Extinction Rebellion is an International issue
Extinction Rebellion is bringing political attention to climate change – again. I don’t like the disruption of daily life any more than anyone else, but I support them – sometimes it needs demonstrations to get the attention of politicians. The issue is not new, of course.
40 years ago, back in 1979, I got a job with Control Data and was given an 8 week project to determine what to do about energy wastage. Bill Norris, the CEO – with insight way ahead of his time or the rest of US business – was convinced that the world was coming to an end. Well, maybe not to an end. But he knew something needed to be done and he put his company’s money where his mouth was.
I knew nothing about energy, so I bought books – and quickly learnt that, at then current usage levels, there were only 25 or so years of natural gas and uranium left. Coal was already a no-no, as the effect of CO2 on the ozone layer was already recognised. The only solution was to Save It.
I won’t give you the long story now, but that short project led to my spending most of my career in energy and environmental management. I and my teams worked mostly with big multinational companies, playing a small part in their mission to reduce energy consumption and clean up their environmental impact.
Over the years, the drivers mutated from simply saving money by eliminating energy wastage to genuine environmental concerns. I have huge respect for the thousands of committed individuals I met in some of the world’s biggest companies, all working to do whatever they could to achieve those improvements – and, with them, to better the future of our planet. I witnessed and often supported their struggles with their management and directors who were naturally always going to put cost savings and efficiency improvements first. I was humbled by the enthusiasm of the people I hired in many countries and who worked so hard to help those big businesses. Fortunately, we and the companies we served found ways to achieve both. I’m no longer involved, but those people go on endeavouring and succeeding every day.
So in my opinion, the blame for the continuing deterioration of the environment doesn’t lie with big business. It lies with governments. They’re the only ones who can make major infrastructure changes and, more importantly, legislate for what their own populations should do as individuals. And, although I support Extinction Rebellion for their actions, the UK is really a minor concern.
When it comes to emissions – CO2, particulates or any other kind – the big polluters are the USA, India and China. Even Australia – with just 30% of the population, it’s CO2 emissions are greater than the UK’s.
An awful lot of people in the USA do care – but those in power really don’t. They’ll deny climate change. They just want to get richer. As I get older, I’m increasingly targeted by advisors telling me that I need to be planning my inheritance. My guess is that the political leaders in the USA – and in most other countries for that matter – already have enough wealth to last them the rest of their lives. It doesn’t really make sense to me that they need to build additional stupidly high levels of wealth to leave to their descendants if those descendants may not live to benefit. Without mass mobilisation of the population – Extinction Rebellion on a huge scale – I don’t see it changing. Instead, it will probably take a new government and a real, real catastrophe to wake up a change.
I have to give some credit to China. They’re doing something about their dependence on coal and reducing their emissions. It’s the only country on earth where dramatic change can happen really quickly – mostly, we’re worried about the changes that look risky to us in the west, so good ones like this get overlooked.
India, and other developing countries, were given a get-out in the major climate change treaties, Kyoto and Paris, and allowed to continue their high level of emissions. That’s frankly crazy. It’s a big country with a huge population and they shouldn’t be allowed to pollute the rest of the world. Rather than allowing them a go-slow, in my opinion they should be obliged to achieve results quickly. Perhaps other wealthier countries should be forced to subsidise the poorer ones, though perhaps not India – it’s true they have a huge poverty problem, but they also spend extraordinary amounts on defence and entering the space race.
When it comes to plastic pollution, it’s again Asia where the attention needs to be directed. We see the heartbreaking news about dolphins, whales and albatrosses dying from ingesting plastic, and David Attenborough wading through a sea of plastic bottles. I believe that most of those bottles don’t come from the Europe or the USA. We’re getting pretty good at recycling and reducing the use of plastic bags. We’ve got to clutching at straws – plastic straws.
Not so in Asia. Wherever I go there – India, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar – I see piles of plastic bottles and bags left rotting – or rather, not rotting – on street corners, in rivers and lakes. From what I can see, nobody’s doing anything to change that. There’s more than half the world’s population in that region – and their attitude to waste needs changing, and changing fast. That’s definitely a job for government, but it may prove a herculean task to educate billions of people.
My challenge to Extinction Rebellion – or any other movement – is to find ways of getting action taken in that region of the world. However good we get in the West, and we need to get better, we don’t represent the bulk of the issue. To get the “bang for the buck”, it’s Asia where the action is needed.
To discuss how this is relevant to businesses planning or active in international expansion, contact the author Oliver Dowson [email protected]