The issue of climate change has been popularised, and quite rightly – most people will at least be aware of its importance. The most widely known effects of global warming are the melting of ice caps and the rise in sea levels. Of course, that alone is enough to endanger low-lying countries such as Bangladesh; large areas of which are subject to being permanently lost if global temperatures rise by even 1ºC. But for those who do not live in or have any connection to such places, the effects of global warming might seem irrelevant.
What few people realise is that the effects of climate change will be much more far-reaching than a mere rise in sea levels. The entire water cycle on which life is dependent will be disrupted. The increase in temperature will mean that water vapour (which under normal circumstances precipitates as snow on mountainous regions during the winter before melting and joining streams as snowmelt run-off in the spring) will instead remain water vapour and fall as rain during the winter season. As a result, there will be little run-off in the spring, which will lead to a loss of irrigation water in vast amounts of agricultural land, resulting in drought, poor harvests and a general lack of food. Inevitably, global shortages of basic crops will not only bump up the prices of all other food commodities, but could potentially cause nations to become aggressively defensive about crops.
The prospect of such a bleak world in which the poor will suffer evermore, where the rich will most likely be warring to monopolise the limited resources of the earth, and where millions of people will be displaced by either flooding or drought, forces us to appreciate the need for each one of us to take responsibility. We must actively alter our behaviour now in order to curb the direction of climate change. The change in behaviour has to occur on many levels, but with the advent of a global monoculture driven by man as consumer first and foremost, it is consumer habits that I will focus on. As most of us will have grown up in an age of mass marketing where it’s normal for people to be in a permanent state of desire for one new luxury item or other, we must accept that advertising has pierced our defences.
Consumerism comes at a time when people are more sophisticated than they have ever been. We can rationalise and logically qualify a number of great theories in quantum physics, literary theory, and human evolution, but we fall short in our defences against simple marketing ploys. In recent years, owing to the easy access of goods, the desire for possessions has exploded out of proportion so that it now takes greater active discipline to deny oneself luxuries. Our understanding of what is a luxury has been so revised that most of us would deny that we live in luxury. The ability to purchase and repurchase items not essential to our daily lives is a luxury. To go shopping without need is a luxury.
We were, for a long time, sheltered from the negative effects of our actions. In the past, we could reasonably claim ignorance about the fact that our culture of buying and disposing of things was damaging the environment and destroying communities elsewhere in the world. Not so anymore. With information so freely available on the internet, ignorance is no longer an excuse. We can follow up the consequences of our choices relatively easily (look up ‘The story of stuff’ with Annie Leonard). Of course, the internet itself is a double-edged sword. Although it opens up the realm of information and knowledge, so it does the world of consumerism, multiplying the effects of mass marketing. How are we to extract benefit from new technology while at the same time minimising its potential for damage? Such are the moral dilemmas that our generation has to grapple with.
The upshot of this is that a new use of consumer power is where change can really take place. Corporations are driven by consumer demands, and their change in behaviour patterns is strongly dependant on the changes in consumer behaviour. If we buy less, more responsibly, we can determine how companies will behave. In a society that’s consumer-driven, the responsible person can use his/her knowledge of the system to effect change. Individual behaviour change is the strongest way for us to reduce the impact of climate change. In the coming decade, the wielding of our consumer power therefore stands as a means by which we can practically hope and work to bring about change.
The destruction of homes and livelihoods through our lack of foresight is something we must take responsibility for collectively. A group of people have already initiated a move in this direction through Environmental Action for Bangladesh (UK). EAB brings together young and mature British Bengalis who work in the environmental field, and those who feel the responsibility to raise awareness about the impacts of climate change on Bangladesh. Through public talks and videos they hope to illustrate to people the danger that Bangladesh lies in, as the official ‘ground zero’ of climate change, as well as offering suggestions as to what action we can take to improve its current situation. The group stands as an example of how we in Britain can work practically to fight the costs of climate change.
Our way to progress in the coming years is through dynamism and proactivity. My advice is – find out what you can do and do your bit.
Image from: http://www.euintheus.org/what-we-do/energy-and-environment
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