COMMENT:

Your planet needs you.

We must do better. Recycle more. Take public transport. Use hemp bags when we go shopping. Drive less. Have fewer children. Buy electric cars. Haven't you heard? Climate change is our nuclear-free moment!

All of these platitudes are lovely but until we understand that an economic model of capitalism actually provides incentives to pollute, not much is going to change. Over 70 per cent of all harmful emissions worldwide come from just 100 fossil fuel companies

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A report released two months ago by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said that as a planet we have just 12 years to keep climate change to only a fairly terrible level instead of a calamitous one.

Just a few weeks later and the IPCC report was backed up by a study put together by several US federal agencies. That report was biblical in its forecasts, with literal famine and pestilence a by-product of climate change.

The 2016 Paris Agreement committed most of the world's countries to enacting policies that would reduce emissions and keep the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees - 2oc above the pre-industrial revolution temperature. Two years later and C02 emissions are increasing for the first time since 2014. Nailed it guys.

So with this in mind we should be super grateful to the good folks managing Countdown. It became the first supermarket chain in New Zealand to stop using single-use plastic carrier bags. Thanks Countdown! And in August this year the Government announced that New Zealand as a whole would be phasing out this scourge of the environment throughout the nation. It was the single most common thing that children wrote to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern about she said. Let's do this!

Except, what are we actually doing? We're shovelling the burden of responsibility onto the individual consumer for something that is not their responsibility. Sure, it's definitely better to phase out something like single-use plastic carrier bags, but let's not pretend it's some environmental panacea.

And for people who are struggling financially, those single-use bags are actually multi-use bags. They're rubbish bin liners, lunch boxes and school bags. So now with those bags being phased out we're placing a burden of cost onto poorer people to help clean up the environment.

Under capitalism, the private sector own the means of production and it is very much driven by profit. Economists say that cost is a great incentive for all sorts of behaviours, however it seems that fear of a destroyed earth is not, so let's make it more expensive to live in a way that could damage the environment.

Great idea, Dave! Let's do that! Except can we maybe reprioritise it a bit? How about, instead of the people who contribute next to nothing to climate change - the family of four who shop at Countdown and now have to spend money on shopping bags - we get to the heart of the problem.

Those 100 fossil fuel companies that are responsible for nearly three quarters of all harmful emissions became aware of the risks of human induced climate change all the way back in the 1950s. They chose to do nothing.

Actually that's not true, they did do something. They organised strategic disinformation campaigns that delayed any effective policy response or decarbonisation for at least three decades. They set out to actively mislead so they could continue to pollute knowing they were inflicting massive harm onto the planet. Nice work big corporate. You guys are tops!

And not only that, but fossil fuels enjoy some serious subsidies. An IMF paper in 2015 estimated that these subsidies amounted to US$4.9 trillion - just a casual 6.5 per cent of global GDP.

On the flipside, 3.5 billion people worldwide have contributed just 10% of the emissions due to individual consumption. That's nearly half the world's population responsible for a tenth of the problem.

When your primary driver is money - which for these huge multinational fossil fuel companies it is - there is a stronger incentive to pollute and get bigger profits than not pollute and have reduced profits. We've chosen money over existence.

The immediate solution is to make it incredibly expensive for these polluters to pollute - there's a growing world-wide movement in support of a carbon tax, which was actually proposed by Helen Clark's Labour Government in 2005, however its coalition partners, New Zealand First and United Future, nixed it. Cool.

But of course a Carbon Tax would just get passed onto the consumer via higher costs they say, making it a regressive tax disproportionately hurting lower-income families. You know, like making them spend money on shopping bags, or putting up the tax on petrol. So instead we'll make the people think it's their fault, all the while big business gets away with it. We are Nero. We fiddle as the world literally burns.