‘I am no hero, but I want to save the Earth’

November 3, 2021 | 06:24 pm PT
Vo Van Thanh Journalist
What is my obligation to address this major problem facing the Earth? The question arose as I watched global leaders arrive at the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP26).

I am living in a small condo apartment not very far from my workplace in Hanoi. Thanks to the short distance, I can walk to the newsroom when the schedule is not so tight. Compared to other households living in the same condo, my family's electricity bill is at a medium level. I have thought of myself, therefore as a "non-excessive emitter."

But let’s be honest. I have been working hard to earn money so that I can afford a bigger apartment, change my old car for a new one with higher capacity and possibly consumes more gasoline. I also wouldn't mind having two cars and buying new electronic gadgets as long as I can afford them.

I know millions around the world have similar thoughts and aspirations. Economies have had to grow nonstop to expand the middle class even as they produced more billionaires. This has meant more factories, infrastructure, vehicles, cities – and the consumption of more energy and fossil fuels.

Studies show that humankind adds 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere in a normal year and that this figure is rising.

The mission for the 30,000 delegates attending the COP26, especially state leaders, is loud and clear: achieving net-zero emissions, which means the amount of carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere will have to be the same as, or more than, the amount it is emitting. Basically, it's about balancing the scale between the amount of carbon dioxide put into the environment and the amount taken out.

The target for the biggest emitters, also the richest economies in the world, is to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Middle-income countries next and then the rest of the world will have to achieve this target later.

Why it must be zero? Bill Gates, no weather expert or scientist, explains in his latest book: "Unless we stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, the temperature will keep going up."

The climate, he argues, is like "a bathtub that’s slowly filling up with water. Even if we slow the flow of water to a trickle, the tub will eventually fill up and water will come spilling out onto the floor.

"That’s the disaster we have to prevent. Setting a goal to only reduce our emissions – but not eliminate them – won’t do it. The only sensible goal is zero."

What can humankind do to reach the zero emissions goal?

Many countries still have the idea that emission reduction is not their business. People all over the world want their lives to be more comfortable and complete in terms of material goods: using air conditioners when it’s hot and using water heaters when it’s cold; and not many really care about where the energy they are consuming comes from - wind or solar power or fossil fuels.

What gives hope to humankind is that the global economy can actually operate on clean energy, although it is not easy at all to replace fossil fuels.

For now, countries that have used high emissions in the past to achieve the prosperity they have today will have to fulfill commitments they have already made to cut CO2 emissions and at the same time, set more ambitious targets for the period after 2025.

Climate finance, technology transfer, and capacity improvement are critical to the successful implementation of the Paris Agreement - the agreement reached at the COP21 six years ago, with more than 190 countries committing to limit their emissions.

Vietnam is one of the countries hardest hit by climate change, especially its most fertile region, the Mekong Delta.

Attending the COP26, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh said: "...responding to climate change and restoring nature must become the highest priority in all development policies and the highest ethical standard for politicians at all levels, industries, businesses, and people."

The U.K., hosting COP26, has set the target of channeling $100 billion each year to fund climate change responses in developing countries. I hope Vietnam will take strong action after the event and take advantage of that fund.

What about me... and you?

At Glasgow, the question still nagged me: "What are my commitments?"

Like most people out there, I cannot make any direct, large-scale changes to technologies or policies for achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, but I could join hands with others to act against climate change and save our environment. I believe that the forces against climate change are growing across the world.

I feel it would not be fair to force poor people to stop using gasoline for an old motorbike that are crucial for maintaining their livelihoods.

An individual’s obligations to the environment, especially those in the middle-income group and higher, are not to stop trying to improve his or her life, but to make environmentally friendly choices in everyday life, like not using plastic bags when shopping, not using plastic straws, stop wasting water, not to keep the air-conditioning temperature too low, not turn on electric lights indiscriminately and not waste food.

We can choose to do things differently instead of sticking to old habits. By doing so, each person will be able to make certain impacts on the environment and even the government’s policies.

I cannot switch to an electrical car now, but that would be a priority once I’m financially capable. My other choices in daily life will be made after thoughtful consideration.

This is a small start, I know. I am no hero, but I do want to save the Earth.

*Vo Van Thanh is a journalist. The opinions expressed are his own.

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