Thursday, October 7, 2021
As I am writing this, Oman is being hit by a cyclone. Sadly, several people have died due to this disaster that is actually very rare in that part of the world. It is a worrying part of a pattern in the climate change that we are witnessing. Natural disasters are occurring more often, in more places and are bigger than used to be the case. It shows how serious the situation is and that it is not an option to ignore it. Article written by Sallux Director, Johannes de Jong Sources:
Jubilee Centre, one of our member-organisations, published an excellent paper on this specific issue. ‘Reducing disaster risk: creation care and neighbour love’ focuses on the connection between climate change and natural disasters. The paper does not only describe this connection but demonstrates that the poorest are hit hardest by these disasters. There is not only a connection between our economic system and climate change but also a connection between the worst outcomes of both. Our current economic system increasingly creates more inequality and climate change increasingly creates natural disasters and now these two realities collide.
However when it comes to climate change, a persistent message is communicated that gives the impression that fighting climate change is first of all the responsibility of the consumer. In reality a much wider array of policies is of course implemented but the message that ‘the consumer has to change’ is very dominant in the public discourse. The idea that the consumers have the power to change the system through their purchases is however incomplete and increasingly problematic.
First of all it creates the illusion that fighting climate change is the sole responsibility of the individual. The collective and political dimension, of which that individual is part, goes almost unmentioned. This is putting an unrealistic pressure on many already highly pressured families. It is important to remember that the same economic system that is creating inequality and climate change, is also putting more and more pressure on average families in Europe. Many families see their energy bills going through the roof and the price of the roof above their heads equally increasing beyond their means. Moreover the current economic system demands the time of families in which they are expected to spend as much time as possible on fulltime jobs. The combination of these expectations and pressures needs to be taken into account before moving too much pressure and too many costs to the average family in Europe. Changing consumption patterns is good of course. If however these pressures are not sufficiently taken into account it is possible that at some point people turn against the notions of climate and green policies. That would be very troubling given the seriousness of climate change. We should try to avoid such a development.
Secondly this notion implies that the current system just needs to ‘be made greener’. The problem however is the current system itself. The overfocus on short-term profits for shareholders has created a system that almost irrevocably exploits people and planet. The demand from investment companies, hedge funds, venture capital holdings (etc.) for ever-higher profits has a cumulative effect that is very hard to escape. This pressure from the financial sector on the real economy and the effect that has on people and planet has to be taken much more seriously as a driving factor behind climate change. This is why Sallux is working on a report that connects these elements.
Thirdly this notion of ‘change through greener consumption’ reduces people to individual consumers. However, that is not who we are. Our human dignity means that we are relational human beings and not autonomous individuals. Our existence cannot be reduced to production and consumption. The whole Christian tradition shows that we are people that reach out and are capable of being more than a bundle of molecules fighting for its own need and greed. Our Sallux publication ‘A Relational Response to Climate Change’ describes this understanding as the first step to find a better approach for a green agenda. One in which a system based on greed is fundamentally questioned and seen as a major cause of our current troubles. Green and greed cannot go together.
The revelation of the ‘Pandora Papers’ shows once again how much greed has pervaded our economic and political system. The OECD estimated in 2020 that at least 10 trillion euro is held “offshore”. One investigation estimated it to be 32 trillion dollar. In any case it is an enormous amount of money far above the needs of the small group of people who own those accounts in tax havens. The knowledge that this amount of money is stashed away while average families bear the brunt of the costs created by the same system should have political and policy consequences. This revelation shows that the rewards of the current system are not only pushing climate change but that these rewards are also beyond the reach of all other stakeholders in the economy.
The paper of Jubilee Centre correctly concludes: ,,Ultimately, individual choices about consumption have a small effect unless they are very widespread. They need to be accompanied by systemic changes in regulation at national and international levels to reduce environmental risk and economic inequality”. The same paper concludes that this change requires political change and therefore affirms that we are not just consumers but also people who are part of a political community. Those who equate the necessary changes to ‘socialism’ or ‘communism’ need to understand that there is a huge difference between empowering all stakeholders in the economy and an all-powerful government controlling the economy. If we do not empower all stakeholders we might perhaps indeed end up with some form of communism. Instead from moving from one extreme to the other we better try to rebalance our economy and society. A family friendly economy based on human dignity is a better basis to fight climate change. It would give families real space to change their consumption patterns.
Finally, these considerations show the relevance of a bigger picture based on human dignity. In the last year we established our four streams as frameworks of ‘big picture thinking’ for policies. While we will now establish focus areas within these streams we will keep the big picture in mind.
As I am writing this, Oman is being hit by a cyclone. Sadly, several people have died due to this disaster that is actually very rare in that part of the world. It is a worrying part of a pattern in the climate change that we are witnessing. Natural disasters are occurring more often, in more places and are bigger than used to be the case. It shows how serious the situation is and that it is not an option to ignore it.
Article written by Sallux Director, Johannes de Jong