The world was watching when Typhoon Haiyan swept across the Philippines, leaving a trail of destruction and misery. Haiyan has affected more than ten million people and killed thousands, and the Filipinos are left with a country to rebuild and little to rebuild it with.
There is fundamental injustice in a world system that allows poor nations to be affected so greatly, for such extended periods of time, by natural disasters. It is not that humanity as a whole lacks the technology or money to mitigate the damages – the typhoon reminds us painfully of the true cost of inaction.
The lack of leadership, political cohesion, and consistent international attention results in the quick deterioration of vulnerable, impoverished areas, both normally and when hit by undiscriminating, merciless natural disasters.
The attempt to set up a Green Climate Fund offers an illuminating example of the current state of climate negotiations. Nations argue over who should contribute to the fund, with some suggesting it is the ‘developed nations’, as labelled in the UN climate treatises of 1992 and 1997. This title excludes China, the second biggest economy in the world, as well as South Korea, Singapore and many Middle Eastern nations, despite their very high GDP per capita. These climate negotiations are dreary and often fruitless, but that should not produce apathy, only the realisation that a solution must come from the departure from the status quo.
I believe the solution lies with us. Such a change has to come from the ground up, from a conscientious civil society and from concerted individual care about our way of life. People are easily apathetic in the face of complex problems, culminating in a bystander effect whereby, on an issue such as climate change, they simply look to others of higher authority or greater dedication to ‘fix it’ for them.
The essential aspect overlooked is the individual’s role in a community. Each of us is an agent of change, and any decision on what to consume and what lifestyle to lead contributes to the amalgamation of people and ideas that we call society. Climate negotiations are going nowhere because climate change is not an issue people take to heart, at least not to the extent that it motivates them to change their lifestyle.
This is where my fasting comes in. I am no Gandhi – I’ll admit that by whatever measurement; fasting for a day and standing outside Tesco to talk to passers-by about ‘climate justice’ is a minor sacrifice.
Yet, by raising the issue of ‘climate justice’, I hope to underscore that Typhoon Haiyan is an alarm and a call to arms. If we continue in this neglectful way, disregarding the consequences of our consumptive habits and inefficient energy expenditure, climate disasters will perpetually occur and mar the lives of those least responsible for the state of affairs.
Those of us lucky enough to choose where, when and what to eat, shop and buy, are in a position to en- act change. It is important that we do not simply look at events in certain region as though they do not affect humanity as a whole, as though we are not implicated.
We can live smarter, happier and even cheaper only when we become more conscious in our deliberations. It is only through ignorance on the deleterious effects of gluttonous and neglectful consumption that we perpetuate bad habits which directly affect people all over the world.
The West is currently working to help victims of a disaster which it may have played a large role in creating; I do not contend that natural disasters are entirely the fault of wanton energy use, but the degree of their severity has definitely increase because of avarice and a lack of respect for the natural world. By fasting for a day, I have hopefully contributed to at least the discussion of much-needed change, and aim to continue it – now, what can you do?