One of the many challenges we face in this age of climate crisis is putting relativism aside to debate the moral content of our options without fear. Saying what we really think is right and fair; concealing our opinions is misleading and can be harmful to ourselves and others. The challenge is to think, speak and act according to our values and not adapt or conform to the relative truths in vogue. The challenge is not to believe in those widespread rhetorics simply because they are constantly repeated or supported by those who pay our salary at the end of the month.
Again and again, we believe that the debate on climate change is purely scientific. This way of seeing the crisis leads us to a technological dead-end: we need to create more and better technology to produce rain in areas with drought, improve soil management, create architecture adapted to climate change, and so forth. From this view, we are told that moralising the issue only increases a feeling of guilt and shame on the wealthiest countries and their citizens. It is also said that this position would only lead to stagnation in the long run and make solutions impossible.
But it is impossible to talk about climate change without facing some hard questions.
The Confronting Carbon Inequality report, published just a year ago by OXFAM, reminds us of a bitter truth:
• Annual CO2 emissions grew by 60% between 1990 and 2015, and the wealthiest 5% of the world’s population is directly responsible for 37% of this growth in emissions.
• The total increase in CO2 emissions of the wealthiest 1% of the world’s population was three times that of the poorest 50%.
• During the last 25 years, the wealthiest 1% of the world’s population is responsible for twice the CO2 emissions produced by 3.1 billion people, representing the poorest 50% of the people on the planet.
• The wealthiest 10% of the world’s population is responsible for 52% of the emissions released into the atmosphere between 1990 and 2005.
To this panorama, we must add that, as we can see today, the consequences of climate change will affect primarily people who live in poor countries and have emitted less CO2 emissions into the atmosphere.
Finally, we must consider that historically the highest percentage of C02 emissions since pre-industrial times (what has led us into the crisis we are today) were produced by countries that have reached a high level of development and wealth. These countries are reluctant to slow down their economies or to take decisive action against the super-rich.
Is the crisis, then, a scientific or a moral issue?
I think the current crisis is a moral issue in which the idea of justice plays a key role. The rich countries agree with me, and that is why they have proposed international agreements such as the Kyoto Protocols or the Paris Agreement as voluntary agreements. In other words, its fulfilment depends on the word of honour given by those countries! Because there is not a regulatory framework that sanctions them for non-compliance. Again, is it a scientific or a moral issue?
But I will not talk about social justice. What seems urgent to me is to reflect on our lifestyle and values. For instance, isn’t the idea of personal success one of the aspects that fuel this state of affairs?
Thirty million euros were paid for the transfer of the football player Leonel Messi. According to Forbes magazine, Kim Kardashian’s fortune is 1 billion dollars, and Bill Gates has a fortune of 133 billion dollars. All that money implies a wasteful lifestyle based on a very high level of consumption that increases the distance of the carbon footprint produced by a “Celebrity” and a person living in a shantytown of Chile, Singapore or Zambia.
Although both realities, the “Celebrity” and the Chilean or Zambian person, cannot be compared, they have something in common: the constant pursuit of a type of personal success that leads to the deification of the celebrity culture, individual entrepreneurship, money as a goal and addiction to consumption. The personal success model has been hijacked by the idea of celebrity: intellectual celebrity, feminist celebrity, political celebrity, eco militant celebrity, etc. The media have amplified this lifestyle and created the idea that it is the only one that can lead us to fulfilment and social recognition. The problem is that this lifestyle leads to increased carbon emissions and worsens our current crisis at the same time.
In some ways, climate change is a simple problem: to stop climate change we have to stop consuming. Stop growing is the only way to reduce emissions. And those who can choose to stop consuming are us, rich and poor human beings. So, the question then is crystal clear:
Why can we not leave a lifestyle that leads us to consume until we suffocate in smog? Why are we not able to question our addiction to the Celebrity consumer lifestyle?
Having a moral point of view is a first step. However, relativism, the nihilistic “anything goes”, and a simplistic vision of religion has weakened this ability. Having a moral perspective is a way to manage the decoupling of our lifestyle from the wasteful culture of celebrities. It is through questions such as: What is the meaning of our short life? What kind of lifestyle makes sense for us? What is my responsibility as a citizen of the world? By asking those questions, we will arrive at a type of reflection capable of making us change our lives and others, maybe, for the better.