This book underlines the main reasons why people do not act on climate change, despite knowing its detrimental effects. It subsequently suggests a few ways by which everyone can contribute to stopping climate change.
A major reason why many people around the world are not motivated to act on climate change is that it is neither interesting nor concrete. In contrast, the civil rights movement, for example, had heroes like Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela, who inspired change. The universal nature of climate change, instead of illustrating the severity of its impact, makes climate change appear distant and irrelevant. We know that millions of people are affected by climate change, but there is no one specific victim that people can relate to, making it more difficult to feel emotionally invested. Us humans struggle to fully comprehend the scale of climate change: “millions”, after all, is just a statistic. Furthermore, there is no certainty regarding either the timescale or the magnitude of the impact of climate change on individuals, so we are less inclined to act. Humans have evolved to respond most drastically to imminent and tangible dangers, and we are also an adaptive species. These two traits have helped us survive for millions of years, but unfortunately make us not responsive to the threat of climate change.
Even when we are motivated to act, we are constantly bombarded with misleading information on how to do so most effectively. Major fossil fuel firms like Exxon understood their contributions to global warming even in 1950, but they chose to ignore and publish false accounts about global warming. In response, current environmental campaigns emphasise strongly the impact of burning fossil fuels but fail to encapsulate the full picture. As an example, Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth completely misses the agriculture industry, which accounts for 24% of harmful greenhouse gas emissions. This is because environmental activists know that cutting down meat consumption is much more difficult for most people than recycling, so activists don’t want to make climate action seem impossible. As a result, we are misled into changing our behaviour in ways that don’t impede climate change as much as reducing meat consumption. We should therefore always such advice we receive with a certain level of cynicism.
The two main problems with the meat industry are clearing space for grazing and greenhouse gases produced by the animals. 15% of all carbon emissions are a cause of burning trees for space, which is the same proportion as all cars and trucks in the world combined. The animals themselves also produce methane and nitrous oxide, which are 34 and 310 times more effective than CO2 at trapping heat respectively. However, this actually means there is some hope after all: it is much easier to immediately cut down meat consumption than persuading ‘Big Oil’ to offset their emissions. Furthermore, protecting the planet does not mean abandoning all animal products. In fact, a study conducted by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Liveable Future demonstrated that those who stopped eating animal products at breakfast and lunch had a lower carbon footprint than that of the average vegetarian diet.
Faced with the enormous task of stopping climate change, we often feel overwhelmed and helpless, but we must not give up now. We have an ethical duty to both future generations and the poorest populations, for they contribute the least to climate change yet experience its impacts most severely.