Of course, I didn’t do this terrible harm. Not by myself. Nor did you (unless you’re the CEO of a fossil fuel giant!). This isn’t like punching someone in the face, shoving them into the rising sea. But it’s happening because of the way we live now, in rich countries like the UK. That makes it all of our problem.
Lives are being ruined by the oil and gas giants we buy from – the same ones that, if you have a pension fund, it’s probably invested in. Children will get malaria and encephalitis because of planes in the sky, car-clogged roads, the high-meat diets of people they’ve never met. The suffering falls hardest and fastest on those already at the receiving end of generations of injustice. Colonialism, slavery, racism and sexism.
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And the governments who represent us? Look at the figures on fossil fuel subsidies ($180 billion globally in 2020, according to the International Energy Agency), and you get an idea of how seriously they’re taking this.
Our heating planet has been made a question for political side-taking. Climate change been characterised as a scientific challenge or, more sinister still, a matter of scientific debate. That’s ridiculous.
In fact, the credible, peer-reviewed science is unambiguous, and has been for years. This is happening, it is terrible, and some humans are causing it. (That’s some, not all: between 1990 and 2015, the richest 10 per cent produced 52 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. The richest 1 per cent churned out more than the poorest half of the world.)
And there’s no ‘technofixing’ our way out, whatever big finance and big corporations would like us to believe. This is about something more basic: whether, as human beings, we treat each other as human beings, whose lives matter. It’s about how global elites have failed to do that. It’s about how that failure has been institutionalised, made routine, so we don’t see it as the moral atrocity it is.
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As individuals, we’re not powerless, however it may feel. We can act together. Doing the ‘right thing’ now isn’t just about not flying or eating beef (though that matters too – if you want to know why, see my new book, What Climate Justice Means). It’s about being part of a vast and growing campaign for basic justice. It’s about taking inspiration from the suffragette and civil rights movements.
In a collective crisis, we all need to be activists. Write to your MP. Phone them. Start petitions. Sign petitions. Engage in civil disobedience. Vote as though the future – and other people – really matters.
Elizabeth Cripps is a philosopher at the University of Edinburgh. Her book, What Climate Justice Means and Why We Should Care, is out on February 3 (Bloomsbury, £12.99). @ebcripps
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