Climate catastrophe is clearly a global matter. CO2 pollution produced in one place will be stirred into the atmosphere and contribute to the heating effect everywhere. To put it another way, the individual contribution from any one nation contributes to the eventual discomfort of every other nation. What this suggests is that all nations should get together and agree on what they are going to do about it. On the other hand, some nations are clearly more powerful than others, and, as it happens, these nations tend to produce more pollution than others. These two thoughts lead to two modes of denial. The first says that governments should get on with the talking (and that is nothing to do with me), while the second says that there is no point in our government acting while the major polluters continue (and we have no control over them).
This picture is reinforced for fossil fuel exporters. Scotland, Norway, various Arab states, Russia, and others, gain a great deal from export of gas and oil and they are more or less reluctant to engage in discussions that will make them significantly poorer at the expense of increasing exports for those that won't play along. International agreements are clearly essential here. Well, maybe.
Another thing we should recognise is that large scale polluters may not be as responsible for their pollution as it might seem. China, particularly, supports a manufacturing base that exports to the world. If we want to properly allocate pollution levels to nation states we should do the accounting. If we do that even half properly we will find that China is not producing so much, while Europe is producing embarrassingly more. This is George Monbiot's accounting mistake1
And, finally, for now, we have business and finance that are interlinked globally. There is huge pressure to maintain growth in the global economy, and a reluctance to do anything that might destabilise that. Governments, generally, are reluctant to gainsay the requirements of business. This is probably the one thing they can agree on when discussing pollution and climate issues.
So we have this dual picture of nation states being aware of the problem but unable to take proper action because of economic pressure, and individuals being reluctantly aware of the problem but believing that they have no influence.
This rather bleak picture ignores the 2015 Paris agreement2 which at least found nations states coming together, and making an agreement. It may be unfortunate that the UK has not been keeping up, the USA have been playing fast and loose, the agreement was never enough, and it's out of date now, but we can take comfort that such international discussions can take place and will produce agreements within the broad constraints I've outlined. Equally, there are people in many countries that are aware of what needs to be done and are eager to see it done. These activist may not always agree on what should be done, or how to make those changes, but this is where citizens come into play.
I'm working on two assumptions from now on:
- that the right processes undertaken by interested and aware citizens can change the direction of their country, and
- that there are sufficient levels of interested awareness in enough countries across the globe that any one country that moves ahead in an attempt to break the deadlock will not be left alone.
Put baldly like that these assumptions seem optimistic. But optimism is the only option. Anything else is fatalism and can only contribute to making matters worse. Given that any change must be driven by citizens we have to start at the bottom, as it were, and work up through local and national government. And on the way we bring others with us. Which brings me to the question - who is 'us'?