Agency and urgency: the climate conundrum

If the Earth has to stay, both agency and urgency must change


Imran Jan May 23, 2021

To avoid the sixth extinction, humanity must change its lifestyle such as eating less or no meat and instead choosing to eat synthetic meat or vegetables, changing our air conditioning and heating units to environment-friendly ones, driving electric cars and most importantly generating clean energy.

That is the agency part of this solution or rather that is what is always talked about by climate activists.

However, I personally feel that even oil corporations, the major criminals in the story of climate degradation, also tacitly support this view.

A little pondering connects many dots. This is a perfect way to share or shift the blame, privatising the profits and socialising the cost. That we are all responsible for the climate degradation and we must all also play a role in solving this problem. It drives the point further that this is extremely difficult or rather impossible to achieve such as a massive lifestyle change in order to fight climate change.

It also helps change the topic from the burning of fossil fuel, which has not slowed down one bit, to our eating beef and driving cars. While we are all part of the problem and also could be part of the solution but not as vividly as the oil corporations are.

The fossil fuel industry has plagiarised some tactics of the American gun manufacturers. The gun industry spends a stupendous amount of money in public relations campaigns trying to convince the people that the gun is not to be blamed for the gun violence but rather the crazy-minded individuals who start shooting in public. If you make guns so frequently and easily available, chances are that someone not in their right mind will get their hands on them.

And in the case of fossil fuels, there has literally been no other fuel to drive our cars and generate electricity. Apart from shifting or sharing the agency part with people, the fossil fuel industry unleashes its war on the urgency part as well.

For that, they have made good use of the lessons learnt from the tobacco industry.

The industry’s own scientists knew as early as the 1950s about the addictive and deadly effects of cigarettes. Yet, they chose to hide those facts and indulged in a massive and sophisticated public relations campaign.

An unnamed Brown and Williamson executive confessing in a memo in 1969 said, “doubt is our product”. Sowing doubt about the disturbing facts helps in delaying the action. The memo was released as part of a legal settlement between the United States and the tobacco industry. Fredrick Seitz, a solid-state physicist and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Science, was hired by the tobacco giant RJ Reynolds to use his stature and credentials in denying the scientific knowledge having to do with health hazards resulting from tobacco products.

He was paid half a million dollars for the job. He was the original science denier for hire.

But the science denialism industry was only starting out.

ExxonMobil knew as early as the 1970s about the severe damage to the environment resulting from the use of fossil fuel. Yet, they went on to fund research, which denied such knowledge.

If we keep things the same, the Earth will change.

If the Earth has to stay, both agency and urgency must change.

The future is unwritten.

We can plagiarise from the past and write a healthy future. Long ago, there was no growth in global wealth because there was no credit system, meaning there was no belief in the imagined wealth of the future.

It all changed when new sea routes were discovered and more avenues of trade were established.

By investing in research, humanity accepted to invest in its ignorance for a better tomorrow.

By changing methods of doing business, the tomorrow didn’t shrink but rather expanded.

There is no reason to believe we cannot have a déjà vu all over again.

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