Guest contribution by Kęstutis Kupšys, Vice President of Lietuvos vartotojų organizacijų aljansas (LVOA), the alliance of Lithuanian consumer organisations.
Many of the “climate kids“ have gone back to school and adults reverted to “business as usual”. The earth is changing, becoming hotter and all the means that can slow the change are introduced too late and take too long. I can feel the depression of everyone working with climate change issues in Lithuania.
However, even if you’re at the end of your tether, there is always hope. Not that there will be some sort of last minute miraculous healing of the Earth. The real hope is to start doing the right thing even if you know that it might not bring a complete solution.
That’s why I am making a conscious decision to learn to love climate change! But how can you love it when you see the melting ice caps, the extinction of countless animal and plant species and the already-not-so-shocking news of storms taking thousands of lives? That‘s surely absurd!
Yet the choice to love is not a sign of insanity. Once you change your perspective, you are forced to search for new solutions. The best way to mobilise yourself, your organisation and society itself is to stop the empty wailing and to start to do something about it.
And one more thing: it is crucial to recognise and acknowledge the opportunity that arises from this problem.
The first sketchy outlines of that opportunity are emerging from the financial system.
Our modern economy is shaped by money. Money is the universal measure for wealth and success, and can itself be exchanged for anything. Nothing has changed the world like money has. The problem is that in many cases the short-term profit motive overrides all other considerations, such as the overall welfare of society and the long-term survival of the human species.
Greta Thunberg is right: the world is dying, and you are still talking about your money and your desire for economic growth. Anything that is not measured by money does not matter. Even “the polluter pays” system is broken, and governments are using taxpayers’ money to help fossil fuel companies to invest in the extraction of yet more fossil fuels – and it is killing the planet.
This is why it is worth loving climate change. Because the impending climate catastrophe will bring about a fundamental change to the economic models that the humanity has lived by for many centuries. If we change the financial system to focus on the long-term broad interests of society as a whole rather than the short-term narrow, vested interest of profit maximisation, we will change the future.
Unbridled capitalism has already proven that it is capable of destroying the Earth, not saving it. In the absence of sufficient safeguards, the profit motive has driven deforestation, overproduction and excessive consumption. Currently it is purely the profit motive, and nothing else, that determines the way in which banks in Lithuania and the rest of the world manage financial flows. The vast majority of them have simply not cared if short-term profit is at the expense of our future survival.
“If you don’t change, I’ll take my money elsewhere”
However, I strongly believe that consumers have real power to change this short-termism and that everything is possible if we act jointly. Millions of consumer voices are changing the course of public debates. Right now, it is often not the price of a good or service that matters, but its sustainability. If we opt for a reusable coffee cup, why can‘t we opt for sustainable financial services? It is time for the average consumer to express what type of course they are expecting financial institutions to take. Do you accept the fact that your deposit with bank X becomes a loan to a polluting factory in the country Y? Or even a loan to a polluting factory in your neighbourhood? You have to tell your bank: “I do not accept this” and if you don’t change I will take my money elsewhere.
But at the moment, it’s often difficult to know where your or your grandmother’s savings are going. Consumers urgently need more transparency about the climate impact of financial products. They need and deserve more, and better value, offers for green savings and investments. Consumers must be able to rely on trustworthy financial advice that takes environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria into account.
I therefore welcome the non-government initiative, similar to the Fair Finance Guide, that will gradually start to educate Lithuanian people and reveal the uncomfortable truth about which banks or investment funds are environmentally friendly, and which are not. And it is not just about the environment: environmental sustainability will bring social change as well. There are energy cooperatives, and there are ethical banks and collective impact investment platforms as well.
Change is a good thing. Sometimes that change is forced by external factors, like global warming (which we of course caused). If in ten years’ time we see that a financial system based on more humane and broader, long-term interests has been developed as a result of climate change, it will mean that the world has become different and better. Therefore, let‘s love climate change for the opportunity it gives us to make fundamental changes to the way our financial system works.
Inspired by an article published on the leading Lithuanian news portal DELFI.LT: https://www.delfi.lt/verslas/nuomones/kestutis-kupsys-kaip-as-ismokau-pamilti-klimato-kaita.d?id=82579785