Note: This post summarizes a chapter of Ramanan's book, In Our Hands. The table of contents is available here, and the entire book is available for the Kindle here.
The climate crisis is an example of the collective action problem. So your individual decisions—whether taking that extra flight, eating beef every meal, or leaving the lights on after leaving the room—seem inconsequential. But when your and everybody else’s decisions accrue, and when entire neighborhoods, towns, cities, and countries make similar decisions, then the climate crisis becomes a group problem realized by individuals.
We can see the problem’s consequences. Climate change took the homes of one-third of the nearly 70 million refugees who lost or fled their residences in 2017; climate change has decreased crop yield by 30 percent, leading to food and water insecurity and thus spurring conflict over resources. And natural disasters, such as hurricanes and forest fires, become more intense every year, costing the US economy $1.9 trillion annually; natural disasters, and the global-warming-caused increase in tropical and water-borne diseases, will kill at least 250,000 more people each year between 2030 and 2050.
I also see the problem as urgent. If you live in Miami, you might have noticed that the ocean has visited downtown during tidal floodings; if you live in New York, you might often see a smoggy skyline from your office window; and if you live in California or Texas, you might remember your friends and family across the state saying they’ve had to ration water.
Even if you’re fortunate enough to have not experienced these first-hand, such issues affect some groups of people more than others. Since global warming degrades agricultural productivity and labor earnings, the wages of the low-income class—who mostly work in agriculture globally—could decrease, and the price of food staples from the deteriorated supply could increase, making it more difficult for the poor to afford basic necessities like their meals.
Ironically yet predictably, the poor suffer the most from a problem created by the rich, the users of technology.
We and future generations will daily feel the effects of the climate crisis. Before that has the chance to happen, it is our responsibility to make our individual behaviors more sustainable. To accomplish this, we should look at how we’re using technology.