Recently, a little girl (Greta Thunberg) is making headlines for being passionate about climate change and starting the Fridays For Future (FFF) initiative. When I first heard about it, my initial reaction was: ‘So, people are regularly demonstrating against climate change?’ If we were to ask participants such a question they would probably feel offended and strongly insist that they are protesting against ‘the politicians’, ‘elites’ and ‘oligarchs’. The message becomes clear when listening to Greta’s speech at the United Nations, in which she blamed politicians for being passive in terms of stopping climate change. What I understood from my conversations with the participants in the FFF initiative is that they feel disappointed with ‘the politicians’ and demand change, in order to stop the effects of climate change.

Departing from the emotional aspect

So in this situation, the first problem is a misconception of politics and politicians. There is no such thing as ‘the politicians’. These people are representatives of their local constituencies and they come together, because the people selected them to represent them and trust them to make decisions for societal development. Further, when the argument of a lethargic advance of society is brought up, then I would like you to look at it this way: try to organise a 3-day bus trip to another city for a group of 9 friends. It is a very difficult task, because of the different preferences of the participants. Now, we are talking about national parliaments with endless agendas, all kinds of different preferences and a lot of other responsibilities; not to mention the burden to manage the lives of millions of people. Moreover, climate-related issues also need to be discussed internationally which, in turn, is even more difficult. We are quick to defend democratic principles and we should be equally ready to accept its shortcomings, such as inefficiency.

More importantly, however, is the content of the climate debate. The FFF initiative sees the primary fault in the behaviour of politicians, economic elites and unregulated industries; may it be automobile, energy or any other industry. The argument is that they do not care about the climate and pollute our planet. Let us be honest here, they are not doing it on purpose. The CEO’s of Exxon Mobile, Shell, Volkswagen, Nestle, Bayer, Adidas and other global players do not sit together and discuss how they can ‘destroy our planet’; they think about how they can make profits, which is their right. Greta argued that ‘they’ only care about economic growth. Well, it is their job to care about that and the only reason they can do so is because we consume.

Problem Identification

The economies of the world are a burden to our ecosystem, because we consume. No company produces for the sake of producing, but for selling. The problem is not the production, but the demand for the products. And now comes the biggest turn in the whole story: over 50% of the carbon dioxide emissions that cause climate change is a product of the meat and fish industry.

So, our ecosystem is taking damage, because we eat so much meat, but Ms Thunberg and her fellow activists not for once picked up this important topic. It is not hard to see that politicians and industry magnates are not to blame for our mass consumption of meat and other goods. The people are to blame. Interestingly, there is a conception that China and India play great parts in the climate change debate, which is actually not fully true. India has one of the lowest meat consumption rates in the world and China actively restored great part of its nature by planting trees and protecting huge landscapes. We should wake up and thank the Indians every single day for not eating meat like Westerners. Further, we need to understand that a lot of the foreign industries in China, Brazil and India are based on exports to the West. We just need to think of the label ‘Made in China’. Instead of radically reducing the consumption of meat, water, energy, textiles and basically everything we consume, people are blaming the politicians and countries that built their economies around satisfying Western demand for goods. What shall ‘the politicians’ do?

Table showing a breakdown of the global meat consumption.

Okay, let us suppose that ‘the politicians’ apply strict measures for climate protection and against carbon emission. What will happen is that the production costs will increase for the companies. In turn, this will raise the prices of the products. In a perfect world, people would consume less because they cannot afford to buy the same amount of goods as before and we would move towards a solution. In our world, however, I fear that people would protest against the high prices, forcing the wages to go up, which then result in even higher production costs for companies, which will either lead to an inflationary wage-price spiral or eventually to the reduction of our consumption. There is actually not much ‘the politicians’ can do without being under fire. Shall they tax meat? Shall there be supply limits for petrol? Should all industrial buildings be renewed? Even if we have the answers for that, which country should apply those laws and can we even agree to do it internationally? In either case, people are going to be dissatisfied and criticise ‘the politicians’; either for being too strict or too lax.

The Way Out

In democratic systems, the population of the system is the sovereign, which means that they retain rights to determine how they want to live as a society. It is good that we want to stop climate change. It is not good that we do not know that our very behaviour is causing it. It is even worse that we are apparently not willing to step out of our comfort zone and change our behaviour. We also do not want somebody to force us to change our behaviour, but instead, we want ‘the politicians’ to change other people’s behaviour — the industries’. The only way out is to radically — and I truly mean extremely radically — reduce our consumption of everything; especially meat and fish. Putting a little white girl in front of the UN is a nice move to validate democratic practice to show that civic initiatives are heard, but they rather lead to goal displacement and temporary satisfaction with the people than to effective policy outcomes.