Underlying Causes of Climate Change and Why Solutions are Difficult

As the world grapples with unexpected “100 year” weather events that seem to be more and more common, we need to acknowledge that climate change is real and needs urgent attention. Scientists are tracking unprecedented glacial melt that cannot be explained any other way. The damage to habitat and human existence is obvious to those experiencing it. But how do we repair and stabilize our planet?

I watched Bill Gates on the “60 minutes” TV series talk about investing in tech solutions, necessary to reverse climate change. I kept wondering how a tech solution can reverse our deep human mistakes, ones that we continue to make. I do not think it can.

My issues are that the first world Western nations, have a lifestyle that damages the earth, but one that the West wishes to and can continue to sustain. As long as the damage is not in the Western world, not front and center to Western people’s eyes, nothing significant will be done. Behaviours will not change. The rest of the world aspires to our lifestyle and will follow with similar damage to the earth. While a tech solution may be part of the future solution, there are steps we can do now but will be difficult and require lifestyle changes.

Western consumption is heavily dependent on being very inexpensive. The cheaper a product is the more we can afford to buy it. While the price of a product includes most costs to make it, there are many other expenses not included, a significant one being the cost to the earth, environmental costs. If we dig a huge pit and extract iron ore and minerals, the digging is an expense and will be added to the price of the product. However after the ore has been extracted and the mine has been closed, who fills in the big hole and returns it, if that is even possible, to its former self? No one. This cost is not included in the product price. The open pit then contributes to local environmental degradation and is unusable by local people.

Similarly disposal costs are also not included in the product price. What happens when the product is at end of life and is discarded? While we try to recycle as much as possible, a good majority of products cannot be recycled, or are too dirty or costly to be disassembled and cleaned to make it economically viable to recycle. These products are thrown into a big pit in a landfill, buried and forgotten. This is the cheapest solution to our garbage, but the earth continues to break it down, leaching our toxins into the earth, and in turn, poisoning us.

Local governments bear the cost of our trash. Local governments also pay for returning a spent site back to some semblance of nature. Local governments are funded by regular citizens through taxes. Unfortunately there is no direct correlation between citizens’ taxes and their purchase and consumption of a product, thus allowing citizens to guiltlessly continue consuming. If we continue to not directly link environmental, disposal and all other costs to the purchase price of a product, our consumption will continue and remain out of control, and get worse with time.

It is unsurprising that poorer and aspiring parts of the world wish to better themselves. They see the West and want the same. This is natural. The cycle of pollution and waste repeats itself, but on a larger scale, as there are more aspiring people than Western people. The error repeats itself and grows exponentially. The West cannot continue to consume and pollute, but tell the rest of the world to not do the same. This is hypocritical. And so the rest of the world consumes and pollutes, though at a reduced capacity per person, but there are so many more people.

While it is noble for the West to seek a technological solution to our own human problem, this simply will not work. Technology is being used as a good excuse to ease our conscience, to allow the West to acknowledge the climate change and pollution problem, but to not significantly change our behaviour necessary to reverse it. We use technology as an excuse to not make the difficult lifestyle changes required to truly make a difference.

Until our product prices take into account all environmental costs, such as the cost of extracting natural resources as well as the costs of disposal, our consumption will continue because product prices are unjustifiably low. True costs for our products are born by the environment, in foreign countries, by foreign people. Out of sight and out of mind. until we acknowledge that the problem is large and difficult to change, and are committed to changing our consumption behaviours, climate change will continue.

The hypocrisy of being GREEN

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