Climate matters

By Mathias Maurer, June 2020

Before expecting others to do something, we could, if we wanted, start with ourselves – and right away. For example in protecting the environment, sustainability, reducing plastic waste, the use of resources and energy, CO2 emissions, food...

The list would rapidly fill the whole page and concerns, in the broadest sense, the way we consume – in other words our buying behaviour. Because at the moment we make a purchase the starting gun is fired for the production of an identical product under the same conditions – worldwide. An act with a sweeping effect even if we remain unaware of it.

Interestingly, the potential which lies in how we ourselves are affected seems to grow smaller with the proximity of our own possibilities for taking action: there are no demonstrations in front of the price-cutting discounters and warehouses of online retailers; every two years, at the latest, we have to upgrade our smartphones which produce quantities of data so large that the giant server farms in which they are held threaten to run out of electricity; neither can we do without our morning shower – when a flannel would be just as good; and “lowest price” is the default setting when we search the web.

In contrast, our outrage and longing for the “great transformation” is directed not at our immediate surroundings but the most distant option: the earth as a whole and its climate. While emerging countries are forging full steam ahead in classic Manchester capitalism style towards a gross domestic product comparable with the leading industrial nations – and who would deny them the race to catch up? – people here look askance at SUV drivers or ordering a steak, cultivate a shame of flying and other things, and demand ecologically correct optimised behaviour  which can take on traits of oppressive thought control and threaten to destroy friendships.

What for some is a problem that threatens their very existence is a luxury problem for others. While from the perspective of comfortable affluence the climate issue is ramped up into a question of personal meaning of catastrophic proportions – “I will save the world” – it remains from a global perspective a matter of naked survival that has to be wrested from the earth. Looked at in this way, the climate question is indeed a social question, that is to say a problem of distribution and pricing which will continue for as long as the basic “low cost” attitude determines our buying behaviour.

But it is also necessary to accept that the level of awareness and how people are affected varies a great deal in the climate question. And a global problem can only be solved from an awareness of humanity as a whole in the knowledge that the mass of people will only change their behaviour when it becomes “worthwhile”. And yet – action has to be taken by each person themselves and here, if they wanted, they could do a lot with great commitment to save the climate. This contradiction in the world and our own behaviour is something we have to bear. It should neither lead us to despair nor should we ignore it obsessively but we should build on our own deeds, born of empathy and love, becoming an example for others.

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