Climate emergency: can consumers act?

For Nadia Maïzi, one of the authors of the latest IPCC report, individual actions alone “will not be enough to move the lines.”

How to mitigate climate change? This is the subject of the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published on 4 April 2022.

Its 278 authors have evaluated the available scientific knowledge in order to shed light on possible solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And we looked, for the first time, at the role of our consumption.

The director of the Center for Applied Mathematics of Mines Paris-PSL, Nadia Maïzi collaborated in the chapter on this subject, as the main author. She answers questions from 60 million consumers.

As consumers, how can we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and thus limit global warming?

Nadia Maizi: We can focus on three types of levers. The first is to avoid the use of certain types of services. For example, some car trips can be avoided. This will have a direct impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

The second is to modify the type of technology that will provide the expected service. Continuing with the theme of transportation, this means continuing to move short distances, but changing the mode of travel – taking the bike instead of the car, for example.

The third is to improve the technology used, for example by moving from a car with a poorly adjusted heat engine to a hybrid vehicle with a slightly more environmentally friendly engine.

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Specifically, what is the most effective?

CN: There is a lot of common sense behind all this, you need to be in moderation instead of overdoing it. At the individual level, avoidance is without a doubt the most effective: avoiding food waste, using packaging, and so on.

But you still have to know what to avoid. Some things are more obvious than others when it comes to impact. For example, avoiding moving is not moving – there is no ambiguity! But when it comes to diets, it’s more complicated.

If we avoid eating this or that food, it is not entirely an avoidance, because we will replace it with something else, which may require more land for its production, will consume a certain amount of water … and with a trace of carbon than what we imagine. It’s a pretty complex thing, there are bounce effects.

Are these behavioral changes accessible to everyone?

CN: No. Take the second category, for example. It’s good to ride a bike instead of a car, but not everyone can. It depends on where you live: if there are no bike lanes and you are in a car setting, even if you really want to take your bike, you will not, or if not, your life expectancy will be greatly reduced. .

It is public policies that must determine the limitations of land use planning, so that the infrastructures allow access to this change in behavior, which we may want at the individual level, but which we cannot implement.

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Without proper public policies, can our individual behaviors still change the situation?

CN: One of the conclusions of our report is that the sum of individual stocks will not be enough to move the lines. However, the potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by changing our consumption is very important: it is estimated that between 40 and 70% of total emissions by 2050. But provided that effective infrastructure is accessible. and adapted, as well as the appropriate technologies.

In some countries, these policies have been in place for a long time! Northern countries, for example, are quite exemplary at this level. They have made it a tradition, and it has become a cultural element that is integrated into their daily lives, precisely because the infrastructure is there. Very proactive policies are needed to develop this type of change. Changes can only be made if there is strong enough supervision.

But then what can we do, at our level, to change these public policies?

CN: To prepare this report we have worked with psychologists, sociologists and ethnologists, who have led us to reflect a lot on issues of culture, norms, imagination … One of the conclusions is that, as a group, change will be triggered if the influencers represent between 10 and 30% of the group. Influencers are people who explain, who ensure that the urgency of the climate issue is taken into account.

At the moment, we cannot say that there is a widespread awareness of the urgency of the issue of climate change. While with the covid epidemic, there was an emergency that was not questioned by anyone, and that generated accepted limitations at an incredible level, because fear had set in instantly.

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Who could these influencers be?

CN: It could be young people, who have really taken hold of this question, and are much more attentive to these issues.

Influencers are also journalists. I heard a lot of thoughts about the fact that the news had probably eliminated the publication of the various parts of this latest IPCC report. But it is the place that the media wants to give to these reports that is not up to par. If journalists perceived these facts as important, they would give them the space they needed, regardless of the rest of the news.

And at the same time, the advertising space is filled with ads that promote home delivery platforms and other services that emit high levels of greenhouse gases …

CN: Another topic we’ve talked about a lot is imagination, which is what the social norms of your place of origin give you back. Advertisements for vehicles driving on deserted roads, in wonderful scenery, inspire a certain imagination.

It is also a collective issue to be addressed: should we aspire to it? We’ve wondered a lot about how to define well-being and what it means. This is a real issue, and it is also about this that there can be an evolution.

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But be careful, it is important to approach these different elements without taking sides or taking a stand. Behaviors are not stigmatized. When I say that there must be no excess, there must be no excess in the appropriation of the cause, in the pretense of being more “savior” than the neighbor.

I believe that this change will only take place in a collective approach, involving everyone, without excluding a part of the population. As soon as we get into the stigma, we lose the possibility of a really significant impact.

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