What’s our purpose in life? Can I really make a difference? Should I really get involved? Cutting through our existential angst, the historic victory of climate campaigners over the oil industry last week says yes, saving the world is possible, if we try.
We all have our off days, when it’s cloudy outside and we don’t want to get out of bed. “What am I going to do today? Will it really make a difference?” These are reasonable important questions. It’s a big world out there, and just one look at the headlines can often suggest that it’s going the wrong way. If we’re all going to go extinct with climate change, what does any of it matter?
Well, turns out it does matter. Last week, a group of climate campaigners, civil society organisations like Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace and 17000 Dutch citizens (!) won a landmark victory. A Dutch court ruled that Shell is responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions it causes, and that it must reduce them by 45% by 2030. This includes not only Shell itself, but also its suppliers and consumers (!).
It is difficult to understate the scale of the seismic shift within this decision. The court ruling opens up a gateway to a redefinition of the way our society views and protects sustainability, a whole reshaping of our economy. The case opens up opportunities for many more such lawsuits towards all polluters, new legislation and a new generation of truly sustainable corporate strategy. Yes, Shell will appeal the verdict, and we do not yet know what the final outcome will be. However, the judgement is binding in the meantime, and so corporate policy has to change to reflect it.
Once the long-term environmental impacts of a company’s activity are taken into account in this way, the path is paved for a new sustainable capitalism fit for the 21st century. That would be an economic model that can drive true prosperity and inclusion without leading to our extinction. Indeed, seeing as human extinction, floods, hurricanes and resource wars are all very bad for business, a more sustainable economy looks like one that is set to make much more profit in the long run. Climate activists will probably end up doing investors a big favour when all is said and done. In any case, a landmark case that redefines corporate responsibility and scales up action towards sustainability by companies around the world, to quote the sitting US president, “is a big ****ing deal!”
And how was it achieved? Through civic engagement, through people coming together to take action using effective tools. It does matter, it does work, and we need much more of it. There are many more out there who’s voices can be heard and impact can be felt with the right tools and resources. We need to bring together people, organisations, businesses, media from across society, provide those tools and resources, and be the springboard for action for change. Incidentally, this is what Alliance4Europe has set out to do.
So for those high school students who have been out on the streets, a new generation of leaders on the rise, and any and all of us who stop and think “is it worth it?”, luckily the answer is yes.
(Photocredit: the BBC:
‘The Millieudefensie/Friends of the Earth Netherlands after the announcement of the court win.’)