What fundamental economic and political change, if any, is needed for an effective response to climate change?

The Garden of Earthly Delights, a triptych oil painting by Hieronymus Bosch tells an astonishing story. The first panel of the painting shows Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The second panel is where deadly sins start to infuse the painting with overpopulation, debauchery and excess. The last panel is the most nightmarish one with this degraded, burnt landscape. A paradise has been decayed and destroyed. 

As depicted in the second panel of the painting, greed has taken over human conscience. Indulgence in materialistic pursuits has led to wanton destruction of natural resources, totally ignoring the disastrous consequences that follow. The sensitive man-nature link has been mercilessly disrupted.

Greenland and Arctic are witnessing the rapid disappearance of ancient glaciers. Jakarta is sinking due to sea-level rise. The El-Nino Southern Oscillation negatively impacts the monsoon of India, which is an agrarian economy. The intensity of natural disasters like cyclones has increased. Survival threat looms large on small- island nations like Maldives and Kiribati. Species extinction and coral bleaching have exponentially escalated. 

Power elites, comprising the major business corporations and the federal government promote the green eternal economic growth. They want to move forward with the same bad ideas which got us into this mess. However, the sensible thing to do is to pull the emergency brakes. The young environmental activist Greta Thunberg said “if solutions within the system are so impossible to find, then, maybe we should change the system itself. The real power lies with the people.” And so, we cannot allow ‘business as usual’ in our economic and political systems.

When we, the people, will care, the power elites will also begin to care. Hence, the first fundamental change needed is to re-define the way we talk of climate change that is conducive for engagement. Despite five decades of international conferences and agreements about climate change, IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change) report says we are still on our way to a 1.5° Celsius rise in global temperature by 2030. Yet, the Montreal Protocol about Ozone hole protection was successful because it was made easy for the world population to visualise and understand it.

In the past, we had successfully de-linked sulphur from our economic growth. It is time to do the same with carbon for an effective response to climate change. We need to sway the capitalists to invest in renewable energy and also, opt for carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). The government must impose a carbon tax to ensure ‘fossil fuels remain in-ground’. We cannot let the power elites to manipulate the policies that affect our future. 

Mahatma Gandhi rightly stated that- ” Earth provides enough for everyone’s needs, not for anyone’s greed.” In our capitalist economies, advertisements create false needs. They sell lifestyles implying that brands conform to a higher social status. Such things don’t necessarily add value to our lives. The ‘fast fashion industry’ is one of the most polluting in the world because unsustainable fabrics are used. Also, the ‘throwaway culture’ leads to millions of tonnes of clothes ending up in landfills. The economic behavioural change needed is to ‘buy once and buy well’ and not fall in the ploy of social media hashtag trends.

We must realise how our seemingly minor decisions at a clothing store or a supermarket make a difference for the planet. And so, our actions must align with our values. Similarly, industrialised animal agriculture is another major source of environmental destruction. According to various reports, it is responsible for 18% of Greenhouse Gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from transportation. It is the leading cause of ocean dead zones and land desertification.

Think tanks and front groups funded by corporate interests are lobbying and working with politicians to cover up this issue of lifestyle consumption. Noam Chomsky calls it ‘profit over people’. And so far, they have succeeded as the global population continues to be unaware of this. A vegan diet can counter such disastrous consequences. A democratised media can go a long way in bringing the desired climate consensus. Ban on lobbying on such crucial facets is an effective political response to climate change.

The political leadership in most of the developed countries, which can act as role models, consider climate change a hoax, a figment of the imagination. They constantly refute scientific evidence. Such claims divide the public and propagate hatred and fear financed by the power elites. Thus, people in democracies must elect leaders who are serious about ensuring our civilisation’s survival. This is another effective political response to climate change. 

At the UNFCCC COP-21 in Paris, 2015, the earlier accepted clause of ‘Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR)’ was removed. It means that no historic responsibility was taken up by the Global North, particularly the USA to honour their natural debt. Rich nations need to cut down their GHGs emissions within a decade so that, the poorer nations in Global South can increase the standard of living of their citizens by creating infrastructure. Equity is a prerequisite for an effective political response. A strong political will among national governments is necessary to untangle the climate policy gridlock.  

Climate change is the biggest existential crisis our planet has ever faced. Till now, we have been big on words and low on actions. This is an assured route to ‘fall of civilisation’ as was shown in Bosch’s third panel of the painting. Imagine the shame we would carry when our children and grandchildren knew that we could have acted yet chose not to because of our materialistic pursuits or lacking political will. Time is of the essence. 

Clean air to breathe and safe drinking water is our natural rights which we should not beg for in our national legislatures or that can be taken away by capitalists. We are “homo sapiens” i.e. wise men so, lets act together with wisdom. We are the last best hope of Earth else, we and all the creatures we cherish are history. Let’s strive for fundamental changes, to develop new collective consciousness of the human race inspired and enabled by a sense of urgency. Each and every one of us must pledge to ‘Reboot the Earth’ because we are never too small to make a difference.

9 comments

  1. I succumbed to using my genuine account for commenting, the WordPress interface is gamed in such a way that one cant follow-up replies without it.
    Anyways, I did visit Goa, however, didn’t know about the museum. You may upload them through a separate post and your interpretations of them, it would surely be a great read.
    Mr President is mostly here till 2024, till then we will anyways not be having the biggest polluter on board, don’t you think? It will take a hell of a deal to get his support.

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  2. So much content packed into a post, it is nicely done, Shrinkhla.
    I am delighted to see someone refer to the Garden of Earthly Delights. It stuck with me since Leo Caprio begins the documentary “Before the Flood” way back. I think you may not have picked the appropriate image in the post. Kindly, confirm it. Though, you have been charitable enough, I think we are already in the 3rd panel aka “the right panel”.
    However, the developed nations need to show the way. For instance, the per capita CO2 of USA is 8 times higher than India’s. This is the argument that even Sunita Narain has too.
    Also, the provision of buying of carbon credits in LDCs and developing countries for developed nations should go.
    In India, close to 1.5 million people are classified as internally displaced every year, many for climate change reasons. Also the impending influx climate refugees is real as case of Marshall Islands shows it. So the law should be amended to accommodate them.
    Some measures for mitigating Climate change could be:
    1. Incentivizing the vehicles for alternate fuels or e-mobility, promoting shared mobility.
    2. Need changes in all those spectacular glass buildings, all of which are huge carbon emitters.
    3. Efficient utilizing of all resources. Eg: Sugarcane- bagasse, molasses.
    I agree with many other points that have been rightly mentioned by you, though I am not sure how many would be able to sustain, sustained veganism 🙂
    I am sure you would second this quote by Mr Obama,”We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.”

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    1. Hey Sarang
      I never realized the importance of paintings until I saw how Leo used it to make a point. Since I have been looking for more artwork to learn significant life messages.
      I didn’t pick the original Bosch painting because its beauty could not fit into the small boxes of the layout.
      Developed countries definitely need to show us the way. But their denying climate change isn’t helping anyone. India will face serious security challenges due to ​climate refugees issues.
      All the suggestions you have provided are absolutely essential to mitigate the effects of climate change.
      And this quote of Obama is very powerful. I really do like it.

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      1. It’s good to know that you too, have the same source of reference of the painting, Shrinkhla. Unfortunately, that documentary is not on most people’s watchlist.
        However, I have not pursued finding other such paintings with vigour, could you please let me know any other such paintings you’ve come across, carrying significant message? It would be great to try and decode it, since everyone has varied interpretation, even the endeavour would be immensely fruitful.

        Also what can one done when Mr President says “It’s really cold outside, they are calling it a major freeze, weeks ahead of normal. Man, we could use a big fat dose of global warming!”

        Regarding India, yeah you’re right, the security issue is really important. It is also linked to our cities already reaching their carrying capacity.

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      2. I believe documentaries should be a part of school curriculum. Make children watch it, either in schools or at homes. Stir things up!
        I recently visited the Museum of Goa. And it was an extremely insightful experience. Not only were there painting with descriptions providing fresh perspectives on different things, but there were sculptures too. The picture used as the thumbnail is one i found there and it really moved me. I knew I had to use it.
        Also, i agree that vegetarianism will not be possible for all. The thing is the awareness is low on this issue. So, first we need to try and put our arguments. We need a multi-pronged approach for a crisis of such magnitude.
        Well, Mr President first need to get out of the first world comfort and reach out to small island nations facing the crisis. He is a true capitalist.
        I will be sharing an article on climate change in India soon. Stay tuned for more !

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  3. Nice essay. From an impactful introduction to comprehensively covering the issues & measures to check climate change the essay was insightful with impressive vocabulary.
    I would like to congratulate the author.

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