The climate crisis demands changes in everyday life

Gustave Le Gray (1820-1884), The Great Wave, 1857.


For the ambitious goals set out in the Paris Agreement to be achieved, the contribution of individuals and families will have to be ever greater.

The fight against the climate crisis in developed countries is entering a new, difficult and fascinating stage. The conquests obtained so far, and which account for the drop in greenhouse gas emissions in the United States and in almost all of Western Europe, were based on transformations that did little to change citizens' ways of life.

But now that is going to have to change. The climate crisis has been faced, in recent decades, without requiring changes in people's behavior. But, for the ambitious goals set out in the Paris Agreement to be achieved, the contribution of individuals and families will have to be ever greater.

In the United States, for example, the decarbonization of the energy matrix is ​​taking place mainly thanks to the replacing coal with gas, which emits much less than coal. This substitution is a product of the introduction of the hydraulic fractionation in obtaining fossils, which allowed the country to stop being an oil importer, paving the way for the long-awaited goal of energy independence.

In Western Europe (where the cut in emissions was much greater than in the USA) modern renewable technologies (solar, wind, geothermal and bioenergy) contributed decisively to this healthy drop. And on both sides of the Atlantic it was massive atrelocation of carbon-intensive industries to China, which also explains the reduction in its emissions. O "Made in China” consumed worldwide is accounted for by Chinese emissions and not by the countries to which the products are sold.

These achievements correspond to what, in English, is usually called “low hanging fruit”, which literally means “fruit hanging down”, an expression used to describe the fruit that is harvested first, because it is more at hand, that is, something relatively easy to obtain. But no matter how relevant the achievements achieved so far in these countries have been, the biggest challenge is now beginning to be faced. And this confrontation will only have a positive result if there are important transformations not only in technologies, but, above all, in the way these technologies enter the daily lives of citizens.

This is the core message of report which has just been released by Brett Meyer and Tim Lord, researchers at Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. Between 2009 and 2019, Meyer and Lord show, 87% of the reduction in emissions did not originate in behavioral changes. But over the next fifteen years, only 41% of this drop could come from these sources: the rest depends on changes in household behavior.

What are these changes? Meyer and Lord insist that it is not a question of converting the entire population to vegetarianism or abolishing individual automobile use. Even so, these are changes that involve decisions made by individuals and not just what companies and governments do.

These transformations affect six dimensions of everyday life:

• Change in heating and energy use in the home

• Reduction of solid waste disposal and increased recycling

• Increased walking, cycling and public transport.

• Replacement of a gasoline or diesel car with an electric car,

• Decrease in air travel

• Drop in milk and meat consumption.

The surveys on which the work is based show that most people believe they are already doing the most they can to prevent the worsening of the climate crisis. But when asked, for example, what their plans are to change the domestic heating system (which is laborious and expensive), only a minority claims to be engaged in this direction (although this number is increasing). Only 20% of Britons are committed to using their car less in the coming years or reducing their air travel.

In addition, replacing the gasoline car with the electric one reduces emissions, but does not reduce congestion. It will be necessary, as shown another report from the Tony Blair Institute, charge a tax on each kilometer driven so that, in fact, the use of individual cars is reduced. It goes without saying how unpopular such a measure can be and therefore difficult to adopt…

This gulf between knowledge about the gravity of the climate crisis and what people are willing to do is generalized and explained both by the costs of the transition and by the inconveniences that the changes bring to the organization of everyday life. In addition, these are transformations that require citizens to find funding, equipment, qualified technicians and materials to carry out the changes. And it is illusory to imagine that it is enough to mobilize economic incentives (which are obviously important, but have limits) to face the problem.

There are three recommendations in the work of Brett and Lord, in the face of these challenges. The first is the active engagement of citizens and consumers, through mobilizations in which ordinary people talk to experts and make public policy recommendations. In Great Britain and France Citizen Conventions for the Climate played this role. They are mobilization techniques applicable to the most varied themes.

The second recommendation is the demand for honest, clear and well-directed government communication about the importance of changing behaviors, exposing examples and alternatives and, above all, creating a community of practices in which the citizen perceives that these transformations are also being followed by their pairs. The works of political scientists around from what people think about what others think offer promising ways to deal with the theme.

The third recommendation involves a sense of justice: the transition will only be successful if it is inspired by the increasingly evident idea that it is impossible to fight the climate crisis without reducing inequalities. It is the path that Great Britain, the European Union and the United States are, with immense difficulties and obstacles, of course, trying to adopt. But it is a much more promising path than ignoring the subject and pretending that it is possible to cover the sun with a sieve.

*Ricardo Abramovay is a senior professor at the Institute of Energy and Environment at USP. Author, among other books, of Amazon: towards an economy based on the knowledge of nature (Elephant/Third Way).



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