The climate change jargon bingo – how to stay afloat in the debate, part 1

It’s 2016 and no one needs an explanation of climate change any more, really. What does need explanation at times, though, is the lot of buzzwords and actual technical jargon fill the discourse on how we should combat it. So here is the first your jargon bingo – you can use it and cross out words as all the analyses of the global climate change conference in Marrakech come in!

(Soon (sorry this post was getting too long) to be enhanced by “geoengineering”, “low carbon economy”, and “green climate fund” – add other words you’d like a jargon bingo on in the comments!)

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So what is…

Climate justice (definitely my favourite):

Short answer: When we do stuff about climate change, let’s not do them so they benefit again just the white, male, wealthy, people in rich countries.

Long answer:

There is no single definition, but the concept revolves around

  • recognising that climate change is not just an environmental, but a social, economic, ethical problem
  • emphasising that climate change is hitting those hardest who are already marginalised by power systems in place – i.e. people in developing countries, and in richer countries in poverty, who depend on resources climate change is destroying and/or have the least resources at their disposal to protect themselves, and who do not have a seat at a COP table. Think for example of these Philippine people depending on fishing.
  • reminding us that these marginalised communities are drawn along lines of racism, more often than not, or gender inequality. The most recent example: The Dakota Access pipeline in the US, where native Americans opposing it to protect their land are met with ruthless policemen.

    standingrock-water-resistance
    On the Dakota Access Pipeline struggles
  • linking climate change and marginalisation to violent conflicts on resources. Just throwing in “oil” and “middle east” here, but the future ones are likely to revolve around water.
  • stressing that policies and solutions to climate problems need to prioritise those most vulnerable populations, rather than add burdens through policies that drive up energy prices, for example
  • pointing towards the fact that Western industrialised nations are those responsible for the largest amount of greenhouse gas emissions throughout history, as well as those responsible for some communities being marginalised through colonialism and later trade policies
  • advocating for climate change responses that counterbalance these power systems, to make a transition possible to a world where global warming is restricted to a 1.5/2 degree level (that’s a whole other debate) in a way that is led by and protects those most at risk (preferably by using the resources of those that caused most of the CO2 emissions).

Here is an online course on it, and a talk by Naomi Klein – that one is especially relevant because it explains how fossil fuel extraction is only possible by sacrificing people’s livelihoods – sacrificing those that the dominant thinking in industrialised nations considers as less valuable (yes that sounds a lot like colonialism, right?).

But climate justice is not a gloomy, but a forward-looking concept – an idea of what a positive response to climate change could look like. Because just like the problems around climate change are linked to poverty, violence and conflicts, so are the solutions. There are ways we can tackle all of these together, combat poverty and avoid conflict through a transition to a low-carbon economy. That requires some radical change in thinking, but it’s an opportunity no one can afford to miss.

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Impacts and vulnerability to climate change: the usual suspects are fine

Paris Agreement

Short Answer: A UN agreement with lots of promising promises to keep the world under 2 degrees hotter than before climate change.

Long answer:

In December 2015, the 21st UN global climate conference reached a deal between 195 countries with their myriad of internal stakeholders on tackling global warming. It formally entered into force in October 2016, as 111 countries had ratified it. That means it is now binding for all 195 states (including the one that will soon be ruled by a climate change denier, unless that one formally rejects it – which is viewed by the entire international community including China as fairly stupid).

The agreement aims to keep global temperatures from rising beyond 2 degrees above the average in pre-industrial times. 2 degrees may keep off the worst damages of climate change, but many activists demand to redefine this target to 1.5 degrees. Here are two scenarios for what this world may look like – more importantly, to keep earth temperatures below any of these thresholds, all countries will need to step up their efforts.

These efforts are supposed to be realised through Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), i.e. plans all member states have to communicate every five years and – that’s new, and got everyone excited – can be held accountable for. Now, how ambitious these NDCs turn out and how much investment they receive in all countries is very much up for grabs. The key issue with the Paris deal is that it depends on countries’ continuous commitment, that it needs countries to come up and implement ever more ambitious NDCs than what is currently on the table.

There are more optimistic and gloomy aspects to the agreement, as you can read here. What that means in general, though, is that all of our future climate depends on all of us holding governments to account. If enough people show they want these NDCs to be proper plans on how to turn global warming around, by petitioning, writing to decisionmakers, attending protests, supporting organisations lobbying for these issues, change will happen – if not, then probably not.

Greenwashing

Short answer: Major culprits of carbon emissions doing something small and well publicised to “combat climate change” simply to improve their public image, with no significant impact on the root problem.

Long answer:

66 % (or even 72 % of the younger generation) of all consumers are willing to pay more for products they know to be environmentally friendly or climate-neutral. That makes it very important for corporations to present a “green” image to the world – and thus attractive to make their image look greener than it is.

Changing your company to become genuinely “green” – i.e. getting rid of all things that are not energy-efficient or consume too much water, harm the land they are on etc., is of course costly for industrial businesses. In the case of coal plants, oil companies, industrialised meat production, that means closing down. (Yeah, meat – read this, this or this, and do with this information what you think is justifiable.) So how wonderful would it be to make people believe the company is all great and sustainable, and continue business as usual unimpaired? You can see why that may be tempting. Look, there even was a consulting service advertising themselves as “the leading cosmetic surgeons of the green image” (guys how audaciously backwards is this ad).

Greenwashers are keen to not do anything to actually avert climate change, while appearing to. Their efforts fail completely when these are revealed as window-dressing. Watch this film for more stories on this matter, and check out this site calling out adverts that try to wash companies green. The more people are made aware of fake climate change combatants, the more the companies have to make their efforts genuine – because in the end, they depend on us as consumers.

 

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