Hasnaa Shaddad, from Arup, delivered this speech to Beal High School 6th Form students as part of the project they worked on together in 2023 which resulted in the exhibition Changing currents.
“I don’t need to tell you how bad climate change is, I’m sure you’ve heard it all your life. I’m sure you’ve been hearing time and time again how awful the situation is and how we’re at the point of no return.
How we should all be consuming less, cutting our carbon footprint and taking responsibility for our individual emissions.
But is the climate disaster really the sole responsibility of the individual and if households switched to being net zero will that solve all our problems?
71% of emissions come from 100 companies.
More recently, it was revealed that just 20 companies have generated one-third of all CO2 since 1965.
Similarly, only around 3–10% of landfill waste in advanced capitalist countries comes from households;
The rest is mainly the result of large-scale industrial processes, construction and mining.
If all residential housing in the UK cut emissions, it would be insignificant compared to big business.
Not just that, but we are going through a cost-of-living crisis where huge numbers of the population will be plunged into fuel poverty and unable to heat their homes or even boil a kettle.
It says on the House of Commons website that 1 in 4 people in Scotland will be fuel poor.
These are not the people that are destroying the planet.
We are also told that we consume too much, with fast fashion and new tech etc.
In industry there is something called planned obsolescence, it’s basically when things are manufactured to fail after a certain time.
We found out that certain big-brand mobile phone companies supplied updates on their phone that made old models run much slower so that the consumer was forced to buy the newer models.
Or the stitch failures that a major fashion brand sews into its clothes so that they fall apart after a few wears.
You can’t blame individuals for planned obsolescence.
Additionally, we live in a society where we are bombarded with advertisement endlessly, everywhere we look.
We are told to desire things, to buy things, to accumulate things.
But it is not necessarily consumer driven.
We saw the huge Amazon warehouses where products like brand new expensive TVs were being made and then immediately destroyed to keep the economy running and the market competitive,
This is not something we decided.
Marketing and advertising are a booming and lucrative industry in which people are paid very well.
In some instances, way better than engineers and doctors, because the economic system we currently have is driven by Capital — Accumulating Capital — Capitalism.
The best way for a company to remain competitive is to grow, to produce and to turn a profit.
Cutting energy demand to meet emission targets is so steep that it requires disregarding growth entirely.
The other misconception we hear about climate change is overpopulation;
We hear people like Bill Gates, David Attenborough and the now King Charles blaming climate change on over population in the global south (developing countries).
92% of emissions come from the global north which makes up 14% of the global population.
Yet, poorer countries will experience up to 90% of the global impact from climate change;
We are currently seeing this with the floods in Pakistan.
As always, it is the worst off in society that have to pay for the crisis, both in terms of living with the catastrophic effects of climate change and enduring the economic shocks that are forcing millions into poverty.
The global south will have to pay for the actions of the wealthiest in society.
Emissions per capita are generally much higher in wealthier nations.
Oxfam reports that a person in the richest 1% of the world’s population uses 175 times more carbon than someone in the poorest 10%.
And the poorest half of the world’s population contribute towards only 10% of total lifestyle consumption emissions, compared to 50% from the richest 10%.
As well as citizens in more prosperous nations generally living higher carbon lifestyles, the country’s systems, like energy and transport, are usually powered by fossil fuels.
It takes the average Briton just two weeks to create the same emissions it would take someone in Rwanda in a year.
And disparities don’t just exist between the wealthier and poorer states, they also exist between classes.
This report shows that 1% of people cause 50% of global aviation emissions and highlights that a 4 hour flight on a private jet emits the same CO2 as it takes the average European a year to produce.
But then they also say that with a growing population we will need more resources, for instance food;
We won’t be able to produce enough food to sustain everyone.
We produce a 1/3 more food than is necessary to feed everyone on the planet.
Much of it actually ends up in landfill where it creates a greenhouse gas potentially 20 times more harmful than carbon, called methane.
If this food was managed and redistributed not only would it end food poverty globally, we would also be able to cut production by a third.
This same principle can be applied to nearly all resources.
A planned economy for the people would be the biggest way to cut waste and emissions.
The myth of overpopulation just allows those living high carbon lifestyles to deflect from their own contribution and point the finger at others.
This brings me onto big business which makes up for the majority of emissions,
The built environment is one of the biggest polluting industries, as you can see from the skyline not only are new buildings being erected but they are also being refurbished.
80CS and Arup. But what one company is striving for we have industries pushing back against
We have banks talking about a greener future, using more renewables and striving for net zero emissions.
Yet they have continued (and are continuing) to invest in destructive fossil fuels,
Between 2015 and 2021 the world’s 60 largest banks invested $3.8 trillion (about $12,000 per person in the US) in these companies.
This is because it’s more profitable than renewable energy alternatives. Paying for greenwashing PR is cheaper than actually making changes.
A study from the New Climate Institute said that the biggest top 25 corporations (including Google and Amazon) are not merely just not meeting their own targets, but routinely exaggerate their (insufficient) progress.
None of us get a say in these decisions, none of us get to decide how the economy is run or what big business should and should not be investing in.
Furthermore, we need a radical and rapid transition away from fossil fuels towards alternative energy sources,
But once we have clean energy what will we do with it?
If we stay with our current system, we will continue to mass produce and deforest – but now with greener energy.
The problem doesn’t go away.
It can be easy, seeing all of this, to throw your hands up in despair.
But there is hope, they found that after 66 years you can recover 90% of the worlds biomass – you just have to leave it alone. As plants regrow, they pull out CO2 from the atmosphere.
Also, there is plenty of money available to develop green infrastructure.
Technologies exist that could carry out a rapid transition away from the use of fossil fuels without costing jobs and pay.
Humanity is capable of achieving great feats
But the world’s resources and technology are largely in the hands of a few, and there is not much profit to be made from saving the planet.
We want to fight climate change and we must fight to take control of the economy, placing production and real democratic power into our own hands.
Only by controlling the polluting industries and the big banks can we fully transform society for the benefit of the planet and human need, not for profit or the financial markets
If, therefore, you want a hopeful outlook for the future, look to the hundreds of millions of workers and people who, time and again in the very recent period, have risen to fight for a better world.
Look at history, look at times when there has been real genuine historical change in the world.
Look at the civil rights movement, look at the post-colonial independence movements and revolutions of countries all over the world.
Look at the suffragettes and the fight for women’s votes,
Look at Pride and its roots in protest.
Someone in our last chat mentioned Sudan, look at the revolution in 2019 that toppled a 30-year dictatorship. These events that shook the world, what do they all have in common?
People, the masses, community and collectivism. It’s people standing up for their rights, organising, planning, leading and demanding what they are owed.
The climate catastrophe is not your individual responsibility and burden to carry, it is the fault of big business, bad government and an economic system that puts profit before people.
Ordinary people may not have the immense wealth and resources of the super-rich,
But we have numbers and now more than ever it’s a time to link up and push forward.
If you think it’s hard, impossible or useless etc, you have to realise that generations before us who broke free of slavery and oppressions, who were threatened with fates far worse than death continued to strive forward for a better future for all.
Time and time again people have come out into the streets and said enough is enough, we will collectivise, we will organise, and we will enact change.
The best way to change the future is to understand the past, read up on revolutions of the past, read how people organised themselves.
It sounds like a lot, I understand that but let’s go back to the Sudanese revolution.
We all saw in the news how the people came together –
They set up medical centres, schools, security and kitchens to feed the people,
They cleaned the streets and got to know their neighbours.
There was a boom in arts, creativity and music with long stretches of walls covered in art work from the revolution.
I have family from there and they say it was the most inspiring time of their lives, where the people came together – to fight together.”