Individual and political action on climate change

Individual and political action on climate change can take many forms. Many actions aim to build social and political support to limit, and subsequently reduce, the concentration of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere, with the goal of mitigating climate change. Other actions seek to address the ethical and moral aspects of climate justice, especially with regard to the anticipated unequal impacts of climate change adaptation.

Political action

Political action can change laws and regulations that relate to climate change.

Carbon pricing methods, such as a carbon tax or an emissions trading system, are favored by many economists as the most efficient and effective means to reduce GHG emissions, and are increasingly being deployed around the world.[1] In the U.S., groups such as the bipartisan legislative Climate Solutions Caucus[2] and the Citizens Climate Lobby work to build support for carbon pricing.

Regulations can strengthen GHG emission standards from particular sectors of the economy, such as the EPA's proposed Clean Power Plan for United States power plants, or vehicle standards in Europe and the United States.

Political action can also gain media and public attention to climate change. Political action from the community, however, is often challenged by interests within the fossil-fuel industry,[3][4] which have been charged with promoting climate change denial views[5] in order to hold off a "carbon bubble" valuation crash.

There are many forms of political action on climate change including letter writing, direct lobbying, and public shaming of politicians and media organizations. Political action campaigns require building a base of support at local level.

Activist movements

The climate movement has emerged in recent years, given there is an increased awareness of the importance of global warming as a factor in a range of issues. Many environmental, economic, and social issues find common ground in mitigation of global warming.[6][7]

A number of groups from around the world have come together to work on the issue of global warming. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from diverse fields of work have united on this issue. A coalition of 50 NGOs called Stop Climate Chaos launched in Britain (September 2005) to highlight the issue of climate change.

The Campaign against Climate Change was created to focus purely on the issue of climate change and to pressure governments into action by building a protest movement of sufficient magnitude to effect political change.

Critical Mass is an event typically held on the last Friday of every month in various cities around the world wherein bicyclists and, less frequently, unicyclists, skateboarders, inline skaters, roller skaters and other self-propelled commuters take to the streets en masse. While the ride was founded in San Francisco with the idea of drawing attention to how unfriendly the city was to bicyclists, the leaderless structure of Critical Mass makes it impossible to assign it any one specific goal. In fact, the purpose of Critical Mass is not formalized beyond the direct action of meeting at a set location and time and traveling as a group through city or town streets.

One of the elements of the Occupy movement is global warming action.

Succeeding environmentalist Bill McKibben's mantra that "if it's wrong to wreck the climate, it's wrong to profit from that wreckage,[8]" fossil fuel divestment campaigns attempt to get public institutions, such as universities and churches, to remove investment assets from fossil fuel companies. By December 2016, a total of 688 institutions and over 58,000 individuals representing $5.5 trillion in assets worldwide had been divested from fossil fuels.[9][10]

Groups such as NextGen America and Climate Hawks Vote are working in the United States to elect officials who will make action on climate change a high priority.

Climate disobedience

Climate disobedience is a form of civil disobedience, deliberate action intended to critique government climate policy. In 2008, American climate activist Tim DeChristopher posed as a bidder at an auction of US Bureau of Land Management oil and gas leases of public land in Utah, won the auction, reneged on payment, and was imprisoned for 21 months. In September 2015, five climate activists known as the Delta 5 obstructed an oil train in Everett, Washington. At trial, the Delta 5 were allowed the necessity defense, that is, breaking a law in the service of preventing a greater harm. After testimony, the judge determined the grounds for the necessity defense were not met and instructed the jury to disregard testimony admitted under the necessity defense. The Delta 5 were fined for trespassing but were acquitted of more serious charges.[11][12][13][14]

The first example of a judge accepting the climate necessity defense was on March 27, 2018 when Judge Mary Ann Driscoll acquitted all 13 defendants of civil charges from a protest held in 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.[15]

International political frameworks

Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) dealing with greenhouse gases emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance starting in the year 2020. The language of the agreement was negotiated by representatives of 195 countries at the 21st Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (COP21) in Paris and adopted by consensus on 12 December 2015.

The head of the Paris Conference, France's foreign minister Laurent Fabius, called the plan "ambitious and balanced" and an "historic turning point" in the goal of reducing global warming. Critics note that the agreement is not sufficient to achieve the 2 °C warming target, and the lack of any binding enforcement mechanism. Subsequent Conference of the Parties meetings are expected to address shortcomings in the Paris Agreement.

Amid fierce opposition from scientists and other leaders around the world, U.S. President Donald Trump has pledged to pull out of the Paris Agreement.

The European Union Emissions Trading Scheme

Under the Kyoto Protocol, countries with targets could elect to reach these targets in co-operation with other countries. The European Union has decided to work as a unit to meet its emissions targets. The European climate change program attempts to do this by utilising an emissions trading scheme known as the European Union Greenhouse Gas Emission Trading Scheme. The principle of this scheme is quite simple: to make their legally binding commitments under Kyoto, countries can either make these savings within their own country, or they can buy these emissions reductions from other countries. These other countries would still need to meet their Kyoto targets, but the use of a free market system ensures the reductions are made for the least possible costs. Most reductions are made where these reductions are cheapest, and the excess reductions can be sold on to other countries where such cuts would be less economically viable. The EU ETS is arguably the global template for emissions trading schemes that are being implemented globally (China, South Korea, Tokyo and others).[16]

Contraction and Convergence

The concept of Cap, Contraction and Convergence was proposed as a replacement to the Kyoto agreement. The idea here is that the limits to carbon emissions need to be capped at 350-450 parts per million, currently considered to produce a raise in world temperatures above pre-industrial levels of between 1 and 2 degrees Celsius. It is currently believed that further increases would bring about major positive feedbacks (the burning of forests and the loss of carbon from soils and oceans) which currently limit greenhouse gas emissions, and would lead to a run-away global warming similar to the Eocene period, during which there was no ice at the poles.

To sustain this figure, it has been proposed that on equity grounds, all people should be allocated an equal carbon footprint (currently about 2 tonnes per person, which by 2050 could fall to 1.5 tonnes per person through population increase). World per capita carbon emissions, currently in excess of 4 tonnes per person needs to contract to those levels, if these targets are to be met.[17] As a result, in the name of global and inter-generational equity, policies needing to be instituted need to converge, over a fixed period towards this figure for every country. A trading regime, whereby which countries in excess of these figures (from example the US at 20 tonnes per capita), purchase carbon credits from a country using less than its allocation (e.g. Kenya at 1.3 tonnes per capita), is considered by many as the best way of solving this problem.

For example, the Contract and Converge strategy was adopted by India, China and many African countries as the basis for future negotiations. The UK Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution said in 2000 "the UK should be prepared to accept the contraction and convergence principle is the basis for international agreement on greenhouse gas emissions".[18]

Sub-national level action

Some states, regions, and cities in the world are taking the lead on developing emissions reduction methods in the absence of federal policy, and may provide models for future national efforts. Their efforts are achieving real measurable emissions reductions and by pursuing policies and programs that have climate benefits, they have promoted state economic development, improved air quality and trimmed their vulnerability to energy price spikes. In the long run, addressing climate change will require comprehensive national policy and international agreements. However, in the absence of federal policy, states and regions are taking the lead on developing policies that may provide models for future national efforts.[19]

Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (United States)

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI, pronounced "Reggie") is the first mandatory market based program in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. RGGI is a cooperative effort among the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont to cap and reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector. In effect since January 1, 2009, the program is now in its third 3-year compliance period (2015-2017). As of 2016, RGGI has cut power plant carbon emissions in the region by 37%, while saving customers over $395 million on their bills.[20]

Ghent, Belgium

The city promotes a meat-free day on Thursdays called Veggiedag,[21][22] with vegetarian-only food in public canteens for civil servants and elected councillors, soon in all schools, and promotion of vegetarian eating options in town (through the distribution of "veggie street maps"). This campaign is linked to the recognition of the detrimental environmental effects of meat production, which the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization has established to represent nearly one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions.

United Kingdom

The town of Totnes in Devon through its "Transition Town Totnes" Project has adopted an Energy Descent Plan, as a response in answer to the twin problems of greenhouse gas emissions and peak oil. As a result of a series of large, well attended public gatherings with key experts from around the world, and the organisation of a number of special interest groups, the community has come together with lecturers and trainers shared with Schumacher College, through a process of participative strategic planning, to hone their skills in project development. As a result of the initiatives in Totnes, a large number of other communities have started "Transition Town" projects, and there are now more than 400 around the world,[23] ranging from small communities to whole cities (e.g. Berlin).

The concepts of including food miles or carbon neutral labels on packaging has been gaining interest in the UK.[24]

Individual action

Carbon Conversations

The Carbon Conversations is a psychosocial project that focuses on the agency of individuals to encourage personal action to reduce carbon emissions. The project touches on four main topics: i) home energy; ii) food; iii) travel; iv) consumption and waste; and v) talking with family and friends. The project understands that individuals often fail to adopt low-carbon lifestyles not because of practical barriers to change (e.g.: there is no renewable energy available), but because of aspects related to their values, emotions, and identity. The project offers a supportive group experience that helps people reduce their personal carbon dioxide emissions by 1 tonne CO2 on average and aim at halving it in the long term. They deal with the difficulties of change by connecting to values, emotions and identity. The groups are based on a psychosocial understanding of how people change. Groups of 6-8 members meet six or twelve times with trained facilitators in homes, community centres, workplaces or other venues. The meetings create a non-judgmental atmosphere where people are encouraged to make serious lifestyle changes.

Carbon Conversations was cited in The Guardian newspaper as one of the 20 best ideas to tackle climate change.[25]

See also


  1. The World Bank (October 2016). "State and Trends of Carbon Pricing 2016". The World Bank. Retrieved 4 Feb 2017.
  2. Picard, Joe (2016-03-24). "Creating a bipartisan climate to discuss climate change in Congress". TheHill. Retrieved 2017-02-05.
  3. Hamilton, Clive (2007), "Scorcher: The Dirty Politics of Climate Change"
  4. Paul Ehrlich "Betrayal of Science and Reason: How Anti-Environmental Rhetoric Threatens Our Future" ISBN 978-1-55963-484-7
  5. "Exxon's Own Research Confirmed Fossil Fuels' Role in Global Warming Decades Ago | InsideClimate News". Retrieved 2017-02-05.
  6. "Sustainable Development: Linking economy, society, environment". Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Retrieved August 30, 2016.
  7. Weather, Climate, and Society
  8. "The Case for Fossil-Fuel Divestment". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2017-02-05.
  9. "Commitments". Fossil Free. Retrieved 2017-02-05.
  10. Carrington, Damian (2016-12-12). "Fossil fuel divestment funds double to $5tn in a year". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-02-05.
  11. Schloredt, Valerie (January 21, 2016). "How to Stop an Oil Train: The Hearts-and-Minds Climate Defense That Won Over a Courtroom". Yes!. Retrieved January 29, 2016.
  12. Goodman, Amy (January 11, 2016). "Historic Trial Lets Activists Who Blocked Oil Train Cite Climate Change Threat in Their Defense". Democracy Now!. Pacifica Radio. Retrieved January 29, 2016.
  13. Goodman, Amy (January 26, 2016). "Act Now, Cry Later: Tim DeChristopher, Aria Doe & Josh Fox on Civil Disobedience & Climate Activism". Democracy Now!. Pacifica Radio. Retrieved January 29, 2016.
  14. "Trial for Climate Activists Protesting "Bomb Trains" Carrying Oil Makes Legal History". Climate Science and Policy Watch. January 28, 2016. Retrieved January 29, 2016.
  15. Marcum, Marla. "Exciting News from West Roxbury". Climate Disobedience. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  16. Gippner, Olivia (2014) Framing it right: China-EU relations and patterns of interaction on climate change Chinese Journal of Urban and Environmental Studies, 2 (1). ISSN 2345-7481
  17. CarbonSense
  18. Meyer, Aubrey (2000), "Contraction and Convergence:The Global Solution to Climate Change" Schumacher Briefings 5, published by Green Books on behalf of the Schumacher Society
  19. Engel, Kirsten and Barak Orbach (2008). "Micro-Motives for State and Local Climate Change Initiatives". Harvard Law & Policy Review, Vol. 2, pp. 119-137. SSRN 1014749.
  20. "Pioneering Carbon-Cutting Program Turns 10: What Now, RGGI?". NRDC. Retrieved 2017-02-05.
  21. "Ghent's veggie day: for English speaking visitors" on
  22. "Belgian city plans 'veggie' days" on BBC News (2009-05-12).
  23. "Transition Initiatives Directory". Retrieved 30 Dec 2011.
  24. NPR: Taking a Practical Approach to 'Green' Living
  25. Katz, Ian (2009). Twenty Ideas That Could Save the World

Further reading

Regarding Climate change policy of the United States, see "The Climate War" (2010) by Eric Pooley deputy editor of Bloomberg Businessweek ISBN 978-1-4013-2326-4

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