For a democracy to fully fledge in any nation, the existence of free and fair elections, participation of people in everyday politics, media freedom, and the existence of civil societies is vital. History tells us that such mechanisms have worked even though the path to it was arduous by nature. Social injustices such as the lack of universal franchise was transformed by the suffragette movement when women received their right to vote, which later on spread to other parts of the world. Such historic movements weren’t able to absolutely redeem societies of the gender inequality, but it was able to change the course of the governing process of almost all countries globally which had a snowballing effect on rest of the processes within society.
Combatting the effects of climate change within democracies is led in two ways; the first being effective and inclusive legislature and secondly climate activism. When speaking of the former one of the most popular pieces of legislature that was regarded as controversial but hindsight effective, was The Green New Deal. This was brought forward in the United States Congress and frowned upon by a significant amount of lawmakers due to its apparent impracticality and high cost of implementation. On the other hand, in Climate activism; climate strikes, Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion have been an eye-opener to the masses. Both aspects that being legislation and activism complement each other; the effectivity of one will cause the effectivity of the other. However, is that truly what happens in the case of combatting climate change?
Climate change or the more common aspect of it; global warming is defined by NASA as follows,
“Global warming is the long-term heating of Earth’s climate system observed since the pre-industrial period (between 1850 and 1900) due to human activities, primarily fossil fuel burning, which increases heat-trapping greenhouse gas levels in Earth’s atmosphere.”
Man-made factors are at the heart of the problem and scientists state that it will cause the rising of sea levels, melting of glaciers, extreme weather conditions, and extinction of various species. It is indisputable that tackling global warming and reversing it to a stable situation is complex. While facts and figures have been placed right in front of policymakers and others, we see that no robust and effective decisions have been taken.
In the late 20th Century, the US President’s advisory committee raised concerns over the greenhouse effect. It was only after twenty threes years i.e. 1988 that the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established to look into the effects and dynamics of climate change; by extension global warming. About exactly a year later the fossil fuel industry recorded a six-billion-ton worth of Carbon dioxide emissions, which catalyzed the greenhouse effect causing an increase in atmospheric temperatures globally. Thereon, Earth’s atmosphere was seeing major fluctuations of temperature balance which needed to be controlled if not stopped through robust legislation. Many conventions and policies such as the Kyoto Protocol, Montreal Convention was passed with an overwhelming number of signatories. While the Montreal Convention succeeded to a great extent in reducing the emission of Ozone layer depleting substances, Kyoto Protocol was regarded as highly ineffective, since key emitters of Carbon Dioxide such as USA, refused to ratify it.
Unlike social injustices gender inequality or slavery, where the problem (while being multi-faceted) can be curbed to a great extent with the right leadership and civic engagement, climate change is the epitome of a complex vicious cycle. The measures that are taken by countries aren’t sufficient to accelerate mitigation efforts. When we deep dive into the climate strikes which began due to one girl’s refusal to attend school in Sweden, it is evident that the effect on the younger generation is more likely by climate change since multiple reports point towards the horrendous impacts on the environment in the long run. The mere thought of living in unbearable high temperatures, rising sea levels, and sinking cities would inherently insight fear amongst those who are likely to live during that time as opposed to those who are unlikely to. This is the psychology behind decision-making with regard to climate change. Another psychological aspect to this is what researchers term as “risk as feelings”. Risk as feelings is when people rely on emotion when taking risk judgments as opposed to rationale and cognition. Therefore, issues such as gender inequality, racism, economic disparity would be seen as top- priority in real time over problems such as global warming whose effects will only be felt in years to come. However, this is far from true since we do have evidence of extreme weather patterns and rising sea levels at present. Yet why do we lag behind in taking action on a policy level as well as in an individual capacity?
The core issue here is that developed countries who emit the most Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) seem to be taking fewer mitigation steps since they undermine the problem and place economic interests above the climate crisis. What this results in is developing countries feeling the greater brunt of the effects of global warming even though they did not contribute to GHG emissions significantly. The Kyoto Protocol attempted to solve this issue, but they weren’t successful due to the aforementioned reason. Succeeding policies such as the Paris Agreement came into existence in 2015 as a more qualitative mechanism for nations to map out effective policies over a period of five years and to implement it, after which policies will be re-looked and revised for another five years. The agreement has been instrumental in preventing the increase of global temperatures by two degrees Celsius, however, it is not taking place fast enough or effectively enough. The promises made by certain countries have lost its pace in the last five years, hence the likelihood of reducing GHG emissions in the projected time frame would not take place.
On the other hand, the famous climate strikes in the words of Greta Thunberg have “achieved nothing”. This coincides with the inefficiency of the Paris agreement and national efforts of the largest emitters. Strikes have been a way of voicing sheer objection to pressing socio-economic problems in the past and have proven to be effective. Such a tool causes mass-scale disruption to everyday economic activities. However, in the case of climate strikes, school-goers not attending school will not disrupt essential services or cause a substantial change in everyday activities. Due to this fact, climate strikes inherently fail their purpose in pushing policymakers to take action.
The problem with the climate strikes isn’t only about the common notion that “the youth’s say is unimportant” or that “Greta doesn’t walk the talk”, it is simply the lack of integration between policymakers and climate-strikers. Both parties independently take loud actions but none has been able to sustain and cause change to curb the problem at hand. While the implications of global warming will not be felt in its entirety anytime soon, it is of utmost importance to tackle it right now because there are obvious implications that we see in the community at large. The psyche of people needs to change from “risk as feelings” to “risk as analysis” where risk judgments are taken primarily based on rationale followed by emotion. Furthermore, civil society organisations need to increase their leverage by building a foundation that is inclusive of youth, experts as well as others in order to fully and effectively integrate with the policymakers for sustainable change.
Is the integration between the governor and the governed the answer? That is the question.
– Rtr. Shihara Ferdinando
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