How can you make a little difference every day in your shower?
The shampoo label offers this rhetorical question whilst I’m lathering up to reassure me that I’m doing my part. Any fears of my environmental impact are further dispelled whilst I walk to my seminar, reusable coffee cup in hand, metal water bottle in my bag – we’ll ignore the carbon footprint that came with this online purchase – and the knowledge that there is no meat on my grocery list. I’m doing my part.
The ethical consumption marketing board has done a fantastic number on me and a lot of us. I’m reminded of this every time I spot the Oatly! crème fraiche barely touched and spoiling in the fridge. Purchased by my dad on a recent visit as he was lured in by the Swedish company’s great ad campaign: IT’S LIKE MILK BUT MADE FOR HUMANS. It’s also gross, as has been confirmed by the house vegan (the crème fraiche is I mean, I have no knowledge of their other products).
And with the terrifying news from the IPCC – the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – that we only have 12 years to keeping warming to a minimum of 1.5c, the ethical consumption marketing wheels keep on turning. Even the Guardian recirculated an article released earlier this year on the environmental benefits of cutting out meat & dairy.
I’m not advocating for meat consumption, single use plastics and the general throwaway nature of society, in case you’re getting confused. But I am trying to highlight the disproportionate focus on individual social responsibility. Yes, we should all be conscious of our impact on the environment. However, the emphasis on individualism in the climate change narrative deludes us into believing we have solo roles. No man is an island, and no human can single-handedly prevent a climate crisis.
Thanks to Attenborough, and his heart wrenching pilot whale story – among many other pictures of the victims of single use plastics – the UK has become obsessed with the issue. So topical in fact that our dancing queen of a Prime Minister has promised to ‘ban avoidable plastic waste by 2042‘. It has been pointed out by the founder of Riverford Organic Farmers, Mr Singh-Watson: “The biggest environmental challenge facing our planet is climate change – and anything that distracts attention from that is potentially dangerous.”
A promise to rid the UK of plastic is an attempt by the Conservative government to appear eco-friendly whilst being in bed with the worst contributors to climate change. The UK’s biggest oil executives have given upwards of £390,00 to the Conservative Party since May become Prime Minister. But Tory involvement in oil dealings is not a new matter, as previous corrupt dealings of Exxonmobil have been insured by Conservative party members. Now known to be one of 25 companies responsible for 70% of industrial emissions (thanks again to the IPCC). So, whilst we’re all patting ourselves on the backs for our tote bags and lentil-based diets, those in power are helping the world to burn. The capitalist cogs continue to turn all the while presenting our consumerism as earth saving. And I’m sorry in advance but it gets bleaker.
As we know the main contributor to climate change is carbon emissions, so what is needed by governments across the world is policy that regulates these emissions. According to New York Times’ reporter Coral Davenport and climate change economist William D. Nordhaus these policies need to be put in place in the next few years.
This extremely small window makes the already dire world political situation even more terrifying. Obviously, we have a known climate change denier in the White house, who has already exited from the Paris climate change agreement. Theresa May is giving an endless performance of negotiating Brexit with UK’s entire reporter basis following the mess, while supporting the oil industry and making massive cuts wherever she sees fit. If that wasn’t bad enough, enter stage right: the fascist, Brazil’s new president Jair Bolsonaro.
Bolsonaro has already promised to follow in Trump’s footsteps in exiting the Paris deal and plans to destroy the amazon by selling it to agribusiness and mining. Brian Kahn bleakly stated that the outcome of Sunday’s presidential election in Brazil signifies “planetary game over” as Bolsonaro’s plans to carve up the Amazon “will reverberate far beyond the country’s borders and well into the future.”
I warned you it was going to get depressing. Shall I stop here? Cue track: it’s the end of the world as we know it…
I do not want to leave you with the despair that has been made painstakingly clear that we cannot rely on our governments to prevent a climate disaster. Nor do I wish to inflict on you, dear reader, the self-flagellating criticism that I began with.
What happens next then? It seems as if drastic actions might be taken in attempts to curb the crisis. Jean Baudrillard predicted the next World War would be one fought against globalisation itself, by many different antagonistic forces. But that it would be a mistake to see these antagonises as populist, archaic or terroristic, as globalisation is a homogenizing and immoral force responsible for the backlash it creates. Baudrillard did not specifically mention climate change, but the globe itself is as much a victim of globalisation so it can be deduced from his words: “for it is the world the globe itself which resists globalisation”.
While aforementioned climate scientist, Nordhaus, is right in arguing that the main issue for USA’s 2020 elections must be climate change and the same should be taken on universally. There are many other ways to be politically active when it comes to fight against climate change.
Such as the Degrowth Movement, who strive to reduce production in the global North and aiming for communities to become more self-sufficient in order reduce growth, thereby creating localised communities. To save the globe we all must work locally. The movement claims that even the name ‘degrowth’ is inherently radical as it does not roll off the tongue, disrupting speech and to disrupt with critique of economic growth is therefore radical.
A second UK specific and very recent example is the creation of a group called the Extinction Rebellion. Who stated that from 31st October they will commit repeated acts of disruptive, non-violent civil disobedience, which so far has involved blockading Parliament square, five bridges on the 17th November and other protests across the country, in order to provoke the government into action. Extinction Rebellion believe that what is needed is immediate mobilisation of a complete global effort to prevent the extinction of humanity. Promising that starting in the UK, where the industrial revolution began, they aim to become an international protest movement. Whilst there has been much speculation about their tactics or the grandiose and vague nature of their aims, their commitment to consistent organised action has kept the urgent issue of Climate Change in the UK media for the last few weeks.
It is so easy to see only the darkness that is reported to us every day. But dark as activist and writer Rebecca Solnit comments, we so easily mistake for terrible rather than inscrutable. The darkness of the future, for Solnit in Hope in the Dark, holds within the potential for hope, and reminds us that with danger comes possibility:
“The planet will heat up, species will die out, but how many, how hot and what survives depends on whether we act. The future is dark, with a darkness as much of the womb as the grave.”
Words, Billie Walker [email protected]
Illustration, Bobby Sanderson – @bobbyasanderson