Updated: May 4
By Janne Winther, Danish climate activist and social entrepreneur
There is an overwhelming sea of opinions about climate change and the green transition and I believe many people find it hard to figure out how to start swimming in this sea. In this little opinion piece, I will introduce two different opinions or viewpoints: 1) the techno-fix and 2) the systemic approach. Finally I will present four facts that you must face when deciding on your own opinion.
Some think that climate change is mostly a fault of our technologies and that further advances in technologies will solve these issues. It is technologies like CCS (carbon-capture-and-storage), bio fuels, or genetic manipulation of cows to prevent them from emitting methane. This is what we activists call the techno-fix. It is popular among many big business, big corporate leaders and many politicians as well. It is popular because it aims at sustaining the status quo as much as possible and really tries to make the sustainable transition as unremarkable as possible. Danish politicians including the current government have marketed the techno-fix as “the hockey stick approach”; they presented a strategy for great investments in these technologies so that we might be able to very quickly and just before our deadline suck out carbon from the atmosphere and reach our national goal of CO2-neutrality in 2030. The problem is that these technologies are uncertain and are madly focused on the symptoms of climate change, not the causes.
Myself and many activists, politicians and people think that climate change reveals a deeply flawed understanding of natural resources. It is an extractive understanding that causes us to produce goods and services at a level that is out of balance with nature’s ability to regenerate those natural resources. One example is subsidised mono-cropping agriculture that destroys areas with high biodiversity (for instance the Amazon rainforest in Brazil) that produces very large amounts of fodder (for instance soy) in order to feed animals (for instance pigs in Denmark), so that people across the world (from China to the UK) can eat cheap bacon for their breakfast every day. Such production is subsidised and supported and it is not made to pay for the negative impact it has on the climate nor the environment. This causes unnaturally low prices on many food products and gives incentive to produce feed for animals rather than food for people. Local farmers in Mexico who no longer eat avocado themselves nor drink enough water because they use it for production is just one of the crazy stories that shows how the current issues of climate change also are at the root of social inequality, hazardous and insecure jobs, as well as a mass-production of animals for food that leads animals to be treated without any dignity.
To view climate change in this systemic way of course demands a system fix.This is popular among climate activists as well as social and racial justice activists, indegenous peoples, scientists, and some politicians. This approach addresses the drivers of climate change and not only the symptoms. In a way it takes advantage of the many obvious and scientifically well-documented negative and harmful effects of climate change to point out the structures in local and global society responsible for these harms. It is not humans in general that are responsible for climate change, but a certain way of living practised mostly by the rich former colonies that is causing climate change. To support this view I would like to present a quote from Donna J. Haraway from an interview she gave to the Los Angeles Review of Books,
"The Anthropocene refuses to name the political and economic apparatus that drives the practices that are so destructive, and it treats the dilemma we’re in as if it’s our own natural evolutionary trajectory. That’s simply not true. We act that way in historical conjunctures and systems that can be changed. It’s not human nature that’s the issue, but a situated historical metabolism with the planet in conditions that nurture extraction and extermination. Not all people have lived on the Earth that way, and it doesn’t have to be that way. It can still change."
As Haraway writes “it can still change”. Climate activists and supporters of the systemic approach are broadcasting this message far and wide and all across the globe. We fight and struggle for climate change to be the crisis that causes us not only to react fearfully and protectively, but inspires us to redesign the political, economic, social and racial structures of our world. As Haraway also says “not all people have lived on the Earth that way” even today not all people are living on earth that way. Still today there are lifestyles and communities flourishing, happy, healthy and well-off who live in balance with natural resources who consume less and live more. As such there is no contradiction between a climate friendly lifestyle and a healthy and happy life.
The technological improvements and innovations from the techno-fix approach can be and are an important part of the solution (eg. our energy consumption is unlikely to decrease very much with a still increasing global population) but this approach cannot stand alone, it only treats the symptoms of climate change not the causes, which is why we need a systemic approach.
Anyone of course is free to choose either or none of these two perspectives. That I will leave up to the reader to decide, but there is a very important point to remember; neither of the two approaches deny climate change, neither deny the importance of handling climate change by aiming to keep global warming below 2 degrees celsius. No matter what opinion you support or form it is necessary to face the facts. As such I will end with some of the foundational facts about climate change followed by a list of suggested actions you as an individual can take.
Three important facts about climate change are the following,
We know for a fact that climate change is driven by human activity and that global warming is caused by us. We have known this since the late 80s where the scientific evidence was presented to the global public by the IPCC in its First Assessment Report.
We know that climate change is caused to a large extent by fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas. We also know that the richest people and richest countries (the global north) of the world are responsible for the largest part of not only current, but also historical emissions. In fact the richest ten percent produce around 50% of the global emissions.
We know that those who have contributed the least (if at all) to the global emissions are the ones who are suffering and will be harmed the most by climate change. For instance indigenous populations living in close intimacy with nature.
Here are three important things you can do,
Contact your local leader and talk to them about climate change and the effects in general, but also in particular to your area. Maybe air, soil or water pollution significantly impacts your area or maybe the farmers you get your food from are struggling with droughts. It is not important if this is a political, religious, or other type of leader, what is important is that you use your social networks to inform and influence the structures causing climate change.
Make sure you vote for politicians that engage with the facts about climate change. This is important because it is both overwhelming and wrong for individuals to be responsible for climate change. As such we need to activate our collective systems and structures eg. our political systems to handle the massive threat to life that climate change is.
Teach and educate, talk to peers and youth, but also educate yourself.
This piece is written as an introduction and foundation for my participation in the public diplomacy event on May 18, 2022 in Cairo, Egypt. My participation will be online. The panel will be moderated by Tim McDonnell.