Stop obsessing over your environmental “sins.” Fight the oil and gas industry instead.
At the weekend I heard an excellent talk on the climate crisis from Jeanette Fitzsimons at the Forest and Bird AGM in Coromandel. Her very clear message was that we needed systemic change and that individual actions whilst admirable, are never going to be enough to avert the climate crisis.
The next day I stumbled on this fantastic article in Vox which beautifully encapsulates Jeanette’s message. We need to stop beating ourselves up about our environmental “sins”. Instead we need to fight the oil and gas industry and take strong collective action so that our government makes the systemic change we require.
I have highlighted some of the best extracts from the article but please read the full version
“I don’t care if you recycle.
“There is an insidious narrative that has both driven and obstructed the climate change conversation for the past several decades. It tells us climate change could have been fixed if we had all just ordered less takeaways, used fewer plastic bags, turned off some more lights, planted a few trees, or driven an electric car. It says that if those adjustments can’t do the trick, what’s the point?”
The belief that this enormous, existential problem could have been fixed if all of us had just tweaked our consumptive habits is not only preposterous; it’s dangerous. It turns environmentalism into an individual choice defined as sin or virtue, convicting those who don’t or can’t uphold these ethics.
When you consider that the same IPCC report outlined that the vast majority of global greenhouse gas emissions come from just a handful of corporations — aided and abetted by the world’s most powerful governments, including the US — it’s victim blaming, plain and simple.
But that doesn’t mean we do nothing. Climate change is a vast and complicated problem, and that means the answer is complicated too. We need to let go of the idea that it’s all of our individual faults, then take on the collective responsibility of holding the true culprits accountable. In other words, we need to become many Davids against one big, bad Goliath.
This is where the victim blaming takes hold. All too often, our culture broadly equates “environmentalism” with personal consumerism. To be “good,” we must convert to 100 percent solar energy, ride an upcycled bike everywhere, stop flying, eat vegan. We have to live a zero-waste lifestyle, never use Amazon Prime, etc., etc. I hear this message everywhere.
While we’re busy testing each other’s purity, we let the government and industries — the authors of said devastation — off the hook completely. This overemphasis on individual action shames people for their everyday activities, things they can barely avoid doing because of the fossil fuel-dependent system they were born into.
If we want to function in society, we have no choice but to participate in that system. To blame us for that is to shame us for our very existence.
So what can we actually do about climate change? Well, to be crystal clear: I’m not advocating for any throwing in of towels. The worst thing you can do about climate change is nothing. Climate change is a huge problem, and to face it, we have to be willing to make personal sacrifices we can feel.
At the same time, though, the more we focus on individual action and neglect systemic change, the more we’re just sweeping leaves on a windy day. So while personal actions can be meaningful starting points, they can also be dangerous stopping points.
We need to broaden our definition of personal action beyond what we buy or use. Start by changing your lightbulb, but don’t stop there. Taking part in a climate strike or showing up to a rally is a personal action.
Voting is a personal action. When choosing your candidate, investigate their environmental policies. If they aren’t strong enough, demand better. Once that person is in office, hold them accountable. And if that doesn’t work, run for office yourself — that’s another personal action.
Take your personal action and magnify it into something bigger than what kind of bag totes your groceries.
I don’t care
Here’s my confession: I don’t care how green you are. I want you in the movement for climate justice.
I don’t care how long you’ve been engaged in the climate conversation, 10 years or 10 seconds. I don’t care how many statistics you can rattle off. I don’t need you to be all-solar-everything to be an environmentalist. I don’t need you to be vegan-er than thou, or me, for that matter. I don’t care if you are eating a burger right this minute.
All I need you to do is want a livable future. This is your planet, and no one can advocate for it like you can. No one can protect it like you can.
We have 11 years — not to start but to finish saving the planet.
I’m not here to absolve you. And I’m not here to abdicate you. I am here to fight with you.”
If you would like to join the fight for climate justice and to help avert the climate crisis email – firstname.lastname@example.org with your contact details