Happy New Year everyone! I hope you had a great holiday break and are ready to make the world a better place this year.
2018 was a pretty amazing year for me on a personal level. I got settled into a new job and a new city, started a campaign against single-use plastics with a group of friends, and started giving guided tours in Brussels to showcase citizen initiatives that are making the Belgian capital more sustainable. Although these two projects kept me from writing blog posts as much as I would have wanted, they were very rewarding and brought me in contact with a lot of inspiring people.
The satisfaction I got out of my work was somewhat overshadowed by the fact that humankind did a pretty bad job preparing for a low-carbon society. Over and over again, I was disappointed in the lack of urgency in the business world and among policy makers. Not the least when the climate conference COP24 in Poland ended with meagre results and barely increased commitments from member states. All this after a number of unambiguous scientific reports laid out clearly that time is running out.
In short, they come down to the following: to limit catastrophic climate change, we need to keep global warming under 1,5 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. How to make that happen? Cut carbon emissions by half by 2030 (12 years from now!) and be carbon neutral by 2050. Footnote: worldwide emissions are currently still on the rise.
What better way to wash away that somewhat bitter aftertaste of 2018, with some optimistic dreams for what the future could bring? I sat down with a cup of cinnamon tea and drafted up a list of climate action wishes for 2019. By no means exhaustive, but hey, if we can move forward on all these fronts this year I will be a happy man!
Politicians: get your sh*t together
Being it the Belgian minister of energy and environment taking a private jet to the climate talks in Poland to “represent the voice of the 75 000 people that raised their voice for ambitious climate action in the climate march”, or the weak outcome of that meeting itself, there were many moments in 2018 I felt ashamed on behalf of politicians.
I wish that policy-makers on both the national and international level finally get serious. What does that mean? Writing their resounding promises back in Paris into national law. A zero-carbon society by 2050, point. Plus, providing a sound financial plan to go along with it, ensuring that the transition is fair and just. Cracking the economical code to make this work given the local conditions. This could be –and should be– the most exciting time for policy making since the Space Race. Why is nobody acting like it?
Give me my cheap train tickets
For four years now, I try to limit my transportation footprint to the largest extent possible. I go around town by bike and use public transport to visit family and friends in other parts of the country. Biking to work on non-existing bike lanes, in the fumes of the morning rush hour, I still struglle to understand why it is so difficult for policy makers to realise that the economic loss of traffic jams and air pollution is bigger than the cost of the transition to alternative mobility options.
Anyway, for my long-distance travels, the stubboringly high prices of train connections are an even greater source of frustration in the face of ever falling prices of airline tickets. How is it possible that 12 years before reaching the 50% carbon reduction deadline, governments are still exempting airlines from kerosene taxes? Why is the dirtiest of all transport modes the cheapest overall? Can’t we tax them appropriately and use the revenues to make train and bus connections better?
People, come to terms with plastics please
Plastics were a hot topic in 2018, jee! All around the world, photos of turtles with straws in their nose and dolphins entangled in disregarded fish nets opened the eyes of consumers. I bet last year was a record year for beach clean-ups, docu screenings on ocean plastics, and angry tweets about inappropriate plastic cutlery.
Due to the large public outcry, some companies and policy makers rushed to take action –great, but did they think it through? Humans wouldn’t be humans if they solved a problem by replacing it with another one, right? For example, some businesses are displacing virgin plastics with virgin compostable plastics. Such a move does not make much sense in developed countries with proper waste management processes. In fact, often compostable objects end up being problematic in the existing recycling facilities. Biodegradable plastics only make sense in countries where you are pretty sure the waste is eventually going to get dumped in a river. Which we should stop doing as soon as possible.
Let’s face it: over the last 50 years, the rise of the consumption society went hand-in-hand with the growth of (single-use) plastics. A real solution for the plastic issue requires us to question the consumption mentality that drives it.
Stop blowing up the carbon bubble
Since we need to move to a zero-carbon society by 2050 to keep things somewhat liveable on planet Earth, the buildings we are putting down now should be carbon-neutral in their operation. Nearly all homes, offices, factories, and power plants being built in the coming years will still be around in 2050. If we do not make sure now they are clean and green, they will become stranded assets in a few decades from now. In layman’s terms: the investment will become worthless before the end of its lifetime. You don’t have to be an ex-banker of Lehman Brothers to know it gets nasty when the bubble pops.
I want local and organic veggies, and I want them for everyone
When I say that we are eating away our Planet, you can take that quite literally. Most of our food comes from energy and resource intensive industrial agriculture. Many food staples, like palm-oil and meat, are wreaking havoc on the environment through fresh water consumption, fertilizers, farting cows, and illegal rainforest logging.
True, alternative agriculture methods are on the rise for a while now and more organic and local grocery stores are popping up. But let’s be honest, many of them are so expensive that even a person with an engineering job like me (I can’t complain about my monthly pay check) cannot afford buying all their veggies and fruits there.
We got used to having cheap abundance in the supermarket, yet forget that our tax money is used to bailout the farmers who can’t survive the low milk prices pushed upon them. One way or another, someone or something will need to pay the real price of your food. Time for a revamp our agro-food industry to one that is fair for the farmers, the consumers, and the planet. Don’t you think?
That’s it for my wish list. I could have gone on for a while, but truth be told it would already be impressive if I can tick off some of the things above one year from now. Do you have any new year’s resolutions addressing our climate challenge? Will you be helping to reach one (or more) of my wishes? Only together we can move forward! Have a great year ahead :)