Proponents of corporate responsibility call for these companies to divest from fossil fuels and invest in renewables, and a lot of these corporations are already doing that – but more as CSR strategy, their prehistoric cash cows are still in oil and gas. Exxon will Shell out on a wind farm on a British Petroleum savings project, but behind the responsible façade they will still drill baby drill.
And asking these corporations to do their part makes sense, any problem solver will advise you to get the biggest ripest lowest hanging fruit. But the problem is these are not fruit, they are syrup taps that are designed to choose themselves before the tree. In fact, a lot of these companies have done the opposite of help, spending money to lobby politicians into climate inaction and even into further subsidizing fossil fuels and misleading the public on the science of the climate change.
So, what do we do?
Surely, we can’t convince the other seven billion of us to do something? For starters we do not need seven billion people. In an earlier article I argued that it was the global top 1% of income earners that caused and could influence the solution of climate change. Even if you took that number as a billion (as per the late great Hans Rosling), these are still the people flying around, driving cars and using energy intensive appliances. But more importantly these are the same people who can get their companies to use renewable energy, or influence governments to act as officials and through voting and lobbying. You might not be a millionaire, but just using your influence in the smallest way adds up.
And we don’t need to get a everyone to act immediately, as we have seen in renewable energy, just the adoption of solar and wind in Germany and a few other European nations was enough to push these sectors into the fastest growing energy suppliers in the world.
We only need to get a threshold number of people to carry out a threshold amount of action. The scaling up of things is a human story, how cars replaced horses, how computers replaced typewriters, and how Starbucks replaced reasonably priced coffee. So no, we do not need everyone to be on board for our fight on climate change to work.
Just look at Sterling, Massachusetts, a small town in the US, adopting a microgrid system that will pay for itself in 8 years while giving them more energy independence, or Feldheim, Germany which is 100% renewable powered, or Shakimali Matborkandi, a village in Dhaka trading solar power over the internet. Our decarbonization is happening. Our energy liberalization is happening.
Look at the companies leading the charge (literally) in renewable energy. The only company most people can think of when it comes to renewable energy is Tesla, and yes, they talk a big game on solar and storage, but they don’t figure into the most successful companies in this realm. The industry really is a collection of relatively smaller players competing their pants off to get prices down. On a side note, isn’t that capitalism? Businesses competing to bring value to consumers. Not monopolies influencing our democracies and encouraging state or royalty owned enterprise that in turn attack any attempt at regulation.
Now the more circumspect of you would point out that billions of people in the world demand fossil fuels. But that’s not entirely correct - I have never met anyone who consumes fossil fuels as a product, unless they are looking for an alternate alcohol. What people want is energy, whether to electrify their rides, to light up their homework assignments, or cool down that beer (or fossil fuel beverage)
Sure, the fossil fuel interests outspent environmental groups advocates 10 to 1 from 2000 to 2016, but while they may have dollars, we have Greta. And recently it seems the Bill Gates has overcome his nuclear inertia to endorse wind and solar, with storage. We need to leverage their voices, on traditional and social media, getting more people to act and further influence their leaders.
I do get that we need action from the big emitters, but apart from them not designed to take climate change seriously, I sometimes feel like the power of the rest of us is underestimated. When we talk about the power of the individual we generally talk about eating less meat or even procreating less, which by all means I think is important. But between the individual and the government/corporations, there is a huge spectrum of activism available at our disposal. The building manager pushing for solar on his factory’s roof, the salesman asking his team to choose the train over plane, the architect using wood to build his tower, or even a sparkly eyed Greta standing out alone in the cold in front of parliament urging action.
We need to step up, on behalf of those who can’t respond, who are distracted from the issue and even those who are actively fighting for fossil fuels, because climate change is affecting us already. From worsening refugee crises to insurance collapses collapsing financial markets to potential wars, why are we even risking this, for what?
I would like to leave you with an image of how I think about climate change responsibility and influence. We’ve all experienced rush hour traffic at some point in our lives, our minds desperately trying to calculate the crawling bus arrival to walking time ratio multiplied by the boss’s sarcastic comment on tardiness. You are imagining, why does the whole country have to be out at the same time? Then you notice all the cars around you with a single driver. From LA to Jakarta, that’s just ten to twenty percent. If those cars were to disappear traffic would too. That’s what climate change is to me, six billion people in the bus, while all we have to do is turn off the engine, and join them, or at the least find a way to fly.
Nabeel Ismeer is a renewable energy professional based in South East Asia. He has experience executing and developing a combined 300 MW of Solar PV capacity from Saudi Arabia to Australia. He also writes fiction around characters fighting climate change and racism. His book “The Hunter’s Walk,” will be out mid 2021.