Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, gave up the ownership of his $3 billion company last week to fight climate change. A climate-focused trust will now own the company and expects to contribute $100 million a year to protect the planet.
Several business houses in the recent past have committed large sums of money to help reverse the impact of climate change.
Still, his decision to give up the ownership of the company by the Patagonia founder is a spectacular gesture that has the potential to motivate other business leaders to follow a similar path.
However, the climate crisis is not something that can be adequately addressed by some well-meaning philanthropists or by some non-governmental organisations or a youth movement.
They can, at best, play a supporting role, while the primary actors in this unprecedented war for survival are the nation-states.
Unless the political leaders in power take the climate crisis seriously and prioritise fighting it, there is no way the world can survive the danger of global warming, sea-level rise, and the increasing number of devastating natural disasters.
Though there have been occasional encouraging public speeches and once-a-year photo ops during annual climate summits, unfortunately, most political leaders are busy blaming others for climate change instead of taking concrete steps to stop it.
A 19-country recent survey by the Pew Research Center in industrialised countries in North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific region clearly shows that people see climate change as the top global threat their country faces despite the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine. However, climate change rarely becomes one of the major issues during elections.
And, when climate change gets into electoral discourse, it is never treated as a bipartisan issue as it should be.
In the last US election, while the issue of climate change for the average American voters was behind the economy, health care, and the Covid-19 pandemic, it was the least important issue for Trump voters.
Sweden was the first country to put the environment on the global agenda in 1972. It sees itself as a moral superpower and has become the main driver of the campaign to put climate change as a security threat in the UN Security Council’s strategy toward conflict prevention. It has also become the origin and inspiration of the global youth climate movement; however, climate change failed to get into its electoral discourse in the recently concluded election.
Why is this mismatch between people’s perceptions about threats originating from climate change and the climate issue becoming the top policy priority of Western political leaders?
I would argue that while climate change is being projected by most advocacy and interest groups and people’s movements as a threat to human security, there is an overall reluctance to elevate that threat to the level of national security.
The reasons for that have been primarily to restrict the state not to securitise the climate issue, spend more on border control, and adopt a policy of isolation. Though the intentions of this strategy are virtuous, compassionate, and cosmopolitan, the unintended outcome has been that climate change has failed most of the time in becoming one of the primary election issues and, with that, not taking priority in policymaking by the national-level political leaders.
No doubt, climate change has already become a serious threat to this planet’s security and survival. It is having a tremendous impact on the livelihood of societies and has already become a ‘threat multiplier’ in posing challenges to countries’ peace, security, and stability. However, the discourse and debate on climate change must emphasise the serious threats climate change poses to national security to get the issue to the top of country’s policy agenda.
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Highlighting how climate change is seriously affecting a country’s military’s strength and preparation is a low-hanging fruit to elevate climate to a national security issue. Hotter temperatures has made difficult conditions for military missions and has adversely affected the viability and durability of military hardware.
Changing climate has also exposed troops to new diseases and other health challenges. Increasing natural disasters like floods and hurricanes also force authorities to divert troops from their regular border security duties to rescue and relief work.
Sea level rise and increasing glacier melting have started to redraw the borders and dispute over exclusive economic zones. Putting the focus on climate change potentially changing country’s border is one of the surest ways to demand the attention of the national security apparatus.
Climate change also can create wars between countries over shared rivers and climate refugee movements. Moreover, climate change, by bringing volatility to food prices and reversing economic growth, can also undermine social cohesion, leading to destabilisation.
There are many ways climate change poses serious threats to national security, and those are needed to be brought into the public discussion. Emphasis on climate change’s impacts on national security doesn’t necessarily mean ignoring its threats to human security but gaining greater attention from the political class to take urgent and concrete measures to limit global warming.
Unless the climate change issue becomes political leaders’ priority, whatever some well-meaning individuals, business houses, and civil society groups do will not be enough to save this planet.