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My waiting for global consensus offers me no benefit

Many narrow their focus to climate change, or even just carbon emissions. Consequently, they perceive a tragic, paralyzing “free-rider” dilemma: individuals enjoy the benefits of emissions while society bears the costs.

Overcoming such free-riding would require all to sign up for the common cause and contribute to the common good. But privately, a god number some may think, “Yes, the world needs less carbon in the atmosphere, but why should I sacrifice the convenience of using fossil fuels when others don’t?” This over-narrow perspective pervades environmental discussions, leading many to believe that the ecological challenge humanity faces is insurmountable. And all believe, it necessitates a “global consensus” or negotiations, something that seems to become more elusive with every COP meeting. Worse, frustration arises from the perceived lack of such consensus.


Others disengage, because they fear that the remedy would be worse than the disease. They view climate change as an  inconvenient truth, meaning that the more they know, the more responsible they feel for shouldering burdens and disadvantages. This argument echoes in every country: “Why should we act when we emit only a small percentage of the total?”


However, the challenge is broader, and therefore not dominated by free-riding dynamics. Recognizing that climate change and carbon emissions are symptoms of human demand surpassing the biosphere’s capacity reveals that “free-riding” is an important, but not the dominant dynamic. Climate change is ultimately a resource challenge. It affects resource security through erratic agricultural productivity, which can lead to stranded assets for those economies who cannot operate without fossil fuels, and exposes those to supply risks who cannot find functional substitutes to fossil fuels. Seeing the broader picture makes evident that the incentives to act are already in place, and waiting for global consensus is counterproductive; neglecting one’s own preparation for the predictable future.


Therefore, sufficient incentives to act are already in place, and waiting for global consensus is self-defeating: In fact, the less people worldwide prepare for a future of climate change and resource constraints, the higher the individual risk exposure. Inaction by others underscores the critical need for one’s own preparation, whether you are an individual, a company, a city, or a country.


The most effective preparations also benefit others as they reduce resource dependence and strengthen overall resilience. As the future approaches faster than businesses and cities can adjust their physical infrastructure, everyone is already late in the game. Waiting offers no benefit to the patiently passive. Clearly, understanding the future better has no downside; it empowers each one of us to make more informed decisions - decisions informed by overshoot as our context.



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