Recycling could stop us doing something about climate change

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Recycling could stop us doing something about climate change

by Amit Singh

People argue a lot about climate change and the destruction of the environment eg. in the US, there is a big, powerful group of Republican politicians who say that climate change does not exist at all. In Britain, the Environment Secretary, Owen Patterson, doesn’t believe in climate change either – how strange.

But it is against science to say that the climate is not changing: carbon emissions have increased by 35 per cent since 1990, and climate change kills more than 300,000 people each year (and maybe half a million people each year by 2030). It is very clear that we will destroy the environment if we continue like this. It is dangerous not to say this.

Different groups agree on many different goals to stop the problems of climate change eg. the UN Millennium Development Goals, but they are not often achieved. The many international environment meetings which we often have also do not get real results. The big powers do not agree on what they need to do.

One example is the 2011 Durban Climate Change Conference. Three years later, no agreements have been made. All these meetings are only to make the public think that our leaders are taking action.

But people often make a big effort. It is now normal in many countries to check our carbon footprint and recycle. These small changes are to reduce our environmental crisis. Or so the government say.

Governments say businesses and citizens need to be greener. But the environment isn’t improving. When we take small green steps, we think that we are solving the problem, and that we don’t need to worry about it anymore. This small ‘action’ stops us asking deeper questions about the environment and what really makes the climate change and destroys the environment.

We recycle our waste, but do not link it to the consumer society we live in. The media and advertising industries are always telling us to buy things we don’t need, but we do not often link this to climate change. Recycling stops us thinking more deeply about it.

When we talk about the environment, we do not often link the problem to capitalism. We often see these as two different problems. Capitalism is the big problem that no-one is talking about.

Our capitalist world makes us buy and use so much that we are destroying the environment. The World Watch Institute estimated that if everyone consumed at the same rate as the average American, the world would only be able to support 1.4 billion people.

But capitalism needs people to think that way so that businesses can do well and make money. And recycling will not change consumerist habits. And it’s this idea that supports the use of more and more resources - all to make our lives easier. The environmental damage by mining is far more than what we can do at a small level as individuals.

The United Nations Environment Programme wrote a report recently saying that the environmental damage by Shell in Ogoniland, Nigeria, could take more than 30 years to make right again. But we still don’t link what happens in places like Ogoniland and our own consumer lifestyles. We do not make the connection. And environmental NGOs are often closely linked to big business, so they can’t tell the truth.

Mining and energy companies have a very big influence on making laws, particularly in the US. Climate change organization estimates that 94 per cent of money from US Chamber of Commerce went to people who say climate change does not exist. And the lobbyists, people who fight for the oil and gas industries in government, save them $1.5 billion per year.

So it’s not difficult to see who is controlling the laws and policies and why our environmental crisis has become worse in recent decades. When there are powerful groups like the oil, gas and resource industries who have power over the EU and the US governments, it is not realistic to think that international agreements will ever make a difference.

‘Big business’ has more power than local groups eg. indigenous people. They often have a powerful environmental message to share, but no-one listens to them. Noam Chomsky said recently: ‘It’s very strange that the richest most powerful countries in the world are going quickly towards disaster, but the societies that everyone says are “primitive” are the ones that are trying to stop the disaster.’

It is good to cut our carbon footprints, but this will probably no make a difference to the planet; not if capitalism still controls everything.

Making small changes and giving money to green NGOs just stops us really thinking about what is going on. It almost makes it easier for the big companies to continue to destroy the environment, while we keep on recycling and forget about the problem.

If we really want change we must begin to ask deeper questions about the society in which we live in and start trying to do things outside capitalism.

Amit Singh studied at the London School of Economics. He works on the World Views of Nature Project, looking at how local philosophies should be more important in creating environmental policy.

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