Fossil-fuel companies have a vested interest in the status quo, due in large part to the profit motive. The logic of profit over people has even overtaken those who were meant to advance the environmental movement. The people whom we expected to lead this movement have tended to be quite entrenched in neoliberal power structures so the solutions they have been most inclined to advocate have been ones that would do least to upset the social and economic order.
As a result, the ecological crisis persists and deepens. Some say climate change kills about 300,000 people per year globally. With floods, droughts, forest fires, water scarcity, and disease, that number could grow to 500,000 by 2030. There could be around 700 million climate refugees by 2050.
Climate change are predicted to dramatically reduce production of food staples grains like maize, soybeans, wheat, and rice by as much as 43 percent by the end of this century. Accounting for the coming decline of fresh water, the reduction of food production would be even greater, potentially wiping out an amount equivalent to the total present-day food supply.
All this could have been avoided, since we’ve been aware of climate change’s potential effects for decades. If we had acted when we first found out, then it wouldn’t have required such radical change, but the way we talk about it hasn’t really changed in two decades.
In that time there’s been an eruption of conflicts around the globe. Food insecurity, a direct consequence of a warming planet, will lead to conflicts over land ownership, and an increase in conflicts due to a reduction of arable land and water shortages. When rainfall is significantly below normal, the risk of a low-level conflict escalating to a full-scale civil war approximately doubles the following year.
Civil conflict, forced migration, loss of livelihood, poverty, these are the socioeconomic impacts of this ecological crisis. The impacts are felt first and strongest in the Global South, where deepening inequality is fast exposing the failure of our current global economic system.
Our dogged commitment to the status quo has meant that we’ve fallen into patterns created long ago. Rather than improvement in the conditions of those made more vulnerable by climate change, there has been militarism and global social exclusion, what’s called the politics of the armed lifeboat. As climate change creates conflicts in various parts of the Global South, the Global North has responded—and may continue to respond—with increased authoritarianism and repression.
Our system adapts and feeds off of crisis. Left unchecked, what our system is built to do is find opportunities however they present themselves. In an era of constant instability, those opportunities present themselves in the midst of war, natural disasters, and famines. Anything can create an opportunity for more privatization of the commons and more stratification of wealth. There are private military companies responding to the need for more private security in the context of resource security, agri-businesses grabbing land in the context of food and water scarcity.
Much in how we live and organize our societies must change. The changes we need to make to our economy are so fundamental that an argument can be made that the economy we need to reduce our emissions in line with science would be so radically different from what we have that it would need another name to describe it. Whatever its name, we need a society that redistributes wealth so that people no longer feel compelled to work in exploitative jobs in industries like oil and gas, and that invests in environmentally friendly institutions, like health, child care, and education. Doing so will not only help tackle the ecological crisis—it will also help build a sustainable society.
What You Can Do To Address the Ultimate Social Determinant of Health: Climate Change by Patrick Robbins
Getting your mind around climate change is hard. Confronting it requires us to deal with the ways that coal, oil, and gas have shaped nearly every aspect of our world, from our built environments to our economic systems — even our ideologies and patterns of thought. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t concrete actions each of us can take, right now. Here are 20 things, with significant mental health implications that YOU (and your patients) can do.
- Reorganize the mode of production so that surplus and capital is distributed equally throughout society, and workers have decision-making power over their labor.
- Find out about fossil fuel projects being built or proposed in your neighborhood and mobilize your community against them.
- Understand that while climate change affects us all, there are specific populations who are more vulnerable than others — these are low-income communities, communities of color, coastal communities and communities on the frontlines of fossil fuel extraction. Find a frontline organization near you and offer to support their work. Ask them what kind of help they need and take direction from them.
- Lay off the policeman, the commodities trader, the real estate agent and the speculator who reside in your head.
- Read about what the crisis could potentially look like (e.g., what Naomi Klein describes in the first part of this rant) and think about what this could mean for you personally, or for people and places you love.
- After you’ve read about the crisis, let yourself feel grief. Don’t ignore your feelings, either through resignation or through forced optimism. Feel what you feel.
- Talk about your feelings with your family and friends. Talk about what matters to you, about what the climate crisis threatens in your life. And when they are ready, talk with them about taking action. You will learn things that you didn’t know about your loved ones, and you will discover allies in unexpected places.
- Find out if your local politicians have ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Call out any politician that participates in or is a member of groups designed to give corporations the power to write the law.
- Become an active voice in your community, writing letters to the editor and building an internet presence to spread information.
- Do not fall into the trap of feeling contempt for your fellow humans. These feelings are guaranteed to undercut your work. If you encounter resistance, consider carefully where that resistance comes from. Radical empathy is not only good for the soul, it will actually make you a more effective activist.
- Look in the mirror. Do you see someone with job security? Someone who is in a position of privilege within your society? Think about how you can use this privilege to destroy the systems that created it — for instance, you may have less to lose than others by getting arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience.
- Stay awake — there are all kinds of great resources for staying up-to-date about the climate crisis, and the more you know, the better you will be able to understand this moment.
- Build resilience — support spaces that are growing food, going off-the-grid, or supplanting the capitalist state in providing for our basic human needs. If you are able to do so, consider building these spaces yourself.
- Don’t blame poor people— don’t blame the worker whose industry job is the only job he could get, don’t blame the woman who buys carbon-intensive food for her family because that’s all that her budget and her neighborhood has to offer, don’t blame the big family in the developing world that doesn’t have access to family planning. The poor are not the problem. If you need to blame anyone, blame the ruling class that controls the options available to poor people in the US and around the world, and whose policies, consumption habits and ideology are far, far more responsible for the crisis.
- Again — don’t blame poor people. Seriously.
- Walk by yourself at night under the dark sky. Recognize that you only have one life, that you have more power than you realize, and that there is a grace and a joy that comes from using that power for something bigger than yourself.
- Recognize that the climate crisis is complicated — no one person is going to solve it by themselves, and any “list” that suggests as much is probably lying, or at the very least advancing an individual-based value system that sounds suspiciously like advertising.
- Go ahead and make changes to your consumption habits. But also remember that no slave was ever freed by individuals choosing to purchase products that are free from slave labor.
- Truly addressing the crisis will require building people power on a scale that the world has never seen before.
- Build that power. I wish you so much more than luck.