Episode 6 The
problem
with
Climate Change

Anyone who has been outside in recent years can see that our climate is changing — and not in a good way. We’ve been busting our asses to reduce our carbon footprints, but it’s not enough. This is an emergency, and we need to make changes on a massive scale. The problem, however, is that people have proven to be very bad at acting in our own collective interest (hello, pandemic!).

So what will it take for everyone to work together and change the course of this catastrophe? Keep reading to learn more about what needs to be done and how we might make it happen.

THE PROBLEM WITH HUMANS

Skyrocketing temperatures. Historic floods. The family from Encanto is talking about Bruno. This is some end-times shit. We've been warned that this is an emergency for a long time now, and some of us (those of us who believe science isn't a global conspiracy to give Nancy Pelosi eternal life, anyway) have been furiously recycling our water bottles and riding our unicycles to work to try to stop it. But wouldn't you know, that was some bullshit.

Before you close this tab and unleash an unceasing wail into the void, there is one piece of good news. As Jesse Jenkins said on our show, "We failed on avoiding dangerous climate change, but we’ve managed to pull back a bit from total catastrophe." HELL YEAH.

The Carbon Footprint Con

We've been hammered by messages that reducing our "carbon footprint" was the key to stopping climate change. But it turns out that dutifully turning off our lights was never gonna be enough to ensure our continued survival on this planet. The idea that we as individuals alone were responsible for reversing this was actually just a clever ruse, largely influenced by a marketing campaign from BP, the massive oil company.

You see it behooves BP (yes, we said behooves) and other fossil fuel companies to make consumers believe we’re the only ones responsible for climate change. We DO of course need to reduce our carbon footprint as a society, but if we want to get close to reducing it enough to actually matter, it requires changes across industries and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels in a major way. We simply can’t bike our way out of this.

Our Fossil Fuel Addiction

OK, so our massive stockpile of tote bags is not the key to humanity's survival. But, as satisfying as it would be, we can't pin this entire thing on fossil fuel companies. After all, we're the ones addicted to using their product to power everything from our hummers to our hair dryers and curling irons. (We burn a lot of energy making Jon camera ready.)

As Jon said on the episode, "Fossil fuels power our comfort and convenience, and the fact that they may also be the architect of our impending doom probably won't get us to change our ways." So rather than focusing on individual actions, we need to make big changes in the way we make and consume energy. That's something politicians could do in theory, but considering they can't even agree that their workplace being broken into by an angry mob out for blood is a bad thing, that's a big ask.

The impact imbalance

While we all have to act together to reverse this, that doesn't mean the impact of climate change falls equally on all of us. With rising temperatures and prolonged droughts, we'll see massive population migrations, and communities across the world will see unprecedented impacts. These events will disproportionately affect countries in the Global South. Even within the U.S., the impacts of climate change have already had a bigger effect on poor communities — and people of color have been disproportionately affected. 

We’re responsible for these climate impacts because America is the largest carbon polluter in history. Developing nations need our support to grow in a more sustainable way. In 2009, the richest countries in the world promised that by 2020 they'd provide $100 billion every year to ensure that countries in the Global South could develop in ways that will help avert climate disaster. Well, that didn't happen, and most of the public funding for climate change has come from loans, which put low-income nations further in debt.

Even those of us who aren't math whizzes can probably see that this is deeply, deeply messed up. We're not gonna get very far unless this transition works for everyone, not just a few economic superpowers. It's not only about the direct transfer of funds, either. The U.S. can, for example, help proliferate cheap, clean energy around the world.

Meet our panelists

Climate change is an unintended consequence of our success. As a species, we are crushing it.

Jon Stewart

How do we solve this?

Climate change is fucking terrifying. There's no way around that, but framing this in a vague, “we’re doomed” way doesn’t help anyone. When we talk about it that way — and that's been the dominant rhetoric for a while now — it makes it feel impossible to find a solution. The reality, though, is that incremental change makes a real difference. Every 10th of a degree rise that we can avoid adds up, and there are a variety of changes that can get us there.

These are big shifts that need to be made, and it will require a massive and organized effort to make it work. But we can totally do it, should we decide we’re not interested in living underwater.  Here’s a brief rundown of what we need to do to get there, and if you want to dive all the way in, click over to our Take Action page.

Changing our energy sources

We need to make massive changes in the electrical grid and how energy is consumed across pretty much every sector — how we get around, how we heat and cool our spaces, how we produce goods, how we produce food, and how we produce electricity. Solar and wind are great starts for greening our electricity and that helps run our electric cars and power our heat and air conditioning. But we need to improve clean energy technologies for things like planes, industrial processes, and long-haul trucking.

Holding fossil fuel companies accountable

Oil companies need to be held accountable, but there are different ways to make that happen. Activists have done a great job of raising awareness by hitting them with lawsuits and putting public pressure on companies, and that’s even translated into investor pressure. It’s also critical that we start calling them out for using their influence to block legislation that can move us to our goals faster. But as Katherine Dixon put it, we need to move away from the "you win, I lose" framework and focus on cooperation within the whole system.

Politicians need to use their power

As we have seen, individual humans have not proven terribly good at sacrificing for the greater good and companies are not known for sacrificing their profits for, well, any reason whatsoever. The only thing powerful enough to override all this — to ensure that fossil fuel companies fall in line and that everything else goes as it needs to — is government. If we want to turn this around in time, politicians have to use their power to force us to change in the right direction. And it's gonna have to be done in a way that is transparent and holds everyone accountable.

Centering equity is key

There's one really critical thing we need to focus on while pursuing all these solutions, which Heather Toney outlined perfectly out on our panel. That is centering equity. We need to involve the people who are most affected by these changes and we need to make sure they trust in the process. Otherwise, the policies will create “sacrifice zones,” where poor people continue to be our defense against the climate crisis.

NOW WHAT DO WE ACTUALLY DO?

We know, this feels like A LOT. Before we freak out and give up, though, let us take a deep breath and remember a point that Heather made. These transitions are going to be gradual. It is not going to be like flipping a light switch. Nothing is going to happen overnight. The important thing is that we all start to focus our energy where it can be most effective: at those with political power.

Of course, we shouldn't stop acting in environmentally-friendly ways. But if we really want to make big changes, step one is pressuring your elected officials, from local offices all the way to the top. Step two is putting pressure on all these companies that say they're going to go green by 2050 to actually follow through.

There are also tons of great organizations already fighting climate change that you can look to for resources. Here are a few to start with:

Environmental Defense Fund

Indigenized Energy Initiative

Net-Zero America

International Energy Agency

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