The last few weeks have been dominated by news about climate change more than usual, from the first Earthshot prizes being announced to the United Nations Climate Change Conference commonly referred to as Cop26 being held in Glasgow, UK. Everyone, from teen activist Greta Thunberg to Queen Elizabeth herself, has complained that governments are not doing enough. Meanwhile, the world leaders are trying to maintain a delicate balance between required versus realistic while demonstrating one-upmanship for leading the way in climate change on the world stage.
While it’s easy to blame the government for inaction and it is appropriate in terms of strategic decisions, they are also limited by how much they can push the public to change consumer behaviour rather than dictate or impose rules, after all the majority of the world does not live under autocracies and rarely have I heard of a dictator being environmentally conscious.
Let’s say one fine day, everyone or the majority of the population at least decides to stop using diesel or petrol cars or limit their use, no one can force them to do otherwise. We may opt to buy electric cars, use more public transport or walk/cycle short distances. It will result in the automatic reduction in emissions and thus pollution. Longer-term, it will force the government to develop better public transport systems and increase electric charging points faster. Meanwhile, the decreasing sales of petrol or diesel cars will lead to manufacturers being forced to focus on developing and producing electric vehicles.
Another example could be people refusing to use plastic disposable items or carrier bags. I remember when the government imposed a ban on them, many people were upset and complained incessantly. Honestly, is it that hard to carry a reusable bag for shopping?
Although not universally true, a major contributing factor towards the crisis is changing consumer behaviours, of choosing convenience over sustainability. It reminds me of a bygone era when things were quite different. As we have progressed economically we have turned callous and hedonistic.
A few decades back there used to be corner shops or small grocery stores that used to sell items from bulk bags. If we wanted to buy some Dal, we had to go and ask for a certain quantity. He, well my grocer used to be a he but can be a she too, would then pull out some from this huge sack, weigh the item, fill it in a paper bag and hand it over to me. To top it all we used to go shopping with jute or cloth shopping bags to carry the items back. At home, Mom used to store it in glass or steel jars. The whole process was environmentally friendly. The grocer’s sack was made of biodegradable jute, the paper bags were of course made from recycled papers and even the method of transport and storage generated minimal waste.
Today, we pick the items from supermarket shelves, which sell fixed quantities in prepackaged plastic bags. The individual bags packaging and transportation add to the carbon footprint and we top it off by carrying and storing them in plastic carriers and containers. The very act of buying a kilo of Dal now, versus say three or four decades back is a reflection of how our changing consumer habits are contributing towards polluting the environment.
While the initial change was driven by the better and consistent quality of products being available, corporate marketing and our comfort also played a big part in it. However in today’s world our carbon footprint matters. Can the same not be sold in supermarkets by procuring locally, thus reducing transportation and selling in refillable containers brought in by consumers from home? A handful of stores across the world are piloting this scheme but it’s rare to even find such a store nearby. There are always ways to make things more sustainable if we have a will to find and implement them.
This is just one example of a small act in our life. While I am not suggesting we give up our luxuries, maybe we should look at how we can make our small contributions towards reducing the carbon footprint. Be it recycling diligently, opting to wear the least polluting fabrics and that is not cotton, by the way, refusing to use plastic utensils/straws etc and opting for reusable containers, flying less or even just making sure we use energy-efficient lighting, every step taken by a person counts.
Of course, corporations have a big role to play in climate change but we can force their hand. If we try to buy a product that is carbon neutral or has less carbon footprint or is sustainable, while making a decision, it will all add up. If we change our demand for goods and services, companies will be forced to support us as it will be a matter of survival. We should also make it a point to support the environmentally-conscious companies who support the cause and lead the way.
Why blame the governments in totality when we are also responsible for creating the demand? In real life, if our home was in danger we won’t wait for someone to ask us to act or for it to get destroyed before we do something. Similarly, we do not have to wait for rules to be imposed, for decisions to be made or for things to reach a point of no return, to make us do our bit now.
While the governments figure out the means to tackle the problem at a macro level we could potentially take stock of our activities and try to contribute towards the cause, at a micro-level. Given the state of affairs we are in, we need all hands on deck now, to be able to save our planet in time for our future generations. It’s time for us to consume responsibly and contribute towards sustainability.