By Luis Fernández Carril

Close your eyes for a second and think about climate change and the environmental crisis. Do you see polar bears and lush nature? So, it is time to exorcise the polar bear that you have inside of you.

Very often it happens to me that they ask me “What do you do?” I reply that I am a researcher in climate change, to which, with a smile on my face, they often reply “How cute! How noble! ”

What is this about? How is it that it is a subject that, on the one hand, arouses contempt and, on the other, is a matter of love for animals?

The vast majority of us live in cities, in urban spaces. We are far from nature. A park is for most of us the closest thing to being in contact with it. So, in a big way, we know about nature through videos, documentaries and the images that are shown to us on television, magazines, etc. We are pavement flowers!

What are the images we see when we think about climate change or the environment?

Let’s think for a second and surely polar bears, lush green forests, huge ice floes will come to mind. Likewise, when we hear about sustainability we paint everything green, all cute, morally good and we are filled with the feeling of “helping” the planet just by buying a product with a green box.

Despite how “beautiful” nature may seem to us, pristine and pure, unfortunately these images have a very harmful effect on the understanding of the problem itself and its relevance. This occurs both in individuals and with governments.

If with climate change we think of bears and leafy nature, then clearly we are not going to think that it is an urgent and crucial crisis to solve, we are going to think of philanthropy and altruism. That is to say, we think that acting against climate change is like adopting street dogs; We do it because we are noble, compassionate and generous beings.

Image: Pete Linforth | PIxabay

Unfortunately, this is not the case. The climate crisis and the general environmental degradation that we are experiencing at a global level are not questions of altruism where the nobility of people is what compels us to act.. While the pandemic haunts our minds and houses, countless environmental crises await us outside, in addition to climate change: mass extinction of species of flora and fauna, deforestation, loss of habitat, erosion and loss of fertile soil, scarcity of resources, crisis of water, air pollution.

In addition to the above, as Ana De Luca explained last week, environmental degradation and climate change have a direct connection with zoonotic diseases, such as the coronavirus that currently has us in quarantine. It is that strong, that serious, so we cannot go thinking that climate change is something cute.

Thus, in front of us we do not have a problem that only concerns hippies; we have a civilizing crisis. This means that these are phenomena that threaten our existence, which not only involve the collapse of ecosystems and the extinction of species, but the death and suffering of millions of people in the world.

The next question that I commonly come across is that they answer me: Híjole, how sad, the little animals of the forest are going to die.

And then we think of something else; something that does not bother us and we erase the subject from our mind. We put it under the mat and boom! The problem magically disappears.

We know that, to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, the world has to cut emissions. We also know that human beings are destroying the world’s biodiversity. So that, we continue with our lives because the subject is sad and we trust that the world or the human being they will solve it.

Who is the world Who is that responsible human being who has to act? Yes, we are everyone then nobody it’s responsible. We are simply passing the ball to each other.

Alarmingly, in Mexico we think that someone else will act. According to a survey for the National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change, only 3 out of 10 people feel responsibility for climate change. That basically means that the other 7 think someone else’s turn.

And with that comes my worst nightmare: Knowing what’s going on, and doing nothing!

George Monbiot, columnist for The Guardian, summarizes this situation very well: “If the biosphere is destroyed, those who did not give a damn will not do it, since they now belong to a minority. The biosphere will be destroyed by nice, well-intentioned and cosmopolitan people who accept the case of reducing emissions, but who will not change their way of living one iota.. “

This occurs largely because there is a complete disconnect between our actions, our activities and the environmental impact they generate. We are innocent, but dangerously ignorant of our impact.

Few know its ecological footprint. In my experience, the vast majority of people are deeply surprised to do it. They do not imagine that they can have that impact. Do you know your ecological footprint? You can measure it with this questionnaire.

Image: Martin Jozwiak | Pixabay

It is also important to say that we cannot reduce ourselves to a mere ecological footprint. Particularly because as individuals there is no comparison between our impact and that of a company, or a mining company.. Let’s just think that a mine spends the same amount of water as a family in 20 years.

In this way, we must not only reduce our impact. We must demand that the rulers act in the face of the crisis. Particularly when clearly the environmental agenda is not a priority for the rulers or for the political parties. These days we see clear examples of policies contrary to sustainable development or environmental protection, such as the construction of Dos Bocas, the situation of the CENACE Agreement or the recent budget reduction of CONANP, among other examples.

Only collective action can bring about change. When we hear about movements like Fridays for Future or Extinction Rebellion, we now know that they don’t go out to protest the cute polar bears. Salen to avoid the collapse of civilization; for our right to live.

In such a way, when you hear about climate change and the environmental crisis and see polar bears and lush forests, don’t be fooled.

The fight against climate change is not a matter of altruism and being good with nature.

So that, let’s exorcise the polar bear idea and harmony with nature in the fight against climate change. It is a harmful and misleading image.

Do you want to give a fair measure to this problem? Do you have a baby at home? A little boy? While your parents worried about giving you an education, now we will have to worry about that baby having water.

June 5 is World Environment Day. Let’s commemorate the date, but free of the polar bear.


Dr. Luis R. Fernández Carril He is a researcher of environmental ethics and international climate policy, as well as a professor at the Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Puebla. He is currently a member and Lead Author of Working Group II of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for the 6th Assessment Report.

Twitter: @ fernandezluis83


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