Why we need a consumer strike to save the world
It is a mindbogglingly depressing spectacle: Every time the IPCC releases a new report, politicians and business leaders all over the world unite in pretending that they do not understand its implications. After some empty promises of taking climate destruction seriously and investing in green technologies, they quickly return to business as usual. Environmentalists and climate scientists are only marginally better, arguing that humanity could still be saved if only politicians and business leaders were to act responsibly, which everybody knows they will not. In other words, everyone agrees that the worst scenarios will come to pass and there is basically nothing we can do about it.
At least, there is no disagreement over facts and science anymore:
- Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are changing the atmosphere of the only inhabitable planet in the known universe, leading – among other things – to rapid global warming.
- Even if we were to stop using fossil fuel today, temperatures would continue to rise for quite some time. In order to have any chance of survival, we need to stop using fossil fuel completely by 2050. In other words, we have 30 years to completely rebuild the world’s energy infrastructure. Fun fact: The Three Gorges hydroelectric power plant in China took 18 years to build.
- As a first step, we need to reduce CO2 emissions by 50% during the next 11 years. The problem is that these emissions are still increasing.
The Keeling curve, measuring the atmospheric concentration of CO2, shows the magnitude of the problem.
Despite decades of political debate, the CO2 concentration is higher than ever before during the last three million years, it is increasing faster than ever, and the annual rate of increase is still increasing. We added 0.8 ppm of CO2 per year to the atmosphere in the 60s, today we add 2.4 ppm annually.
Here is a fun math problem: You are driving through town at 90 km/h (almost twice the allowed speed limit) when you see a police car 200 meters in front of you. How much can you accelerate and still avoid a speeding ticket? It is obviously a silly question. If you are already going too fast, you need to step on the brake.
Likewise, since the global footprint of humanity is approximately twice too large, we should not be talking about growth. You cannot eat more and shit less! We need to step on the brake as quickly as possible and reduce the size of the world economy by stopping all unnecessary economic activities. Deep down, we all know this to be true. Every car which is built is a disaster for the environment, regardless of whether it is electric or not. A large commercial aircraft emits hundreds of tons of CO2 per flight and is built to last for 25 years. If we were to take the latest IPCC report seriously, someone needs to tell Boeing and Airbus to stop manufacturing airplanes tomorrow.
Our problem is a completely anachronistic and dysfunctional economic system, which requires growth to function. If you want to understand why, I can recommend reading James K. Galbraith, Kate Raworth, or Jason Hickel. However, the basic problem is that capital income (or ROI) requires capital to be scarce (through supply and demand). As soon as there is too much money available, real interest rates will be negative. In other words, in a declining economy, there will be little space for investors to make money; you would actually have to work to earn a living.
We know that stopping climate destruction will require a complete redesign of the world economy. It is also clear that the political ambition to do so in non-existent. To make matters worse, the people earning money on fossil fuel are really nasty, referring to the free press as the “enemy of the people”, torturing political opponents to death and dismembering them with a bone saw, or poisoning them with nerve gas. Does anyone seriously believe that these people are prepared to reduce production of fossil fuel by 50% during the next 11 years? The mere thought of doing so hasn’t even begun to speculate about the slightest possibility of crossing their minds (to quote Douglas Adams).
There is another option, though. The profits of oil companies and banks are driven by consumption. If the rich, educated, and liberal-minded consumers of the world were simply to stop consuming, the tables would turn. It is difficult to be a drug lord if nobody wants to buy drugs. Likewise, it is tough to be an oil company if the demand for oil declines dramatically. By avoiding unnecessary spending, we can all dramatically reduce our ecological footprint. We can also break the power of banks and big oil.
I believe that we have passed the the political point of no return. Wether we like it or not, we cannot rely on our current generation of politicians to solve our problems. If we want our children to have a future, we need to take matters into our own hands. A Consumer Strike is simple, legal, effective, and saves you time and money. There is no reason for not trying.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. So, stop buying, stop flying, and drastically reduce your meat consumption. Your children will thank you and you get to keep the money, rather than handing it over to murderers and crazy despots.