What can be done to limit global warming to 1.5°C? A quick internet search offers a deluge of advice on how individuals can change their behaviour. Take public transport instead of the car or, for longer journeys, the train rather than fly. Eat less meat and more vegetables, pulses and grains, and don’t forget to turn off the light when leaving a room or the water when shampooing. The implication here is that the impetus for addressing climate change is on individual consumers.
But can and should it really be the responsibility of individuals to limit global warming? On the face of it, we all contribute to global warming through the cumulative impact of our actions.
By changing consumption patterns on a large scale we might be able to influence companies to change their production patterns to more sustainable methods. Some experts have argued that everyone (or at least those who can afford it) has a responsibility to limit global warming, even if each individual action is insufficient in itself to make a difference.
Yet there are at least two reasons why making it the duty of individuals to limit global warming is wrong.
Climate change is a planetary-scale threat and, as such, requires planetary-scale reforms that can only be implemented by the world’s governments. Individuals can at most be responsible for their own behaviour, but governments have the power to implement legislation that compels industries and individuals to act sustainably.
Although the power of consumers is strong, it pales in comparison to that of international corporations and only governments have the power to keep these interests in check.
Usually, we regard governments as having a duty to protect citizens. So why is it that we allow them to skirt these responsibilities just because it is more convenient to encourage individual action? Asking individuals to bear the burden of global warming shifts the responsibilities from those who are meant to protect to those who are meant to be protected. We need to hold governments to their responsibilities first and foremost.
A recent report found that just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions since 1988. Incredibly, a mere 25 corporations and state-owned entities were responsible for more than half of global industrial emissions in that same period.
Most of these are coal and oil producing companies and include ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Chevron, Gazprom, and the Saudi Arabian Oil Company. China leads the pack on the international stage with 14.3% of global greenhouse gas emissions due to its coal production and consumption.
If the fossil fuel industry and high polluting countries are not forced to change, we will be on course to increase global average temperatures by 4°C by the end of the century.
If just a few companies and countries are responsible for so much of global greenhouse gas emissions, then why is our first response to blame individuals for their consumption patterns? It shouldn’t be – businesses and governments need to take responsibility for curbing industrial emissions.
Rather than rely on appeals to individual virtue, what can be done to hold governments and industries accountable?
Governments have the power to enact legislation which could regulate industries to remain within sustainable emission limits and adhere to environmental protection standards. Companies should be compelled to purchase emissions rights – the profits from which can be used to aid climate vulnerable communities.
Governments could also make renewable energy generation, from sources such as solar panels and wind turbines, affordable to all consumers through subsidies. Affordable and low-carbon mass transportation must replace emission-heavy means of travel, such as planes and cars.
More must also be done by rich countries and powerful industries to support and empower poorer countries to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
All of this is not to say that individuals cannot or should not do what they can to change their behaviour where possible. Every little contribution helps, and research shows that limiting meat consumption can be an effective step. The point is that failing to do so should not be considered morally blameworthy.
In particular, individuals living in poorer countries who have contributed almost nothing to climate change deserve the most support and the least guilt. They are neither the primary perpetrators of global warming nor the ones who have the power to enact the structural changes necessary for limiting global warming, which would have to involve holding powerful industries responsible.
While individuals may have a role to play, appealing to individual virtues for addressing climate change is something akin to victim-blaming because it shifts the burden from those who ought to act to those who are most likely to be affected by climate change. A far more just and effective approach would be to hold those who are responsible for climate change accountable for their actions.
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In this time of religious tensions, a small piece of good news can go a long way in restoring your faith in humanity. This positive bit, for example, comes all the way from the United States. Northeast Ohio, to be precise.
👉 In Parma, a small city close to Cleveland, a group of Muslim doctors decided to convert some of the local mosque's spare rooms into a free health clinic where everybody is welcomed, no matter if uninsured or not Muslim.
As reported by local media outlet News5 Cleveland, The Cleveland Ibn Sina Clinic opened just a few weekends ago but more than 30 patients have already received treatment.
"We have the ability, we have the potential, we have the resources,” said Dr. Mansoor Ahmed, who is one of the 20 doctors that committed to volunteering their expertise. "Giving a little bit of your time, I think, goes a long way in making a difference in people's lives," he added.
“A lot of the doctors came here from foreign countries outside the United States looking for better opportunities. Now that they are established, some of them are practicing with hospitals, some of them have their own practice, now they want to come together and give back to the community,” commented Hala Sanyurah, who is the clinic's Communication Director.
The clinic — that will not just focus on primary health issues but also on more specific diseases like asthma, diabetes, and mental illness — is the first free medical facility in the region.
Credit header image: Stu Spivack
The mere mention of the term “polar vortex” elicits thoughts of bitterly cold temperatures and dangerous wind chills. Most people are aware that the frigid air in the Northern Hemisphere is coming directly from the Arctic region, yet they don’t know why polar vortexes happen.
Not surprisingly, this has led to some rather heated debate. One side of the argument claims that the polar vortex is a result of climate change and human activity. The other side suggests this is a natural phenomenon that proves global warming is false and that humans are not involved in altering our climate.
The truth is the former is correct. But trying to convince someone to accept this reality might be a difficult challenge. Thankfully, when it comes to the cause of the polar vortex, there is a relatively easy — and for some, relatable — explanation. Quite simply, the polar vortex gets drunk.
My research expertise is in microbiology, immunology and chemical mechanisms of molecular interaction (think antibiotics).
As a science communicator, one of my greatest hurdles is defining the intricacies of research into language with which people can understand. This means going deep into the literature and finding the mechanism behind the result. It also means having a deep level of knowledge in a variety of different science branches.
In some cases, the information can be difficult to convey to a wider audience. But when it comes to the polar vortex, it’s not difficult at all.
A close examination of the chemistry associated with the onset of these cold snaps reveals a near-perfect resemblance to a chemical shift our bodies encounter during alcohol consumption. The results reveal that both humans and the planet are similarly susceptible to unexpected and unwanted movements.
Most of us can recognize when someone has had too much to drink. Their speech is slurred and they have troubles with their balance. This latter symptom is why the walk-and-turn sobriety test is effective — an inebriated person has trouble moving in a straight line.
Maintaining posture and balance is a complicated neurological process. Research has revealed that one molecule, gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), is necessary for us to achieve this goal. Our brains use this neurotransmitter to help control the signals to our muscles, particularly when we feel the effects of gravity or being pushed by another person.
When we drink alcohol, GABA helps us preserve our balance and posture. But once we end up losing the necessary levels of GABA needed to keep us upright, we sway, stagger and stumble. Only when we’ve sobered up and increased our GABA levels are we able to regain our balance.
A similar process occurs in the Arctic.
The polar vortex, officially known as the stratospheric polar vortex (SPV), is a stable air mass that tends to stay put when it’s cold sober. In the same way we feel an internal heat during alcohol consumption, the region can warm up with an infiltration of air from the south, better known as a sudden stratospheric warming. When this happens, the steadiness of the vortex is challenged.
Much like our brains have GABA to maintain stability, the SPV also has a chemical that helps to maintain stability. It’s ozone.
When levels remain high, the vortex stays in place. But should the levels drop, then the vortex starts to sway, stagger and then stumble southward, a process known as outward eddy transport. Depending on how low the ozone levels drop, the vortex can stretch well into the southern United States and Europe. Eventually, the SPV sobers up, the ozone levels recover, and the air mass stays up north. But this recovery can be slow and leave those affected freezing for weeks instead of days.
As to what causes the ozone loss, it’s a reaction with a variety of chemicals in the air. Researchers can observe the process in real time and have found that the offenders are not alcoholic in nature but happen to be compounds that contain nitrogen and chlorine. The Earth produces these chemicals in the form of volcanic output and forest fire emissions, and this can lead to a drunk polar region.
Thanks to real-time examinations of polar vortex movements over the last 20 years, we can easily finger the culprit: industrial air pollution. These commercial activities produce more than enough of the nitrogen and chlorine chemicals to reduce ozone levels and cause those drunken staggers. The data clearly shows that the blame for the rise in those cold blasts falls squarely on us.
As this winter’s supply of polar vortex events comes to an end, so should the debate over whether the polar vortex is real — it is — and whether these movements are due to human activity — they are. Until we find ways to reduce our dependence on ozone-removing chemicals, all we can do is hope for the best and brace for the worst.
Here at Kinder, we're often busy thinking about the future of philanthropy and how charitable organizations will look like 100 years from now.
However, every now and then, it's also helpful to look back at history and realize that there's a handful of charities that have been around for so long that there's certainly something we can learn from them.
One of them is the Hospital of St. Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty in Winchester England, that actually prides itself to be the UK's oldest charitable institution.
Founded around the year 1132, the almshouse was initiated by Bishop Henry of Blois to support thirteen poor men who were unable to work and to feed some 100 people who showed up at the gates every day.
The thirteen men became known as the "Brothers of St. Cross". Despite the religious connotations of the term "brother", the Brothers of St. Cross were not and are not monks, therefore St. Cross is not a monastery.
The Wayfarer's Dole
The Hospital of St. Cross' most unique and famous charitable endeavor is surely the so-called "Wayfarer's dole".
According to this delightful tradition, every visitor of the almshouse can ask for a free horn of beer and a morsel of bread. As recalled by the organization's website, the custom was started by a monk from Cluny, in France, whose holy order always gave bread and wine to travelers.
After so many centuries, this tradition still continues nowadays as seen in the BBC's program Songs of Praise👇
The Hospital of St. Cross, which is hosted in a beautiful medieval building immersed in the British countryside, is regularly open for visits. Head to the organization's website for additional information.