Tackling Climate Change

By Izzy Miller

For at least the past decade, discussions of solutions to climate change have focussed primarily on renewable energy as a means of combating rising greenhouse gas emissions. However, these ideas will not be the central focus of this work for three principal reasons. Firstly, because these ideas are simply not as novel as other solutions this article presents. Wind and solar power replacing coal and oil are nothing utterly revolutionary in 2021. Furthermore, they require substantial government investment which makes them feel almost irrelevant to average citizens. But finally, because they might not be the best solution to such a deep-rooted issue. The thesis of this text therefore, is much more radical than a review of the current carbon-neutral energy alternatives that dominate news of climate solutions, it instead intends to offer unorthodox solutions to the wider problem of the 21st century mindset and more tangible ways in which individuals can make a difference.

Before we can come up with solutions however, we must be absolutely clear on what the problem is. It is easy to say that the issue is merely that green-house gas emissions are high and must be reduced, because the environmental problems of today are much more far-reaching than emission levels. It is this facile interpretation that leads us to jump quickly and carelessly to the conclusion that solar panels and electric cars are the sole saviours of our planet. Please note, that I am by no means suggesting that green-energy solutions are futile or even illogical, they may indeed be the right course of action, it is merely that we ought not to assume that this is the case. To reduce this issue to a superficially simplistic numbers game would be a huge mistake – it would ignore countless crucial aspects to the problem. For instance, the amazon rainforest is suffering brutal damage, as the natural skyscrapers that have lined the ‘lungs of the world’ for thousands of years are being culled at an alarming rate, to facilitate our furniture, agriculture and need for oil. Similarly, the oceans are being contaminated by our carelessness, and drained of diversity by our overfishing and deep-sea mining. Whilst our destructive actions in both scenarios undeniably add to carbon emissions, it is obvious that the effects for conservation are not taken into account by simply stating the figures. The unsightly and disruptive cost of dumping our waste in large landfill sites is equally absent in quotas of this kind, and the list continues. Clearly, this is a complex issue that cannot be easily captured by a shallow solution to one aspect, and requires a much more multi-faceted approach. But perhaps if we could unify these problems by somehow finding a common driving force, we could more easily identify a root from which specific solutions could stem.

In his book Economics for a Healthy Planet, Iain Miller suggests that the source of many of today’s problems can be reduced to a single encapsulating cause – our consumeristic culture (Miller, 2021). This does seem to explain the manifold of ways in which we are destroying the planet that we were discussing earlier. For instance, we destroy the rainforest to fuel our luxurious lifestyle of excessive meat and dairy consumption, unnecessary furnishings and love of international travel. None of these add significantly to our ability to survive and thrive as homo sapiens, yet we continually choose them over a more natural way of life, despite the destruction they cause. Similar accounts can be made that correspond to issues of overfishing, deep-sea mining and landfill sites. It is abundantly clear that the problem of climate change simply would not exist without our pursuit of an extravagant and unsustainable way of life, so perhaps it is this, rather than any of the arbitrary consequences of it, which is the true underlying problem.

However, Miller’s ideas extend beyond critical observations about our lifestyles, he argues that many of the so-called advancements of recent years come at the cost of ‘unintended consequences’ of taking a path that strays drastically away from nature. This is another crucial reason for which this text does not ardently defend innovative sources of renewable energy, unlike many other contemporary works.  For instance, a recent article has highlighted that the growing demand for batteries to power electric cars and to store wind and solar energy has provoked a call for deep sea mining, an utterly destructive process that would be literally ‘lethal’ for underwater ecosystems (Heffernan, 2019). And yet, it is becoming vital for the widespread advancement of renewable energy sources, as our priorly plentiful land resources have almost depleted.  To me, it seems plainly paradoxical to fight the impact of years of mining scarce land resources to literally fuel our modern way of living by doing precisely the same to our oceans, again in the name of luxury. Admittedly, this time round we will not produce nearly as much harmful, climate warming gas in the process, but still, we would be unnecessarily harming the natural world. I hope now that now when readers hear the phrase ‘a green industrial revolution’ being bounded around as the potential hero to the planet, they too cringe at the slightly pyrrhic ring to it.  The cold truth is that we have to transition to a simpler way of living, or at least one that doesn’t require sheer destruction of nature, if we are to tackle the wider environmental problem.

For Miller, the solution lies in radical economic changes that would provoke similarly extreme changes to our lives. He highlights that the current way to measure national success is economic growth, that is to say, for a nation to be successful, it must constantly chase elusive and unsustainable growth in GDP. He explains that this means consumers are annually burdened with spending more money to buy more goods and services than they did the previous year ‘as a duty to our nation’s buoyancy’. This, he says, causes them to outsource more of their lives because, put simply, doing things for yourself does not contribute to the economy. However, this outsourcing has many unintended consequences of its own, for instance buying groceries is generally less healthy than growing them for yourself, as the mass production process is not built to retain the full quality of the product, and requires inorganic treatment which reduces nutritional value. This is verified by the numerous pieces of research that maintain that a natural, wholefoods diet is much healthier than outsourcing processed food from the ready-meal aisle of a supermarket.

However, the current economic model puts a high value on buying processed produce, as it provides jobs to a number of different individuals, but near negligible value on growing your own organic produce, despite the discrepancies in product quality and health benefit. Miller founds the idea of a ‘natural economy’ that runs alongside the existing ‘monetary economy’ that would somehow place intrinsic value on natural goods and processes such as growing your own produce. The two could then be aggregated to form an overall ‘total economy’ which would be a better metric for success. In his view, the total economy in developed nations has decreased in recent years, as the ‘natural economy’ has fallen faster than the monetary economy has grown. He says that the monetary economy must now shrink and the natural economy should grow in order to maximise the total economy, and ultimately, prevent further damage to the environment. This pioneering idea of shifting success metrics to valuing natural goods is one that I believe could be revolutionary in transforming modern society from reckless to sustainable, and avoids the unintended consequences of trying desperately to maintain an ultimately precarious lifestyle. It is also worth noting that a transition to a more natural, simple way of life may not be a selfless sacrifice. Eating naturally and curbing our addiction to the digital world have obvious benefits, and the work of political philosopher Rousseau suggests that complex societies have augmented natural inequality (Rousseau, 1755), making natural life a truly attractive option a world where billionaires and the destitute coexist.

Another key idea in the race to curb climate change presented by Miller (along with many others) is severe monetary penalties on environmentally damaging activities. I use the word ‘severe’ here with caution, but it is necessary to illustrate that I am not talking about futile 5% increases in tax on petrol, but drastic changes that would rapidly shift consumer spending habits. Some say these should be correspondingly matched with equal subsidies on sustainable alternatives, such that the consumer does not lose out overall, but Miller goes a step further, instead of subsidies, these seemingly extortionate rates of tax on unsustainable products should fund a universal basic income for all. This would work such that if your spending habits remained exactly the same, you would be no better or worse off overall, as although you are spending much more, you are receiving a universal income of equal value. However, consumers are incentivised to choose much ‘cheaper’ eco-friendly alternatives such that they can save money where they would have otherwise spent. This innovative solution not only tackles climate change, but could also be vital in improving the lives of the poorest few as they have an opportunity to make their money go further. Additionally, allowing consumers to choose eco-friendly alternatives converts us all almost instantaneously into potential activists. The climate change discussion often focusses on large oil companies that it is the job of political pressure groups and governments to constrain, which allows us as citizens to distance ourselves from individual action and take the stance of passive onlookers. By making eco-friendly products relatively cheaper, we can all be empowered to use our income as a force for good, without damaging our bank accounts. This could truly help to kickstart environmental optimism and suppress the accepted apathy and pessimism that there is ‘nothing we can do anyway’, an absolutely crucial element in the success of any movement.

Before I conclude, I would like to present a final observation about the response of the planet to the coronavirus pandemic. Governments are often criticised for being slow to act on this issue, prioritising the transient preservation of our precious lifestyles over the prevention of possible catastrophe. However, when crisis was upon us, we proved that we could indeed substantially minimise our superfluous lifestyles for the greater good. Yet, on 1st May 2019, the UK became the first country to declare a ‘climate emergency, but all of our targets for carbon-neutrality still seem distant and removed. Compare this to the harsh restrictions on our liberties that we underwent during the pandemic, and we can see that this proclamation is frankly an insult to the word ‘emergency’. The pandemic, like the climate crisis, is an issue that required desperate and truly global action, but the former is a testament to our ability to take extreme measures to prevent awful tragedies, and our reluctance to act rapidly is undeniably a mistake we ought to reflect upon when tackling the latter.

In conclusion, this article has presented a new approach to climate change solutions that addresses the deeper issue of consumer culture that must be largely eliminated to prevent unintended consequences for the planet. It is worth noting that the intention of this work was by no means to split the environmentalist movement by condemning the use of renewable energy, but rather to see this as a potential, anodyne transition rather than the ultimate solution to a complex problem. It has presented the original ideas of Miller, whose work focusses on radical economic changes to ultimately shift the consumer mindset and lifestyle. The overarching argument of this work is that we cannot continue to live in ignorance, and need to accept that the necessary action may not be as comfortable and gradual as we might hope, but as survivors of a global pandemic, we should be confident in the knowledge that we have the power to change.



  1. Heffernan, O., 2019. Seabed mining is coming — bringing mineral riches and fears of epic extinctions. Nature, 571(7766), pp.465-468.
  2. Miller, I. (2021). Economics for a healthy planet. England: Authorhouse.
  3. Rousseau, J.J. (1755). Discours sur l'origine et les fondements de l'inégalité parmi les hommes. Translation by Cranston, M. (1984). A discourse on inequality. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books.



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