The short answer is: all of us. Doubtlessly, climate change is caused majorly by the oil corporations. However, taking refuge in this mindset that the powerful and rich oil companies are causing this and we all are somehow innocent is a fallacy. It is quite therapeutic, yet self-deceptive, to view oneself as rather the victim instead of the participant in the story of climate change.
Science doesn’t lie even if we do not want to hear what it is telling us. It is true that ExxonMobil knew as early as the 1960s about the lethal effects of burning fossil fuel on the environment. They unleashed a very sophisticated propaganda campaign where an army of deniers comprising scientists, professors, and so forth was hired to discredit environmental degradation. When climate change was no more ignorable, denialism resorted to another tactic: that the environment is changing but it is not anthropogenic. That climate change was just a natural phenomenon for which human activity was not responsible. That we should continue to drill for more oil while knowing that it would eventually lead to an uninhabitable earth for our grandchildren.
Just as the oil corporations continued to exploit fossil fuel while knowing about its catastrophic impacts, we as individuals do not behave much differently in our own capacities. Every time, we turn on a light or a fan we add our fingerprints to the story of climate change. The electricity that runs our households, offices, and other places is generated through the burning of fossil fuel such as oil and coal. The three major greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. Every time we drive our cars or take a ride using Uber, we add more greenhouse gases to our atmosphere.
About 85% of deforestation happens because of cattle farming and other forms of corporate agriculture. It is more profitable for agricultural corporations that are in the business of selling fertilisers, meat, mutton, and milk for example, to use land for cattle farming and making nitrogen fertilisers instead of growing crops. More land is needed to grow cattle than to grow crops for human food needs. The cattle farming of ruminant animals (animals that re-chew food such as buffalo, goat, sheep) release methane, which is one of the major greenhouse gases, causing more heat than carbon dioxide.
So, for us to eat juicy steaks, beef burgers, kebabs, and so forth while complaining about the fossil fuel industry causing such damage to our climate is just hypocritical. The air conditioning units that we run in Pakistan cause enormous carbon emissions. So, for a famous cricketer to stand there and tout a certain air conditioner brand, while also reminding us how much he wants a good future for his daughters, just don’t square. Either he should enjoy the paycheck from the marketing or his daughters would be happy mothers because their children wouldn’t have a decent chance of survival on this planet.
Right now, while typing this piece in the cold night of Islamabad, I am sitting in the comfort of the heating provided by a heater that is run by the burning of the natural gas. That is another source of more greenhouse gases to be added to the environment. Yes, I too, knowingly contribute to the destruction of our planet. As I mentioned earlier, that while we may not want to hear it, science doesn’t care. If we are ready to mitigate our own fingerprints on climate then we should have less children. Yes, more people on this planet means more heat producing machines who will consume more meat and would require more fossil fuel to be burnt.
The truth is that our lifestyles must change if we are to seriously fight climate change. It is important to create awareness about what and who causes climate change, but it is extremely urgent to shrug off this sanitised self-image regarding climate change. We are not just the victims, but culprits too.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 28th, 2020.