Lately, everybody has been discussing climate change. Everybody…but those in power. The demonstrations are frequent, and people attend massively. Celebrities have become activists. Media exposes the dire consequences of global warming on a daily basis.

Yet, hardly anything happens.

Fifteen, even ten years ago, the statement “people just don’t care” would have been allowed. Today, it is impossible to ignore the population’s concern – people do care. And some (very small) companies too. Which begs the question: why is the climate change situation more dire than ever? No matter the source, the prospect is grim. At this rate the catastrophe will hit us by 2040, reports the United Nations. Moreover, they give us only 12 years to address the issue. By 2013, it will be too late.

The Modern era marked the end of absolute monarchies, and the beginning of the republic. The Age of Enlightment, or Illuminism, was a philosophical movement that commanded the arrival of the bourgeois to power. Illuminism was a project, a plan to a new world order, and two main objectives summed up its spirit. Firstly, the Modern world should bring equality and wellness to every human being. Secondly, and to achieve the latter, men should “win the battle against nature”. In other words, ruling the forces of nature would grant mankind material comfort. In time, this material progress would lead to man’s freedom. In all actuality, the Illuminist project failed. Instead of the encouragement of material progress to set men free, the material progress became an objective in itself. Men won the battle over nature, only to become a slave of the market and consumerism. But no matter how obvious this failure may seem, world leaders just will not acknowledge it. Illuminism is an utopia of the eighteenth century. Its falling through was evident over a century ago. Still, world leaders and economic elites preach Illuminism in 2019. When the worldwide community asks those in power for strong actions against climate change, they refuse. And they refuse arguing 200-year-old reasons: to stop doing things the way we do them would be “to stop progress itself”.

Far from bringing prosperity to the world, current economic and extractive practices are only increasing inequality. Every individual should take action against climate change, because every individual leaves its own carbon footprint in this Earth. By the way, a carbon footprint refers to the total emissions caused by a person, event (e.g. Lollapalooza), organization or product, expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent. The bigger the footprint, the bigger the damage.

However, the vast majority of the planet is suffering the onslaughts of poverty. When all you can barely keep your head above water, when all you can do is try to live another day…is there a time to think about “sustainable practices”? In case you even know what those are, that is. Middle classes can totally consider to stop drinking bottled water, and indeed they should. Unfortunately, those below the poverty line often inhabit areas where running water is an utopia. Some actions are indeed within everyone’s reach, but the information is just not available. Although climate change is a real threat, it is not immediate. People struggling with poverty are concerned about making it another day, and should not be judged because of their priorities.

Often times, developing countries do not possess the technology to manufacture sustainable products. When available, they are marketed as “niche products”. The markets still believe that sustainability is for the rich, therefore this product placement.

Nothwithstanding, U.S. representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez makes a convincing argument. AOC claims that climate change is not just an elitist issue:

“Wanting clean air & water is not elitist. Our children are dying. They have brain damage. Go ahead, call them elitist. If we are not ascending to meet this national crisis then I don’t know what we are doing.”

AOC is an advocate for a Green New Deal, a big transformation of the economy to tackle the twin crises of inequality and climate change using public resources. It was developed by economist Edward Barbier back in 2009, and has met the opposition of the establishment. According to Representative AOC, the capitalist market economy has proven incapable of solving the problem. Now, it is up to the government to fix the climate change situation.

The climate change discussion becomes tricky (even dangerous) when it is raised as a disjunctive. Who should be responsible for taking action? A big question that is often answered in terms of “us versus them”, “the people versus the powers”, “the rich versus the poor”. It is not either-or, it is both-and. The two terms of this equation should work together. Turns out only one of them is actually doing something.

Individuals all over the world are taking action: they demonstrate, they skip school, they educate themselves and they change practices. We were raised in a meritocratic culture, to think that small acts can change the world. Turns out it’s not enough, and even all these small sacrifices combined won’t suffice. It’s time for the great economic and politic powers to face the music and dance.

Initiatives like Fridays for future are certainly heartwarming. 16-year-old Greta Thunberg is the leader of these series of school strikes, in which students take Friday off to demonstrate against political inaction.

“We can still fix this. But unless we recognise the overall failures of our current system, we most probably don’t stand a chance,”
Greta Thunberg, 16-year-old activist

Greta is becoming the role model for an entire generation. She is a vegan, has stopped traveling by plane and convinced her family to do the same. Her efforts and inspiration are invaluable. Sadly, they are not enough. We just cannot do without the elites in power. It’s not that people are powerless – it’s just that power is unequally divided. And we need them in.