Corporations emphasize people’s role in the climate crisis. Yet, 100 fossil fuel producers are responsible for seventy-one percent of the industrial GHG emissions since 1988
What is the Doomsday Clock?
The Doomsday Clock is a metaphor to reflect the fluctuation of an anthropogenic global catastrophe. The closer the disruption of civilization gets, the closer the clock’s hand will move to midnight. Its goal is to warn the public about how close humanity is to destroying the world; through the use of dangerous human-made technologies. Nuclear risk and climate change are the chief factors influencing the clock’s hand movements. Maintained by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a nonprofit organization that created it in 1947, with the objective of providing the public; policymakers, and scientists with information related to the human-made global security issues resulting from technological advances. The organization was founded in 1945 by Albert Einstein and the University of Chicago scientists; helping develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project.
The power of symbols: communicating complex ideas through visuals
Based on the imagery of the apocalypse symbolized by midnight and the countdown to zero; preceding the nuclear explosion caused by atomic weapons. Its design was created by the American artist, Martyl Langsdorf. Every year, in January, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and Security Board; in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, sets the clock. Since its 1947 debut, they moved the clock hands twenty-four times. Including one in 2020 moved from two minutes to midnight to 100 seconds to midnight.
As of 2022, the clock’s hand is at 100 seconds to midnight. This is due to factors such as the current nuclear weapons policies; a lack of action targeting the climate crisis, tensions over military space activity, and surveillance technology. The reason behind the Doomsday Clock’s cultural longevity and ubiquitousness reside in the recognizability of its imagery. Understandable in our current global cultural landscape. The degree of power of symbols (visuals such as marks, characters, signs, or words) is determined by their ability to channel complex concepts that have multiple levels of meaning in. Showcased in a manner that is relevant and linked to a specific culture’s ideologies, social structures, and cultural aspects.
What is Climate Doomism, and which perils can it cause?
The Doomsday Clock is a well-intentioned and well-informed mission. However, the image of humanity moving towards an impending doom is one that can fill the public with guilt and helplessness. These are the feelings that could rise in people by climate doomism. It consists of a sensationalization of the climate crisis. Promoting the idea that there is no way of escaping the annihilation of our planet; caused by anthropogenic ecological destruction. As a consequence, this fear-mongering talk could be a scare tactic to disincentivize and disempower the people and communities that are part of the climate justice movement.
Systemic change to bring justice for people and the planet
Corporations have emphasized the key role that everyday people have played in the climate crisis. Yet, the ‘Carbon Majors’ report revealed that 100 active fossil fuel producers, of which thirty-six are state-owned companies, have been linked to seventy-one percent of industrial greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. On an individual level, the elites in the Global North lead a consumeristic and high-impact lifestyle. On the other hand, working-class people are faced with a lack of affordable and sustainable options; while simultaneously being shamed for their carbon footprint.
On the 19th October 2021, the UK government released a report elaborated by the Behavioural Insights Team or ‘nudge unit’. It was withdrawn within a few hours. This report suggested effective top-down intervention methods that can change public behavior. This is to say to meet the net-zero target through systemic change and ambitious policy. In addition these methods include informing the public about the needed lifestyle changes. Putting in place policies that make these changes affordable and regulating the market to demand more transparency.
In the report, the Behavioural Insights Team highlighted the effectiveness of bans, mandates, taxes, and other regulatory measures. They have shown to be successful in the past in terms of changing societal behavior; and advocated for statutory interventions such as carbon taxes and a financial levy on high-emission food. Systemic change is what is going to bring justice for people and the planet; paired with local change and fueled by grassroots actions.
Climate optimism and activism: how can people bring about change?
Collectivized communities and activists have the power to demand answers and change from leaders. The Paid to Pollute claimants Mikaela Loach, Kairin van Sweeden, and Jeremy Cox; took the UK government to court for giving billions of pounds of subsidies to the oil and gas industry. Furthermore, on the 18th January 2022, the High Court delivered their judgment; and ruled against the claimants in their case against public money for oil and gas.
In court, they forced the UK government to admit using public money to prop up the oil and gas industry. The court accepted that the OGA (UK’s oil and gas regulator) can ignore the billions of public money that prop up these companies. They can do so when it decides whether or not to approve oil and gas extraction. When individual oil and gas companies have received more pay-outs in public money than they pay in tax.
This achievement is one of the several activists obtained against big polluters in 2021. On 2nd December 2021, the oil giant, Shell, pulled out of the Cambo oil field off the Shetland Islands. A week later, Siccar Point Energy put the project on pause. Later that month, a court in South Africa ordered Shell to block its oil exploration activities; after the opposition of campaigners and local communities.
Green Alliance on climate politics
Dr. Rebecca Willis is a professor in practice at Lancaster University and expert lead for the Climate Assembly UK. She says: «Throughout my career, I’ve always focused on trying to get the government to take the environment more seriously. During that time, I’ve developed a list in my head of interesting academics who influence policy. I enjoyed working on the front line with Green Alliance. However I also saw that you can use that research space to make change happen as well. So I thought to actually research the political process. Then to turn that on itself and put that back into the political process; to say how that process of change could work better».
«We’re in a strange place now with climate politics. Furthermore there’s widespread acceptance of the scientific consensus; and of the need for urgent action. That rhetorical commitment is there. But it seems we can’t get the policies to match at the moment. That’s partly because we’ve been trying to tackle climate change almost as if democracy is an inconvenience. To tackle climate change, we need more democracy».
«Therefore better democracy, not less. For instance, this myth that if only people would do, as we say would be okay, it’s a myth. Instead, what we need to do is make democracy work better. To work with people so that they understand the climate issue and so that they can contribute to the solutions. So that they’re engaged and part of the climate action that we need to see. So it’s about strengthening democracy and having more democracy; rather than treating people as an inconvenience pushed to one side».
Dr. Rebecca Willis
Rebecca Willis is a researcher with twenty years’ experience in environment and sustainability policy and practice, at international, national and local level.
London-based independent think tank focused on ambitious leadership for the environment, active since 1979.