Centre for Social Policy – University of Antwerp / Social Policy
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Besides an ecological problem, I see climate change as a social question. Trespassing the planetary boundaries, we destroy the ecosystem in which humanity can thrive. We are not harming “nature”, we are harming ourselves.
My research starts from social inequality. Climate change increases inequality: those who are already vulnerable, are hardest hit. At global scale, and within societies. Already today, and more so in the future. Concurrently, the high (and rising) levels of inequality, exacerbate climate change: the strong, purposeful and structural policy interventions needed, are much more difficult to steer in highly unequal societies.
It was a fearsome experience, allowing to fully sink in that the way in which we organise our production and consumption is destroying our children’s freedom to shape their own future. My children will be 12 and 15 in 2030, when climate scientists warn us that we might well have already passed irreversible tipping points, when continuing on our current emission pathway. Today’s youth will have had no say or share in this. With this in mind, reducing our family’s footprint has never felt like a sacrifice. We live without a car, removed the industrial livestock farming products in our diet, travel over land instead of through the air, and stopped buying “stuff”. We get electricity from renewable resources and – probably the easiest and most effective of all – we moved our money (www.moveyourmoney.be) to a bank that does not invest in fossil fuels, deforestation, human right violations, war.
Yet, I fully realize (frustratingly so) that lifestyle changes can never be the full solution and therefore I often feel uncomfortable speaking about them: I do not want to expect perfection from myself nor from others, while the gigantic impacts generated at legislative, fiscal, infrastructural levels remain out of scope. Yes, changing our behaviour makes a lot of sense, but we’ve run out of time to wait for a trajectory where individual choices slowly transform all sectors into sustainability by default. Governments have proven to be able to purposefully steer and build societal systems to a general benefit (e.g. the expansion of the welfare state). The solutions to tackle climate change are available, therefore the collaborative effort it requires to put our world on the track to climate neutrality is a vast opportunity for re-aligning our economic system to become more just in the way it distributes health, safety, prosperity and wellbeing.