Neither state-corporatism nor individual efforts can replace meaningful, evidence-led legislation
Rishi Sunak could not be more committed to oil. In July, he announced his hope to extract as much of it from the North Sea as possible – a ‘maxing out’ policy. This involves granting over a hundred new drilling licenses, and likely many more in the autumn. The announcement has received strong backlash; Oxfam has declared it a “wrecking ball“. Mike Childs, head of policy for Friends of the Earth, argues Sunak’s decision is “doing nothing for energy security” and a former science minister says the Conservatives are on “the wrong side of history.“
Sunak has defended this by arguing that using domestic oil and gas saves “two, three, four
times the amount of carbon emissions” compared with importing it from a different country. He also claims that it will boost the UK’s energy independence, which has become a priority since the invasion of Ukraine. In contrast to Sunak’s strategy, Labour’s proposed plan is to block any new domestic oil and gas drilling by 2030. Labour’s Shadow Climate Secretary, Ed Miliband, has accused the Conservatives of leading a “culture war on climate“. Sunak’s announcement is also surprising considering that in July 2022, almost 80% of Conservative voters polled by YouGov believed that the planet will “soon experience more environmental disaster”.
Between 90% to 100% of climate scientists conclude that humankind is responsible for climate change. Part of this is mass consumerism, which we all contribute to. This is seen in our fast fashion habits, high meat consumption, reliance on car travel, and frequent flying. It’s always good to be aware of how to reduce your environmental footprint, as the more people that are discussing climate change and taking steps to prevent it, the more it becomes a priority in society as a whole. This in turn generates pressure on politicians to enact change demand change on a political level. However, real change made by some individuals doesn’t necessarily ensure that corporations and politicians will follow. MIT researchers calculated the emissions of a homeless person to indirectly amount to 8.5 tons of carbon dioxide a year. This is negligible compared with the one hundred investors and state-owned fossil fuel companies responsible for 71% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The term “ecological footprint” was created by Professor William Rees in 1996, and then popularised during a $200 million PR makeover of BP Oil in 2004. It was designed to shift responsibility of climate change over to the average citizen, and present BP Oil as a benevolent force that’s trying to “do its bit” for climate change. In a tactic similar to the one pursued by tobacco companies in the 1950s, fossil fuel companies push a narrative that climate change is merely a topic to be discussed and debated, so legislation shouldn’t be based on it. It’s been so successful that Stanford University PhD Candidate Benjamin Franklin describes the term “carbon footprint” as “one of the most deceptive PR campaigns ever.”
For global warming to stay below the two degrees celsius, as decided in the Paris Climate Accords, a dramatic shift needs to be made towards natural gas, wind, and solar power. There are many sustainable measures we can take to help and not lose hope. However, many environmental scientists argue it’s important to carry a “healthy skepticism” towards politicians and corporations who still too often use climate change as a PR campaign. We can and should be climate-conscious, but also not forget where most of the real responsibility lies.