Humans know the effects of climate change — Why do we still do nothing about it?

Animals are dying, glaciers are melting, people in poor countries are suffering without access to food and water because of drought. I understand the effects and consequences of climate change. “What’s in it for me to solve it immediately? Why would I bother while my life is all well ?” This is the myopic, self-centered, incognizant vision with which most of the individuals are leading their lives on this planet.

It takes a different level of consciousness and awareness to care for the environment. It is important that individuals grow with that consciousness from a young age else it’ll be difficult to bring about that change within oneself. We’ve known about climate change for nearly 40 years and we are still at the same level when it comes to solving the problem. Actually we are causing more problems than 4 decades back though new technologies and innovative solutions have been developed which has also made taking action easier right now. The sense why it is difficult for individuals to take climate action could be explained through the Maslov’s law of the hierarchy of needs.

This was first proposed by a psychologist called Abraham Maslov during the 1940s. According to him, human needs could be distinguished into five different categories as described in the picture below,

The basic needs of life are given by the physiological and safety needs without which our life on this planet itself is under threat. Without proper food and water, you cannot function as an individual and you’ll strive to attain it. That will be your major priority. Then you’d need safe shelter and a protected environment to live. You’d strive to attain it. When these basic needs of an individual are not met, he/she will not be able to think beyond any of this because this is about their survival. These are survival needs

Then comes the emotional needs, humans are emotional beings. Most humans are driven by emotions. The need to feel loved, being with your friends and family. Having a safe space to share our emotions. We feel a need for our feelings to be valued, understood and shared.

Then comes the esteem needs. The needs that satisfy our ego. Feeling a sense of confidence, a sense of achievement when we accomplish things, feeling proud, taking pride in things we have done. We feel a need to boost our self-identity and ego.

Once an individual is able to accomplish and satisfy these needs. He is able to attain the state of fulfilling his/her true potential. At this stage, he/she might want to make a difference to others around them, help people, donate to good causes etc. These are self-fulfillment needs as termed by Maslow.

Humans have designed an artificial world around the natural environment of the planet with bridges, machines, vehicles, and fast communication through the internet. And most humans try to fit into this world because that is the world that they are born into and the world around them prepares them to live within this construct. The human being who grows in this construct thinks about taking care of the environment only when he is at the stage of self-fulfillment as mentioned earlier. Only after an individual is able to fulfill his physiological, safety , emotional and esteem needs does he think about the environment around him and how he can be of positive impact to the environment.

If we look at the data, we have very few people amongst the entire human population on this planet who have the privilege to care for nature. Yes, it becomes a privilege though that has to be the basic need for human existence on this planet. If we look at some facts for that matter,

-1 in 3 people in the world don’t have access to clean water (physiological need)[1]

-1 in 4 people in the world doesn’t have access to clean and healthy food (physiological need)

-9 out 10 people breathe polluted air (physiological need)

-1 out of 10 in the world people are under depression (Emotional need)[2]

When the majority of the population is living with unfulfilled needs. It is going to be difficult for the majority of the global population to care for nature or some random animal dying in some random corner of the world. They will find it difficult to understand how it will affect them as all they are focussed upon is immediate survival.

In order to take concrete action for climate mitigation we will need to ensure that the majority of the population is above the level of fulfilling their esteem needs. Only then individuals will be at a state where they can think about making a positive difference to the planet and other species that live on it.

How do we solve this ?
We need to develop human livelihood if we need to protect the planet. We need to make people meet the basic needs of life. That is where the concept of sustainable development is significant for the future of the planet. No doubt our entire species is at the tipping point of its existence given the way climate change effects are accelerating day to day. Brooding about the past or getting anxious about the future is getting us nowhere. We need concrete action and it has to be immediate. If all governments can focus on sustainable development and companies ensure that they keep people, planet and profit at the center and not just focus on the profits we have the direction to lead into.

A bottom up approach of developing people’s livelihoods from the grassroot level through sustainable development projects could be one of the approaches we can look at. These sustainable development projects could be funded by philanthropists or large corporations who want to balance out their emissions by funding projects that reduce the equivalent amount of emissions being put into the atmosphere.

Let’s take for example, a forest restoration project. It acts as a nature-based climate solution which absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere. Such a project could also help in creating local jobs in forest management and conserve vital ecosystems while also protecting local biodiversity.

For each ton of Carbon emission take by this project it results in an economic value of,

$ 150 — Afforestation and decrease in deforestation

$ 27 — Jobs on agroforestry to help the local communities

$ 65 — The social cost saved by removing one ton of CO2 from the atmosphere [3]

This project creates an overall value of $242 economically which also ensures that the environment is restored and provides fair wage jobs to the local communities. Multiple such ecosystem restoration projects could be carried out which combats climate change while also ensuring sustainable growth in the economy and people welfare.

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