Hope on the horizon for climate change activists

Large skyscrapers being built in Limassol

Last Wednesday, a court in the Netherlands ordered Royal Dutch Shell to dramatically cut its emissions by 45% over the next decade.

"Our hope is that this verdict will trigger a wave of climate litigation against big polluters, to force them to stop extracting and burning fossil fuels," Sara Shaw from Friends of the Earth International told NPR.

That was exactly what happened several hours later as shortly after the Dutch court ruling, sixty-one per cent of shareholders at Chevron voted to demand that the company cut its emissions. Shortly after that, ExxonMobil officials announced that shareholders had elected two dissident candidates to the company’s board, both of whom are ardent climate activists.

Together, these shareholder votes and court rulings shook up the futures of three of the world’s largest oil companies within the span of a day. They were the culmination of years of growing frustration among company shareholders, who believe that the three oil giants have not been doing enough to tackle climate change, according to Reuters.

“It’s clear that the arguments that many have been making for a decade have sunk in at the highest levels: there is no actual way to evade the inexorable mathematics of climate change. If you want to keep the temperature low enough that civilization will survive, you have to keep coal and oil and gas in the ground. That sounded radical a decade ago. Now it sounds like the law,” wrote environmental author Bill Mckibben.

The fossil fuel industry has been one of the biggest contributors to the global climate problem that we are facing today. The burning of fossil fuels was responsible for 76 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2016, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That is a shocking statistic, considering the multitude of renewable energy alternatives that are at our disposal.

So what can we take away from this monumental day that will undoubtedly go down in climate change history?

For one, no contribution to the fight against the climate crisis is insignificant. The Dutch court ruling was not an isolated event, but rather a result of years of unrelenting and unwavering pressure on the fossil fuel industry by people from all corners of the world.

Secondly, the fight against the climate crisis is not a one man show, but a collective effort in which we all have our roles to play. It took a tiny activist fund based in San Francisco that owns just 0.02 percent of ExxonMobil’s stock to flip the trajectory of the company’s future around.

Thirdly, it is up to us to continue paving the way for further climate action in the years to come. With the 26th UN Climate Change Conference taking place in Glasgow this November, it is imperative that individuals keep advocating within their own communities and applying pressure to local governments. It is also up to us to overcome our discomfort and explore different eco-friendly solutions such as adopting more minimalist lifestyles, reconsidering the carbon footprints of our living spaces and becoming more active participants in our government systems.

With legal precedent now on the side of climate activists, individuals must turn to the problems that plague their own communities. For Cyprus, that is the absence of a long-term, government supported initiative that will aim to reshape the unsustainable practices that fuel the island’s economy. For example, the island’s tourism industry makes up 22.7% of its GDP, according to Knoema. Although it brings profits to many locals and business owners, it also is a large source of pollution. From the plastic waste that tourists leave behind in beaches to the air conditioners they blast in their hotel rooms, the whole focus of the tourism industry is on making profits as opposed to protecting the marine life and nature that the holiday packages are coming at the expense of.

Similarly, the absence of thoughtful city planning that will accommodate a growing population in the years to come means that individual citizens will have to bear the burden of responsibility for pressuring the government to act on the issues they care most about.

There are already several environmental action groups in Cyprus that are committed to fighting the climate crisis: Avli, Friends of the Earth Cyprus, Let’s Make Cyprus Green, Youth for Climate CY, 300k Trees in Limassol, just to name a few. Though all of them have their own missions, they are united by their collective concern for the future of both the island, and the world. As the climate movement becomes more mainstream in Cyprus, these environmental groups will play pivotal roles in helping re-shape the future of the island. We hope that EcoMod Homes will join them in helping re-imagine what this sustainable future will look like.

From veteran environmental authors such as McKibben to youth activists like Greta Thunberg, the fight against global climate change has been spearheaded by people of all ages, genders and nationalities. They highlight the intersectionality of the climate problem as they remind us that even though we may sometimes feel distanced from the problem, the threat is very real and imminent for every country in the world. Therefore, a legal victory such as that of the Dutch court should be celebrated by everyone alike.

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