Am I a global-warming denier? For sure am not. I do believe and know for sure that the shit is real, and we are doomed. I did think that I might be insulated from those changes. Neither because of privilege or nor because I live in a country not likely to be affected(I don’t). But I expected the changes to kick in only towards the latter half of the century, and I should have comfortably kicked the bucket well before that. Turns out I am wrong. I am seeing, reading about, and feeling the changes in some cases already. And the full brunt might have to be borne as I age. How that will affect my savings/investments after I retire will need to seen. It doesn’t seem to be good news.
Now, are you a denier? I can safely say that if you have been following this blog and are reading about this, and haven’t gotten into a fight with me, you most likely are not. Almost all the people I interact with aren’t, mostly because I stay away from a certain kind of people. But this isn’t a poll to find out who is, or isn’t, a denier. Am going to assume you are not.
It isn’t easy being a denier if you keep even a semi-open mind. I remember when Modi first became PM and there was an interaction with students. “What do you think of global warming?”, someone asked. “Climate change? Is this terminology correct? The reality is this that in our family, some people are old … They say this time the weather is colder. And, people’s ability to bear cold becomes less,” he said. But then his manifesto already included tackling climate change. His steps and talk after this have all been about a non-denier. Not that that means actions have been in the proper direction. But am not going to talk politics here.
Now, let’s enter some tricky territory. You know something is bad, you know that it is caused by your actions, and you also know which specific actions. What do you do? The logical thing is to stop performing that action.
What do you do if the way you’re living, where every activity of yours, right from the water you consume, to the way you commute to work, your workplace, your home, every waking moment, and sleeping moment too, is causing that? How much are you willing to give up?
Yes, I made some “sacrifices”. I don’t drive to work, I abhor ACs, I haven’t been on a flight in 1.5 years, I buy clothes less and less frequently, I use a bucket to take bath. And am a vegetarian. Nice no? I get to be all moralistic about the guy who is sitting alone in his diesel SUV stuck in traffic.
But I live in a big house, (bigger than average, not like your phoren villas), I still drive as I have a car, I ride a bike which still uses petrol. I still consume water from a distant source that needs to be pumped up, I use electricity generated mostly from coal all the way till the highest slab, I eat rice every day, I drink milk and consume its products, I generate more garbage than the average household in terms of plastic or bio, I wear denims, I still have more than a dozen t-shirts, I play tennis where 2 people need all that space, I like traveling, and haven’t exactly given up on flying, and I own a lot of gadgets.
Maybe yes, I can bargain. I saved some carbon credits here, maybe I can spend them somewhere else without feeling guilty? I stayed away from dessert during lunch and dinner the whole week, maybe I can treat myself to some ice cream over the weekend? Sadly, this is also the flaw with the carbon credit system – I’ll pay you so that I can pollute more and you don’t. It can probably work if you pay someone for not polluting and put a cap on how much someone can pollute. But am not here to discuss global systems, more at the personal level.
I think the whole thing at the personal level is unfair. And most importantly, it’s not going to get you anywhere. Despite trying to tread as softly as I can, I still have a massive footprint as compared to someone who earns 10% of what I do because he just cannot afford to have a larger footprint. In many ways, as you start earning more your footprint is going to go up. Am speaking only in terms of benchmark, mind you – someone who earns 60% of what I do can have a much larger footprint if, for instance, he/she chooses to drive to work every day, lives in a hotter city and needs an AC. You can choose to do the little things and make tiny dents like using LED lights, less meat consumption and all that. But as more and more people start earning more, they are going to be consuming their way up. Bolt the gates behind me isn’t an approach that’s going to work. It’s not fair either. Also, in this war of who sacrifices how much, it’ll only get you into all kinds of whattaboutery. Like Leo DiCaprio you can fight all the battles and raise all the climate change awareness you want, but when you go to collect a green award, someone’s going to ask you about how you were in New York 2 days back, Paris a day back and are now in London – what about all that flying, mate? It’s not going to help reduce anything anywhere either.
All this means is that you could raise as much awareness with the public, but you’ll only be scratching the surface, barely making a dent as more and more people get ready to live the way you are. This also means that any action will have to happen at the national or global level. Switching a country’s electricity needs to renewables, or even closing down or upgrading older inefficient coal plants is going to do a lot more than people switching to electric cars. Am not saying people shouldn’t be making the move towards more efficient living, that should happen in parallel. It just shouldn’t have to be driven by personal sacrifices, more like actual goals and phasing out of things. We did move on from using leaded petrol to unleaded to the point that you cannot find leaded petrol even if you look for it. We are phasing out CFCs and moving to HCs. So there is movement there. But it’s hard to miss the fact that these were quick fixes to obvious problems. Climate change is going to take a lot more.
No matter how much you switch to renewables, more people being able to afford meat is going to put pressure from the livestock side, diets aren’t moving towards local produce yet as novelty is the craze in food. People talk about paleo diets and all kinds of nonsense. As they become more “liberal”, at least among Indians, many are willing to give up their vegetarian ways. “We are atheists, we believe only in Science” they chorus as they tuck into their steaks. The same science gives you the amount of greenhouse gases produced for every kilo of beef (300 Kg, in case you’re curious). Would being more scientific help in consuming less? Ideally it should, but it’s always the size of that wallet that rules, more than what you believe or not. (Disclaimer: am not asking anyone to go vegetarian, but I don’t think a diet which is based on meat everyday is doing much help to anyone)
Will we ever get to a state where people’s energy needs are a lot lesser than what it is now? Where the economy or how you make your living is not dependent on a lot of people consuming a lot of stuff? I only wish. The worst affected will continue to be people who aren’t you or me. Yes, we saw cases like the Chennai floods, but we also saw how the Internet people joined hands and helped each other. How much of that help went to the really poor? How much did the really poor who’s belongings were completely destroyed get back? Also, Chennai is only a small part. How are those in the NE managing as lands are being submerged. There are already millions of environmental refugees in India.
If I had to put my money on something, I’d say we are screwed. There will be changes, but not drastic enough, and not soon enough.
Mostly getting some thoughts off my chest. Sometimes get annoyed by the hypocrisy around, including mine. But mostly worried and shit scared about how there’s so much going on, but hardly anything likely to be done.
Some interesting resources to read, from recent days/years:
- Amitav Ghosh interview by Nitin Sethi. Also do catch that book – “The Great Derangement”, if you can.
- Naomi Klein’s almost polemic – This Changes Everything.
- Gaia Vince’s excellent “Adventures in the Anthropocene”(Chrome still doesn’t consider this a proper word and underlines it!).
- Elizabeth Kolbert’s 2 books – “Field notes from a catastrophe” and “The sixth extinction”.
A bit surprised, or maybe not, that there’s so less being produced in India given that we are sitting in the forefront of some real bad climate “violence”.