Can we fix climate change without fixing ourselves first?
Leon Mislej, May 13 2022
Humanity seems to be good at fixing problems. With our ingenuity and ability to work together, we have overcome many challenges in the past and prospered. However, with climate change, we seem to be having much more difficulty. Despite major talks about solutions, we are still heading for a climate catastrophe (Rosane, 2021). There are a variety of causes for this, on many different levels. Psychologically, our brain has not evolved to deal with such issues yet, as our instincts often hinder our ability to handle the problem (Gifford, 2011). Since they are deeply rooted in our nature, these psychological barriers are very hard to overcome. Our contemporary society is systemically built on many pillars which are harmful to the environment. Altering economic systems like capitalism and social constructs like consumerism and gender inequality would help stop climate change.
Capitalism was designed as a mechanism for efficiently allocating scarce resources, encouraging human ingenuity, and improving the quality of life for those willing and able to participate in the system (Park, 2015). Although this economic tool produced an unprecedented degree of wealth and prosperity, it might be time for a change. Capitalism theorizes that consumers will only buy products whose benefits outweigh the costs and risks. In reality, they are frequently unaware of all the negative consequences of purchasing a product. It is safe to say, that no one who bought CFC-based sprays in the 1960s knew the effect it would have on the ozone layer. Sometimes, the consumer knows the risk, yet they buy the product anyway, as the risks do not affect them directly. Another theory of capitalism is that supply follows demand. This means a product is only created if it is required. However, it seems as though this has been reversed. Through multi-billion-dollar ad-campaigns companies can create demand for their products. This way people buy things they do not really need or want, which means resources are not being used as efficiently.
Consumerism is the idea that increasing the consumption of goods and services purchased in the market is always a desirable goal and that a person’s wellbeing and happiness depend fundamentally on obtaining consumer goods and material possessions (Hayes, 2018). This concept has led to some negative economic behaviors. Companies create unsustainable and short-lived products, and users buy them since they are usually cheaper than better-quality ones (Maitre-Ekern & Dalhammar, 2019). Instead of repairing and reusing older products, costumers just buy new ones, as companies do very little to promote the repair and reuse of their products. It is easier for them to make a new product for the consumer to buy. All of this depletes natural resources while generating waste and pollution.
Gender inequality is still seen around the world, especially in developing countries (Jayachandran, 2015). The main reason for this is that women usually play a lesser role in agriculture than men do (due to lesser physical strength) and developing countries rely heavily on agriculture. Gender inequality in education is made worse with climate change. When a climate crisis occurs, boys mostly stay in school, while girls are withdrawn to help the family (Sims, 2021). Many studies have shown that giving women more rights is in fact beneficial for the environment. Giving girls an education helps them reach leading roles in society, such as representation in national parliaments. Data from several countries were analyzed, and it was concluded that having a higher female representation in national parliaments leads to better climate change policies across countries, and, as a result, lowers carbon dioxide emissions (Mavisakalyan & Tarverdi, 2019). Girls with higher education also have, on average, fewer children than uneducated ones. This way, giving more girls education would slow down population growth and reduce carbon emissions in the long run (Sims, 2021).
Climate change is a conundrum that might not be fixable by enacting a few new policies but requires a fundamental change in our society. There are many more norms and systems that contribute to climate change but altering just the ones previously mentioned could be a step in the direction of a climate-stable future.
Disclaimer: The views, information and opinions in the written publications are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect those shared by the Eutopia Student Think Tank (EUSTT) nor the EUTOPIA Alliance.
Gifford, R. (2011). The dragons of inaction: Psychological barriers that limit climate change mitigation and adaptation. American Psychologist, 66(4), 290–302. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0023566
Hayes, A. (2018, March 18). Consumerism. Investopedia.
Jayachandran, S. (2015). The Roots of Gender Inequality in Developing Countries. Annual Review of Economics, 7(1), 63–88. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-economics-080614-115404
Maitre-Ekern, E., & Dalhammar, C. (2019). Towards a hierarchy of consumption behaviour in the circular economy. Maastricht Journal of European and Comparative Law, 26(3), 394–420. https://doi.org/10.1177/1023263X19840943
Mavisakalyan, A., & Tarverdi, Y. (2019). Gender and climate change: Do female parliamentarians make difference? European Journal of Political Economy, 56, 151–164. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ejpoleco.2018.08.001
Park, J. T. (2015). Climate Change and Capitalism (Issue 14). https://www.jstor.org/stable/26188749
Rosane, O. (2021, September 3). Is the industry doing enough to limit climate change to 1.5°C? World Economic Forum.
Sims, K. (2021). Education, Girls’ Education and Climate Change.
I have always been very caring so I feel a great need to help the planet and its inhabitants. I am currently studying chemical engineering to understand how climate change works and how to develop solutions for it.