A Matter of Scale

Is it possible that we’re trying to tackle climate change at the wrong scale? The fact is, while the long-term consequences of carbon emissions are global, the short-term impacts aren’t shared equally. Many of the large emitters currently have no immediate stake in cleaning up their act, while those directly impacted, such as Pacific island nations, are powerless in the face of threats such as sea level rise.  Sure, there’s something to be said for foresight and sustainability, but without the sense of ‘here and now’, climate change will never become the center of political attention.

A recent study published in Nature Climate Change argues that the most effective way to change our behavior is on a local scale. Tangible consequences, such as fines by city governments, are a direct way to drive action from the bottom up.  The authors cite the fact that there is no cooperative global network currently in place; the focus of national governments remains the social and economic security of their own country and citizens. The paper goes as far as to say that global summits damage environmental efforts by making the lack of action immediately visible. It’s the same effect as losing your motivation to go the gym because all your friends are hanging around drinking Kool-Aid and playing Snakes and Ladders. Because, let’s be honest, nobody plays Snakes and Ladders for the good of humanity. Actually, in all fairness, nobody plays Snakes and Ladders at all anymore. But the point stands.

Check out Scientific American’s short podcast on this topic!


Cover photo courtesy of Tim Rich and Lesley Katon, Flickr Creative Commons


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