One would think the idea of saving the planet would fall under the category of a “human rights issue” instead of a political issue, yet increasingly around the world politicians are attacking renewable energy, denying the climate crisis and presenting alternative facts to followers. Those who follow political parties against the climate crisis listen to what the politicians they support say and in turn, believe in it themselves. The internet is currently full of misinformation on all sorts of topics, and sustainability and the climate crisis are no exceptions. Issues like clean air and water are tied to political parties and sustainability is now used as a partisan weapon in countries around the world. How did this happen and what can be done so that everyone is on the same page when it comes to addressing the climate crisis?
The Partisan Rise
There was a time in the 1970s when preserving the environment was an issue that everyone agreed on. The energy crises and subsequent recessions in the western world during this decade altered the course on how politicians and in turn the public thought about sustainability. Countries like the U.S. decided that it shouldn’t have to rely on other countries for oil, as this undermines their own economy. This marked the beginning of the rapid growth of the country’s oil reserves which 50 years later are some the highest in the world. The 1980s mark the point in time where the idea of sustainability became tied to a political ideology coinciding with the rise of neoliberalism. Sustainability was equated as government regulation that negatively interacts with the success of businesses in the free market. The biggest characteristics of neoliberalism centre around the protection of a group’s, rather than individual, interests that might be achieved through lobbying of groups or interventions that protect a country’s national interests via tariffs or subsidies. It makes sense that countries with very high oil reserves like the U.S. and Australia would have partisan debates over sustainability and the climate crisis. Many people who work directly in these industries see sustainability as a threat to their livelihoods, and vote accordingly as well.
Money is the root of a lot of things, and politicians are not immune to funding from fossil fuel companies. Most fossil fuel companies are massive conglomerates where money is seemingly never ending. Global oil and gas giants have been funding industry groups who lobby in politics of countries like the U.S. to block efforts by others to address climate change. While most of these conglomerates are coming out with public-facing climate action statements and talk of net-zero by 2050, it is mostly nothing more than a greenwash campaign. Some politicians will gladly accept financial contributions towards campaigns and legislation against climate action and promote alternative facts to their constituents.
A Clash of Worlds
It’s clear science and politics don’t see eye to eye in real-time. Covid and how countries have handled it has been a perfect example of how politics and science don’t exactly mesh. The problem is that the two only mobilise when we need to remedy a crisis. Instead, we all need to learn how to prevent crises before they happen. While the climate crisis has been ongoing and the effects are showing, the reality is that the damage is still reversible.
In the science of climate, we have long seen communications disconnect between decision makers and scientists. In both Covid and climate, we have seen scientific facts converted into partisan and even cultural flashpoints. Climate change has become looped in with religious or political perspectives to believe in or oppose. Political leaders and scientific experts must be better connected than they are today, or the climate crisis will be a back and forth tug of war with goals like net-zero and a carbon-free future stuck in the middle.
In a digital sea of information that is hard to sometimes separate what is fact and fiction, the truth will find its way through the noise. Sustainability won’t negatively impact your business or market like some politicians assert. Yes the upfront cost may be steep, but the long term benefits for your company and the environment will yield much higher returns – both monetarily and ethically. Will sustainability continue to be a partisan tool? It could see a decline in the near future as more companies and countries legitimise their sustainability goals. First, science must be embraced and accepted in order to advance collectively in the climate crisis fight. Then business and individuals should lobby against politicians and corporations who accept donations from companies that worsen the climate crisis through things like high emissions. Eventually the large corporations who attempt to hide behind greenwashing will be outnumbered on opinion and eventually this will hit their bottom line.
So, what should your business do? Continue on your journey towards a sustainable future, make sure your supply chain adheres to environmentally friendly practices and show proof of your commitments.