In trying to get people to understand the seriousness of the Climate Emergency, one common objection to taking action on the Climate Emergency is, “Why should we? Look at China / America / India – they are the ones that need to be taking action”. This argument was famously used by Republican Garret Graves when he implied that China was largely to blame for emissions in a congressional subcommittee attended by Greta Thunberg. She responded that in Sweden, people use the same argument: “Why should we do anything, just look at the US, they say”.
Blaming other countries makes sense. It gives us a clear, simple reason for why something has happened, and it absolves us of responsibility and the need to make uncomfortable changes.
According to the excellent book, “Factfulness” by Hans Rosling, the blame instinct “derails our ability to develop a true, fact-based understanding of the world: it steals our focus [and] undermines our ability to solve the problem”. And in the West, we are very apt to blame countries like China and India for carbon emissions. This is unfair in several respects.
Firstly, people in China and India have vastly lower carbon emissions per capita than people in Europe and America. Most of the human-emitted CO2 accumulated in the atmosphere in the last 50 years was emitted by developed countries, and even now the richest 1 billion people on the planet are responsible for over half of carbon emissions.
Secondly, because of the aspect of “climate equity”, the notion that our historical carbon emissions have given people in the West a standard of living that we enjoy today. Is it fair to deny people in poorer nations the same chance to develop their own infrastructure and standard of living now, when they have not produced the same level of historical carbon emissions?
And thirdly, because whilst our government proudly cites a reduction in emissions here, this is partly because the manufacturing of goods here is declining, whilst it grows in other countries. We have been able to reduce our carbon emissions by consuming goods made in China. We haven’t necessarily reduced our carbon footprint at all. We’ve simply exported our emissions.
So, let’s stop the blame game and resist the urge to point fingers. Instead, we need to take steps to understand the causes of climate change and focus our energy on what steps we can take to avert the Climate Emergency.