards climate change, we mostly look at out carbon footprint, ignoring the fact that consumption, and not our carbon footprint, has a greater impact on natural resources.

We explore this pattern and hidden stigma around consumption and the direction of the global, as well as national climate change movements, with an interview with Mr. Saumya Datta, an avid activist known around the world for his activism to protect the environment and climate. We also explore various climate change movements of the past, how they have shaped the general sentiment and the government attitude towards the problem. The article entails our understanding of the enlightening thoughts of Mr. Datta and our interpretation about the need of immediate action against environmental degradation.

How consumption is at the forefront of climate change

Consumption in terms of natural resources is a method of sustenance for every living being on the planet. However,  humans have evolved to the stage that enables them to harness resources, far beyond their need to survive. We consume energy, food, water for our convenience. Scaling this small per capita excess consumption, to the entire population brings out the problem of the overwhelming constraint. This is major problem that Mr. Datta talks about as he explains why the modern habits and culture of consumerism has led to degradation. Families owning 3 cars instead of 1, just to create convenience of leisure travel is one of the examples of this. Even if we want to measure the carbon footprint, the indirect energy constraint caused by excess consumption far outweighs the direct pollution caused from using fossil fuels and chemical aberrations. Developed economies, which claim to be cleaner and eco-friendlier, consume more natural resources per capita than those in developing economies. This creates a worldwide resources stress in which the demand has to be met with a supply from another region, which is depleting its resources rapidly. This has happened with a lot of developing economies like India, Bangladesh, Thailand etc. where ecosystems have been lost due to skyrocketing demand of goods, and the need of sustaining the local populace

The problem with renewable energy

The one common solution presented to us is the use of renewable energy resources. While this may seem as a direct reduction in carbon footprint, we need to look at the broader picture to assess its impact. Take for an example, an electric car. The car will run on electricity which is clean and will produce absolutely no harmful pollutants. But, if we look at the resources which are used to build and operate an electric car, things start getting complicated. Every car would be produced in a factory which will use resources to function and land to be used. Every recharge station will require some other resources and land. Altogether, the car would run on electricity which itself needs some form of natural resource. Thus, the overall infrastructure needed would have tremendous ecological impact. The same can be said for a Hydroelectric dam project, which ultimately leads to ecological imbalance in the reservoir and downstream region. Massive Solar panel farms also face similar problem of land use and maintenance, which ultimately leads to using further natural resources. Much of the cleaner energy technologies are inefficient and thus, to satisfy demand, more and more of them would have to function simultaneously, posing an even greater stress at the already dwindling resources. This is the problem with renewable energy

Energy justice issues

The Paris agreement against climate change in 2015 was the biggest stage of policies and governments, pledging to preserve nature’s best interest. But, if we look at it from a general viewpoint, it had very little effect on the public sentiment around climate change. Compared to the movements of late 90s and early 2000s, the Paris agreement was a major political standpoint, but not a bigger movement. Mr. Datta, who has been involved with the United Nations, as part of their sustainable development mission, has been involved in major national and international activism for the cause, but clearly sees the general sentiment around it, on a decline. He founded the India Climate Justice platform in 2009, which has 65 groups in the country, focusing on governance and policies around climate change. While the general laws regarding fuel usage and polluting are getting stricter, there have been very few major moves from the side of governments all over the world, to immediately focus on climate change. This comes as an effect of major geopolitical changes, economic crisis and now the pandemic of COVID-19. While these issues are urgent and pressing, the sheer scale of climate change goes unnoticed, leaving a fog on the sustainable future ahead of us.

The Coronavirus Pandemic proved how curbing unnecessary consumption can bring back fishes in the canals of Venice, or how it can create clear air over Delhi.. While the governments have been laying down laws for the better, they are nowhere enough to fulfill the need of preserving our environment. One can say it really comes down to the individual, but the responsibility is shared and so should be the sentiment around it. Needless to say, the new doomsday clock has been ticking for a while now, and it is perhaps not too late to act upon it. Both governments and individuals alike.

Amandeep Singh is a second-year PGP student from IIM Ahmedabad



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