Leaders are preparing for the upcoming round of United Nations climate talks this month as global temperatures rise to their highest levels and natural disasters, including wildfires, become more frequent and severe. The conference aims to address the long-standing issue of greenhouse gas emissions and environmental damage caused by human activities.
For centuries, humans have altered their environment to serve their needs, draining lakes, and using natural resources like coal, oil, and gas for their own benefit. The desire to harness the environment and exploit fossil fuels has led to significant alterations in the global climate and put the world at risk of environmental disaster.
One example of human intervention is Mexico City, where over the years, the draining of Lake Texcoco for urban expansion and the demand for water has led to subsidence and increased vulnerability to flooding due to climate change. This highlights the impact of harnessing natural resources for the needs of an expanding urban population.
Moreover, across the world, massive deforestation, industrialization, and land degradation have contributed to environmental upheaval. The conquest of the Americas in the 16th and 17th centuries saw Europeans changing the landscape for agriculture and mining, sparking early climate and environmental crises.
The damming and draining activities in Mexico City and its expansion under Spanish rule as a colonial capital resulted in unequal benefits for the people, with populations of color made the most vulnerable in these ecological changes. This concept was rooted in the belief that controlling and transforming the environment to suit European standards was seen as a progressive step, showcasing the association of racial and cultural superiority.
The shift towards the use of coal for industrial and domestic purposes in British society throughout the 18th and 19th centuries laid the foundation for the eventual widespread reliance on fossil fuels that formed a significant proportion of global emissions. This contributed to Britain’s imperial power, entrenching an economy based on coal and steam power that would spread worldwide and influence the global market for coal.
Like a powerful relic of its empire, Britain’s export of steam engines and coal contributed to the global spread of fossil fuel dependency, establishing an ongoing need for energy-rich British coal while starting the search for fossil fuels in various nations. Britain’s transition away from coal, although gradual, has resonated at the global level with significant implications for the fight against climate change.
In addition to historical environmental and climate disasters, the present-day challenge of de-growth and addressing climate change is complicated by deeply rooted ideologies centered around racial and cultural superiority. Progress and productivity are synonymous with environmental control, making substantial shifts in the management of climate change difficult. These ideological barriers continue to influence the global economy and efforts to achieve carbon neutrality.