Climate change is the greatest threat of our time and must be stopped. This is widely agreed. The debate becomes complicated when we talk about the actions we have to take. We often look for solutions we as individuals can distance ourselves from. Alternatively, we may decide not to do anything before others have acted first. We are so wary of free-riders that we'd rather remain free-riders ourselves than let others share the benefits of our work to halt climate change. We are afraid because we do not recognize our own responsibilities.
Imagine a world where property is not protected, a society where we could break the neighbours' windows without penalties or liability. It would be a crazy, troubled world.
Unfortunately, this is the world we live in. Each one of us can increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We know it will cause harm to others,and yet we are not responsible for any damage we cause. This is the ultimate reason why climate change is unfolding: as individuals, we benefit from partaking in consumerism but the cost of our actions will always be borne by others. And the worst is, we don't even know who's responsible for taking care of the damage.
In combatting climate change, an individual has little responsibility; we are talking about macro-level activities. This is logical in itself: a systemic problem can only be solved by a systemic, macro-level solution.
Politicians bear the main responsibility in repairing the system that causes climate change to progress. However, to emphasize the politicians' role must not lead to thinking that those causing the damage are not responsible for it. If I spill milk on my kitchen table, I do not call for politicians to clean up the mess. We should not do this with carbon dioxide either.
States cause little emissions. States are abstract structures, contractual relationships with geographical boundaries and decision making and security mechanisms. Companies generate most of the emissions, mainly because things are made for consumers - people, that is. Politicians and companies have tremendous power and therefore, responsibility. But shouldn't there also be responsibility on the person who has spilled the milk? Is it justifiable for me to accuse only China for the emissions connected to my computer, which I myself have bought?
We need a system that always helps us recognize and understand emissions caused by consumption. And we need a tool to always help us clean up our mess. It helps us fix the root cause of climate change: in order for us to have the freedom to act, we must also bear the responsibility for the consequences of our actions. That's how the world works for everything else, including property protection. We have no reason to make an exception for our emissions.
We already know how to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Shouldn't it be self-evident that when we cause emissions, our duty is to ensure the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere does not increase? And if we think that carbon sequestration is still too expensive (which it is not), surely that will not release us from responsibility? I can't break my neighbour's window and leave it broken just because I happen to think the repairs are too expensive.
Fortunately, taking responsibility tends to come naturally to people. At best, it gives you a sense of relevance and meaning, which are among the most important things to contribute to your well-being. We are aware that if humans don't stop climate change, no one else will. That is why we also need to create human-sized ways to take action. I will return to these themes in my upcoming writings.