Last month, we had a lecture on Energy Conservation in our institute. It was insightful and ended on a note that we need a People’s Movement, motivated not by economic reasons but emotional ones, to fight the climate crisis together. The speaker also politely indicated to the organizers that they were using too many lights and a projector when he did not even have a PowerPoint presentation. Barring a skeptical media representative, almost everyone appreciated his ideas.
While going back, I called up my mother and told her about this event. I asked her the same question that the speaker had asked us – if she would be able to manage without a fridge? She told me they now have two, and that’s the way it is for almost every household in the locality. It has become more like a cultural norm. She said that all of them have earned a decent standard of living through a lot of hurdles and hard work; now is the time for them to live their life fully. She also told me not to lecture her on energy conservation. That’s how our conversations usually end!
Through my professional engagements in the last few years, I have done some work in the area of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and sustainable business management. While the former refers to primarily charitable initiatives of companies, the latter focuses on the way they operate and operationalize their activities. If CSR is about allocating a proportion of profits for social and environmental causes, sustainability is about the ways used for making these profits. While sustainability seems fair and logical, there are many practical challenges in it. When I was associated with an MBA programme that trained managers for sustainable business management particularly, it was challenging for students to find relevant jobs; and the salaries offered were often lower as compared to hefty packages offered to students in conventional MBA programmes. I have also been attending conclaves and conferences on sustainability and climate change mostly held in five-star venues with some really good food, sometimes flown from different corners of the world. Honestly, lavishness is addictive. But when I look back and analyze how much of that helped to fight the climate crisis, I feel hypocritical and guilty; and that is equally addictive! Personally I learnt so much, but there are some very basic questions that bother:
● Is climate change real?
● If it is, are we acting the way we should?
● If not, why?
I am not talking about the actions of big stakeholders like governments and business organizations, but on a more micro, individual level – do we take the climate crisis seriously? I try to explore this question in the remaining article.
To begin with, what is climate change? Simply put, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)[i] explains it as a change in the state of the climate that can be identified using statistical tests or any other means, and that persists for decades or longer. Through published evidence, the IPCC indicates that the effect of climate change is likely to increase over time leading to rising temperatures and sea levels, melting glaciers, more droughts, stronger hurricanes etc. that will significantly impact life on the planet. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)[ii] distinguishes between climate change attributable to human activities and that attributable to natural causes. Here, we are discussing the former.
As a layman, I understand it in this way – my daily activities and choices that I make lead to greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to climate change. Today, these activities may be making my life more comfortable but in the future these will create significant negative effects on the lives of generations to come.
In my limited experience of interacting with students, industry experts, peers, colleagues, friends and family members, there is some degree of acknowledgement and appreciation of this notion, but hardly any urgency. I think it’s more to do with social science than science i.e. why do we do what we do? What is the purpose which drives us? Is climate change a purpose driving our lives? Can it be? This is very doubtful and extremely ambitious.
In case of the current pandemic, the danger is fairly clear and near as compared to climate change. However, at the cost of sounding judgmental, I would say that so many people still do not wear masks. Does that explain anything? In my understanding, the danger of climate change is too distant and abstract to generate any urgency. If there is fire burning right next to my house, I will run for my life. That will be my natural reaction. But if I am told that there might be a huge fire miles away from my house progressing towards me, I might just order a pizza till I feel the heat! Procrastinating is a widespread issue.
The human mind is complicated and unpredictable. Culturally, we do think long-term but the maximum length of our ‘long-term’ is mostly our own lifetime and for our future generations, we focus on creating wealth so that money can solve all their problems. Today, if the water is not clean, one can buy it. Tomorrow, one may be buying air too. Last week, I was on an overnight train journey where two families were fighting for the ‘lower berth’ of the train; each one claimed to have paid for it. In such daily matters, how will the broader, overwhelming, abstract issue of climate change find its place?
I am not an expert in climate science nor do I advocate for or against it. I know very little about it and I am an ardent believer of the philosophy – to each, her own. However, the only thing that does not make sense to me at different levels, logical and emotional, is the fierce promotion of the notion that happiness lies in over-consumption. As a management teacher, I may not be expected to talk this way but the more I meet people, the stronger I feel that happiness can hardly be derived from consuming too much.
Given a choice between owning five branded shirts versus two hand-made ones where you know who made your clothes and you are certain that the artisan got the right price for her creation – which option will my daughter pick? I don’t know about climate change but at least my future generation should be able to make the right choice.
This is why Going Slow could be the better way forward. Incidentally, it might also help in fighting our own individual-level existential crisis as well as the macro-level climate crisis.