Sometimes the word 'humanism' makes people assume that the humanist approach to life is only concerned with the welfare of human beings. In reality, humanists believe that we should consider the ecological impact of our choices and actions on the environment and all life on the planet.
Humanists tend to advocate for human rights, free speech, progressive policies, and democracy. At a more fundamental level, we are concerned with human welfare and happiness and believe that this is the one and only life and world we have. Sometimes the word ‘humanism’ makes people assume that the humanist approach to life is only concerned with the welfare of human beings. In reality, humanists believe that we should consider the ecological impact of our choices and actions on the environment and all life on the planet.
Humanists believe that we have evolved, along with the rest of the natural world, to live on planet Earth, and that we are responsible for looking after it. We look on in alarm as human activity impacts the physical environment in many ways: overpopulation, pollution, burning fossil fuels, and deforestation. Changes like these have triggered climate change, soil erosion, poor air quality and undrinkable water.
One way we can help is to challenge beliefs that are not evidence-based and disinformation about environmental issues, particularly climate change. Another way is to urge our governments take stronger and immediate action on environmental and ecological issues, again, especially on climate change which is the number one threat to life on Earth. Government policies and regulation are essential to aid in a country’s transition to a low-carbon economy. There are many areas where government action can be of great benefit. Initiatives such as reviewing the impact of current policies on climate change, redirecting financial assistance and tax provisions, supporting innovation in low-carbon sustainable technologies, regulatory intervention in transportation systems and land management practices, are all examples of how governments can lead the effort to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions.
We look on in alarm as human activity impacts the physical environment in many ways: overpopulation, pollution, burning fossil fuels, and deforestation
A good place for governments to start is to review the impact of current policies on climate change. Coal, oil and natural gas have led economic development for centuries, with the resulting effects on economic and infrastructure choices. Policy frameworks are geared towards fossil fuels and carbon-intensive activities. A better understanding of the impact on greenhouse gas emissions can guide policy making towards more effective climate change mitigation. One area of needed policy change is financial assistance.
Government financial assistance needs to be redirected towards a low carbon economy. Current government subsidies and expenditures favouring the production and use of fossil fuels compete with incentives for low-carbon innovation. Governments need to decrease their support for investments in greenhouse gas-intensive activities , increase their support for green businesses and include climate objectives in development assistance. This will ensure that investment in infrastructure supports their climate agenda while fostering economic development.
Policies enabling a low-carbon economy will contribute to broader support for greener and more resilient economic growth. For example, low-carbon transport and energy systems result in cleaner air, better health, and a more diversified energy supply. Energy efficiency will reduce the severe and irreversible effects of a warmer global climate and improve energy security.
Taxes and tax provisions may also encourage carbon-intensive choices (e.g. property taxes, various corporate income tax provisions). An example is that tax write-offs for company cars encourage more CO2 emissions. More tax breaks should be given to green businesses. Government support for the low-carbon transition will actually create new tax revenue streams for governments from new businesses, the restructuring of old ones and the emergence of breakthrough technologies.
The low-carbon transition will drive a boom in innovation and emerging businesses, and an associated shift in skills and the labour force. Skills gaps will be addressed through education, training and labour market policies. The additional short-term costs of shifting to low carbon will amount to just a fraction of the funds needed for infrastructure overall. New sources of financing need to be secured by governments because financial stability is essential to longer term, low-carbon investment.
In many cities, land-use and transport planning are poorly co-ordinated and encourage greater use of fossil fuels. Current transport systems often rely on fossil fuels and impose high environmental costs (climate change, noise, air pollution), particularly in urban settings. Policy intervention is needed to provide more energy-efficiency and less carbon-intensive support. National frameworks and legislation sometimes leave local governments will little financial or political leeway to make low-carbon choices. Aligning policy action across levels of governments could do much to fund and deliver lower-carbon transportation and development.
Sustainable land-management practices such as reduced deforestation, restoring degraded land, low-carbon agricultural practices and increased carbon concentration in soils and forests, can make a large contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions while responding to growing food demands. They can also protect ecosystems, thereby improving the health of our economies in a changing climate. Specifically, countries should pursue efforts to remove environmentally harmful agricultural subsidies, protect forests and minimize food waste.
An effective climate action plan requires new approaches to policy making across government. Upgraded policies are needed in redirecting financial assistance and tax provisions, supporting innovation in low-carbon sustainable technologies, and regulatory intervention in transportation systems and land management practices. Climate action will evolve more quickly if governments can identify barriers to low-carbon transition in their policies.
In addition to demanding that governments take action, we can support climate action and other environmental and ecological issues on an individual level. We can help by shifting to a more plant-based organic diet, reducing waste, increasing investments in green and renewable technologies, using public transportation, riding a bicycle and driving electric vehicles. As Humanists, we can show the way to adopting sustainable and environmentally friendly practices that will protect our planet Earth and help ensure the survival of life on it.