It’s Simple, Really

Every Friday, Atmos editor-in-chief William Defebaugh reflects on the week in climate and culture, sharing stories of insight and inspiration.

words by William Defebaugh

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Out of all the narratives that have come to define the climate crisis conversation, perhaps the most pervasive is that it is a complex issue.

 

“The great tragedy of the climate crisis is that seven and a half billion people must pay the price—in the form of a degraded planet—so that a couple of dozen polluting interests can continue to make record profits,” says leading climate scientist Michael Mann. “It is a great moral failing of our political system that we have allowed this to happen.”

 

Mann is referring to new research from the Climate Accountability Institute that has detailed in-depth the impact of the fossil fuel industry on the climate crisis. According to the report, just 20 companies are responsible for 35% of all energy-related carbon dioxide and methane emissions worldwide since 1965, the year in which experts say that both big oil executives and many politicians knew the environmental impacts of fossil fuels.

 

As we detailed in last week’s newsletter, the Trump administration has downplayed these very impacts on the climate crisis at every turn. This same administration has also said that mental health is the cause of the gun violence epidemic in America, an argument that clouds the simple reality that, without guns, it would not be a problem in the first place.

 

Meanwhile, members of the Extinction Rebellion have taken to streets the world over this week to demand more urgent action on the climate crisis, with demonstrations ranging from a “feast without food” in Slovakia to blocking traffic in major cities across Europe to people chaining themselves to concrete in Australia and smearing themselves and symbols of Wall Street with fake blood in New York City. According to the collective, the question at the heart of the international effort is an easy one: “The time is now; Extinction or rebellion?”

 

In her reflection on fashion month, critic Vanessa Friedman pointed out how sustainability became the top trend, to the point where it felt like brands were seeking “eco bragging rights.” She also illuminated how this creates a more confusing narrative for consumers: “Aren’t carbon offsets just another way to keep overproducing? It’s great the materials are made from recycled fibers, but how do we recycle them now?” Ultimately, she says, the industry can only become more sustainable “By handing over the measurement of that to a consistent and disinterested third party, or group of third parties.”

 

All of this is not to say that the climate crisis is not itself a complex issue, but the peril of constantly framing it as such is that when we perceive a problem to be too complex, we become overwhelmed and render ourselves incapable of efficiently affecting change. The reality is that the problems at the heart of the issue are not so complex—and most of them have to do with greed.

 

In a world where company is king, the few are profiting off the future of the many. Those at the top of every industry from fashion to fuel to food have been left to operate unchecked for too long. While consumer actions are important, the most important actions we can take are political ones—informing ourselves about and electing candidates that understand a very simple truth: The system is broken. So let’s change the system.

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