This op-ed is part of AASYP’s Digital Dialogues 2021, which is a programme that aims to provide a platform and forum for future leaders from across the region to contribute to the policymaking and diplomacy sphere by engaging in issues relating to Gender and Diversity, Green Recovery, and Emerging Economies.
The wicked problem of climate change is beginning to become the focus of public policy as well as a collective mission of several transnational and multilateral organisations. Predictions of an Armageddon, scenarios akin to the biblical catastrophes, are rampantly being circulated and disseminated as the future that humanity will be inheriting. Unless gods intervene, there is no way out. Or in the age of Anthropocene, unless the mortal gods intervene, they risk their own destruction.
Climate change is a wicked problem, as any solution thought of by the most brilliant of policy makers does not seem to bypass the contradictions inherent in solving it. Part and parcel of the threat of climate change is the limited amount of time it affords those whose well-being is at stake, as well as the lack of any central authority. All these in addition to the greatest paradox within it: those who want to solve it are the very cause of it.
A common strategy against this problem is by acting as a judge against those who hold the power. More specifically, youth, who are conscious of the future they will be inheriting, have led several movements against state leaders and multinational corporations. They collectively rage against the machine that systematically exploits the environment all in favor of profit. Currently, Greta Thunberg symbolises this collective frustration of youth regarding the climate crisis.
Her initiatives, achievements, and global reach, considering her age, are surprising as well as inspiring. What she has done takes courage. However, such displays of courage from youth inevitably receive backlash and belittlement from some. Evidence of this is an interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2019, who showed amazement with the youth who are focusing on acute problems. He nevertheless dismissed Thunberg’s efforts, citing that the “modern world is complicated and complex” and that Greta might just be unaware of the full extent of the problem.
In all actuality, President Putin is also referencing a problem that is perhaps well beyond the capacities of the youth to handle: the realities of political life. Alastair Smith and Bruce Bueno de Mesquita’s book The Dictator’s Handbook (2011) perfectly describes what an aspiring political leader may deal with in entering the realm of politics. In it they argued that even the most noble of characters will face a very complex web of power relationships.
Inevitably, to enact goals one has imposed upon themselves, the political leader must play the game and behave “badly”. This may be through siphoning funds to reward allies and invested campaign fund providers or creating coalitions against political enemies. Hence, acting as a judge against a system founded on a complicated web of power relationships that systematically promotes bad behavior might just be biting more than what we could chew.
In the age of the Anthropocene, working with such an assumption may lead one to conclude the most pessimistic answer of all. Hence the better strategy, argues Roy Scranton in his book Learning to Die in the Anthropocene (2015), is to learn how to accept the inevitable “death of our civilization” and adapting to the “hot, volatile world we’ve created”, not through “turning off the air conditioning, or signing a treaty”. This way, he positions himself in direct opposition to Greta, who yearns for mitigation and sustainability—goals seen by Scranton as not possible anymore.
In the face of the several detrimental factors outlined above, is there any hope for youth trying to mitigate the effects of climate change and attain environmental sustainability? There might be but it will require strategic engagement that truly considers the playing field. The youth also must both maximize and leverage the resources at the disposal: age and time.
There is simply an imbalance of power, hence slamming your way into closed door meetings might simply be counterproductive. This is not to say that collectively calling out the inconsistencies within environmental policies is futile. But perhaps the audience is not supposed to be those at the top, who might simply be too invested and have too much to lose; they will probably turn a blind eye anyway. The bulk of the efforts may best redirected towards fellow youth.
Punishing those whose lives are tied to consumption of environmental pollutants is unreasonable. Not everyone can afford to drop single-use plastics. Even those who try to solve the climate crisis will need to depend on technology that nevertheless depends on these environmental pollutants. Banning plastic should remain a goal, but it must be done in consideration of the hard facts of life. It can only be done through stages, starting with those who can afford it.
Lastly, political change can only come not from externally induced transformation but through internal change. By this, people’s attitudes towards the climate crisis can only change if they themselves see the contradictions between their practices, and the goals they want to achieve. In other words, lasting change can come only through actors realizing that their goals of comfortable lives cannot be achieved by disregarding the climate crisis. They go together. To properly solve the climate crisis, perhaps the best solution is truly the most cliché answer: personal responsibility towards the environment. Only through this can the environment be part of the zeitgeist, which will induce action, accordingly, be it by dropping pollutants or by political participation promoting good environmental policies.
This article was written by Nashrola Sumali Langco, edited by Siobhan Honey, and reviewed by the AASYP Publications Team.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this op-ed are solely those of the writer and in no way represent nor reflect the position of AASYP and members of the AASYP Publications Team. The AASYP Horizons Blog provides a platform for the free expression of opinions and intellectual discourse.