Updated: Dec 18, 2019
Resignation, fatalism, “doomism”. Pick one - because they are all synonymous with or the results of efforts to maintain the prevailing political and economic environment by those who resentfully roll back environmental regulations and vested interests resisting change by spreading disinformation to those with little time or intellect to understand basic facts. Muddy the waters - nothing to see here.
The fact that sustainability, whether in a village, large town, city or country, has been co-opted to become a political rather than economic and social issue remains a key part of the problem and needs to be uncoupled.
Climate change is both real and clearly man-made, despite the denialists’ criminally ignorant political propaganda aimed to confuse an already befuddled constituency in order to preserve their power. The accelerated rise of greenhouse gases has been quantified for decades. The solutions to prevent planetary temperatures from rising to or beyond 1.5 degrees centigrade are technological and the private sector, due to the absence of political will (or worse) need to lead the charge. Political will does exist, as in the US state of California or in the EU and Germany in particular. But it alone is not enough because it is easily disrupted and subject to deliberate delaying actions. Institutional investors are, by and large, interested in the long-term sustainability of their investments. They are beginning to expect the companies in which they invest to see the link between environmental and economic sustainability. Help them…because it is sort of stupid investing in a company that won’t be around in a decade on a planet that is fundamentally changed.
You are not an institutional investor and don’t run a multi-billion dollar company in an industry that affects the climate. Don’t believe for a second that little efforts don’t help and the planet is doomed. The way materials are made and used accounts for 45 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. You do have an effect on what is produced and production changes have a ripple effect.
In the UK, plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton buds will be banned from next April. Well, you might say, this is a government initiative. That’s true, but for the fact that the majority of consumers support banning plastic straws and many retailers were already working to identify how they can reduce reliance on plastics and increase recycling. Too little? Maybe, but more will follow. Will it affect the manufacturing chain of plastic for straws and the like? Probably. The British Retail Consortium has an ambitious target to make 100% of plastic packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025. That is consumer driven as much as it is due to anticipating further regulation. But please don’t claim that the effort is useless.
I am writing this in Tbilisi, Georgia, where plastic bags were supposed to be banned by April 2019. Guess what - no enforcement and they remain ubiquitous. Like much in emerging economies, public outreach and enforcement is key. On the other hand, in a large café/bakery chain, I noticed that where once plastic straws were used, they are now paper. That was a marketing
decision. Several years ago, Tanzania banned plastic bags with a stiff fine for breaching the law. When I was working there from 2016-2017, plastic bags vanished from most of the shops, replaced by reusable paper, recycled materials or nothing at all (bring your own).
The point is that as a consumer, your actions have consequences and businesses will need to react to consumer choices regardless of whether the political structures are supportive, pro-active or not. That applies to straws, renewable energy sources, cars, plastic bottles, locally grown produce and products and how you travel. It applies in emerging and advanced economies.