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When it comes to climate change the powerful have a lot to gain from espousing contradictions. Banks will tell you they exist to conserve the environment. Oil companies will tell you they don’t like oil. Airlines will tell you that flying can be sound. Supermarkets will tell you you need to spend more (1p from every bag goes to the rainforest!). Politicians will tell you it’s your fault whilst others will reassure you that you can carry on as you are.

Do not believe a word of it; when it comes to climate change, we must challenge everything we’re told.

Every one of these contradictions are carefully devised ploys to make you believe that these people know what the problem is, and that they can be trusted to see us through it. They are wrong.

The threat to our global climate is a crisis of phenomenal scale and with no previous precedent. Companies and law-makers would like you to buy (into) their solutions to this problem because that keeps their position secure. But solving this crisis requires that their positions be anything but comfortable. Change must come now, and be drastic.

So we need to find out for ourselves what is going on. We must challenge banks such as RBS who tell us their green credentials whilst investing billions in oil extraction projects. We must challenge the oil companies for failing to invest in renewables adequately. Because short-term thinking got us into this mess, we must challenge politicians who insist that sustainability comes second to short-term economic growth. We must challenge law-makers also when they tell us that you can have climate legislation that gives shipping and aviation companies a free-ride.

Ethical shopping and diligent recycling will not solve this crisis. We must use our collective power as students to hold leaders of business and government to account to ensure they are making the right steps towards creating a low-impact society. So I urge you: read this issue of Student. Read the IPCC synthesis report (try it in Google). Write to your MSP about the Climate Bill currently being discussed in the Scottish Parliament. Talk to your banks, your energy provider and most of all your friends.

We are either at the start of solving this problem or on the verge of letting it slip out of our hands. Radical change is inevitable – if we don’t act we will see radical change for the worse, if we do act we have the opportunity to deliver radical change for the better: a habitable planet, a sustainable economy, and a fairer society. And anyone who tells you that achieving this is simple – challenge them. You know what they say about things that are too good to be true.

Originally published in the Student, 8th October 2008.

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