MANILA, Philippines — Using metal straws and eco-conscious search engine, reducing food waste, and shopping sustainably are worthwhile actions, climate activists said, but they stressed that these can only do so much to make our planet livable.
After the arrests last week of climate scientists who spoke out about the injustice of the climate crisis and the urgency of it, the #LetTheEarthBreathe campaign trended on social networks.
Most of the social media posts with the hashtag asked people to reduce their plastic use, save electricity and water, as well as delete unwanted email.
Climate activists believe that changes must be made to prevent the devastating effects of human-induced global warming.
“What’s needed is not more incremental steps, but comprehensive and inclusive transitions in energy, food, industrial, urban and societal systems that deliver climate resilient, equitable development, without any delay,” Greenpeace Philippines country director Lea Guerrero told Philstar.com.
A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stressed that limiting warming to just 1.5 degrees Celsius involves “rapid and deep and in most cases immediate” greenhouse gas emissions reductions in all sectors. Scientists warn that any increase above 1.5 degrees Celsius will cause the worst effects of climate change, and the window for action is rapidly closing.
“There’s nothing wrong with engaging in small changes in lifestyle, but in this very critical moment of human history, we all need to do much more than delete our old emails or use metal straws,” said Jon Bonifacio, the national coordinator of the Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines.
Refusing to accept responsibility
Campaigners stated that it is okay to take small steps because it shows people are aware of the problem and want to address it in their own way. “It makes people feel that they are part of the solution,” Guerrero said.
Positive changes in lifestyle can be made by individuals, but they can also be done together.
However, activists pointed to the problem with this individual lifestyle approach to climate change. It shifts the responsibility away from the main causes of the problem to humans.
“When you look at who’s mainly responsible for destroying the planet, it’s not humanity as a whole, but really just a few countries, corporations, and individuals, and they are the ones who need to be accountable,” Bonifacio said.
China is currently the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, but, historically, the US has contributed more emissions than any nation in the world.
The Carbon Majors Report was published in 2017 and showed that only 100 companies were responsible for 71% global emissions since 1988.
“We need to put in more work in taking on the root cause of our current crisis directly,” Bonifacio said.
Guerrero stressed the importance of focusing on individual actions to send the message that it is people and not governments that need to be changed.
“The narrative on lifestyle change is also largely acknowledged as an attempt at greenwashing by corporations, again because it deflects the responsibility from them,” she said, referring to campaigns to make operations of companies to appear more environmentally friendly than they are.
The Greenpeace country director also emphasized that no amount of individual lifestyle changes can make a significant dent in the fight against climate and ecological crises “if the system of relentless extraction and exploitation buy companies that has brought on the problem, and the government policies that allow these, continue.”
“It takes technological, systemic, and cultural changes for which we need both consistent action from politicians and other decision makers as well as public pressure and social movement,” she said.
Greenpeace and other groups have been calling for the Philippine government’s swift and fair shift towards renewable energy systems, to stop the expansion of coal, oil, and nuclear projects, to call on wealthy nations to increase their climate finance and compensation for loss, and to make climate action the central policy.
Fight for the Future
For climate justice advocate Marinel Ubaldo, people need to demand change and accountability from top emitters of planet-warming greenhouse gases, and action from governments.
“We can change our lifestyles, we can influence other people. We make sure that we don’t do harm to our environment at the same time we have to ensure these corporations are actually changing their business practices for the betterment of the planet,” Ubaldo, a survivor of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) said.
She added that corporations and developed countries have the resources and power to make changes in their business and policies.
Guerrero said that the individuals have a very important role in ensuring systemic changes happen “by fighting for the future we deserve, and lending their voice and strength to the climate movement.”
In 2015, civil society organizations and typhoon survivors filed a petition before the Commission on Human Rights to investigate the responsibility of “carbon majors” for human rights impacts aggravated by climate change. However, the CHR has yet to release a long-awaited decision on the inquiry.
Young activists around the globe organize strikes and use social media platforms to demand rapid change in societies to save the planet from the worst effects of climate crisis.
“People need to realize that they have more power to bring about solutions through active participation in governance and in movements,” Guerrero said.