Almost twenty years ago I lived in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Our neighbor was an artist, a painter–an interesting man with a great passion for the environment. Years before I met him he had given up his car. He only used public transport. And he only bought organic food and he had become a vegetarian. As he told me: “Fossil fuels contribute to global warming and even pesticides and herbicides are made from fossil fuels. And meat production is one of the worst contributors to climate change.” I also remember that he sighed: “I should receive compensation from the government.”
I think about my old neighbor when I watch world leaders struggling in Copenhagen to come to an agreement to halt climate change. These leaders have failed my neighbor for almost two decades. He did the right things long before most of us. Every day he paid more for his food whereas his food contributed far less than most to the problem of global warming–and for that, as he said, he should indeed be entitled to compensation. He had to pay more because the world of fossil fuels is still heavily subsidized, if only because the side effects of the use of fossil fuels are not compensated for.
I think about my neighbor and all the others who have since joined him. The people who use public transport or their bikes wherever they can. The people buying organic food. The vegetarians. The people who eat less meat and buy smaller or hybrid cars. And, not to forget, all the poor people in developing countries whose simple lives are not contributing to climate change at all.
If we take all these early leaders together, we easily come to more than half of humanity. So, interestingly enough, the electorate to support the politicians in Copenhagen basically exists. The problem is that these politicians only speak with us once every four years at election time. They speak far more often with representatives of big companies, or lobbyists, that have vested interests in the fossil fuel economy. These vested interests stand in the way of a real breakthrough in the battle against global warming.
But the good news is that–in the end–we are the people working at these big corporations. Ultimately we are the very vested interests these corporations try to protect. The questions become: How many employees of Exxon or Shell are already driving hybrid cars? How many vegetarians work at Chevron or BP? I don’t know but I’m sure that these numbers will surprise us. Despite the frustration in Copenhagen, change is happening. Now let’s speed it up.