Wednesday 28 November 2018
The 24th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 24) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), runs from 2 to 14 December, in Katowice in Poland. The conference is expected to finalise the rules for the implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change, made at COP 21 in 2015, to reduce carbon emissions to keep global temperatures below a 1.5C rise above pre-industrial levels.
The actions required of nations to meet the commitments of COP 21 are not binding, and rely far too heavily on techno fixes, most of which do not yet exist in largescale. Some of the targets handed to participating countries are also massaged, to make them easier to hit, and investment by rich countries to help poorer countries adjust to renewable energy sources, has not been fully met.
The United States, of course, under President Trump, has now withdrawn from the Paris Agreement, and is making cuts to climate science research and expanding the use of coal, which the burning of emits the most carbon of any fossil fuel. Reuters reported earlier this month that President's Trump team will "set up a side-event promoting fossil fuels" at the conference. So, all in all, even before the conference starts, it is very difficult to have any optimism that serious progress will be made in Katowice.
Coming on the back of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which stated that we have at most twelve years to drastically reduce carbon emissions, a new report by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says that concentrations of key gases in the atmosphere have hit a historic high and there is no sign of a reversal in this rising trend.
Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere reached 405 parts per million (ppm) in 2017, a level not seen in 3-5 million years. We need to be below 350 ppm, to keep within the COP 21 target, of not rising above 1.5C of pre-industrial levels.
All the scientific evidence points to urgent and wide ranging action needing to be taken to reduce CO2 emissions drastically. But as the name gives away, this is the 24th time that politicians from around the world have met in an effort reduce carbon emissions, but still haven’t taken enough action to make the kind of impact needed.
The problem is, that burning fossil fuels to provide the energy for our economic system of productivism, is what drives economic growth, and therefore provides wealth, is not compatible with reaching climate change goals. Yes, we should be moving to renewable sources of energy much faster than we are, but if growth keeps rising, as it must within the logic of the system, it is unlikely to ever be enough.
We need a great transformation of our societies and global economy, to use less resources, and to focus away from increasing GDP, if we are to have a realistic chance of stopping catastrophic climate change. The modest goals of COP 21 which this conference is meant put into action, falls way short of what needs to be done.
About 20,000 people from 190 countries will take part in the event, including politicians, representatives of non-governmental organizations, scientific community and business sector.
The United Nations has also created a "People's Seat" for the public to "virtually sit" and share their views alongside government leaders at the climate talks. To join the effort, tag your thoughts with hashtag #TakeYourSeat on social media.
This is your chance to put pressure on delegates, and help to save the planet.
Sunday 25 November 2018
Written and first published by Plan C
What role does technology play in our ecologically sustainable future, and how do we get there?
As part of Not the Anarchist Bookfair in London, Corporate Watch along with Uneven Earth and Plan C London organised a discussion on technology, ecology and future worlds. The event, named Techno Fantasies and Eco Realities, was attended by about 20 people and included some wide ranging and at times lively discussion around the role of technology and ecology in future worlds.
In particular, it focused on how we can free our imaginations from the grip of capitalist realism (the idea that capitalism is the only option for organising society), picturing possible future worlds and the role that technology will play in them, while keeping our imagined worlds grounded in social and ecological realities. For example, not forgetting that we are living on a planet with limited natural resources or that we have to consider how to make these imagined futures real.
Participants were invited to read three short pieces ahead of the discussion: “Fully Automated Green Communism” by Aaron Bastani, “Accelerationism.. and Degrowth? The Left’s Strange Bedfellows” by Aaron Vansintjan and “Pulling the Magic Lever”, by Rut Elliot Blomqvist.
Although initially a tongue in cheek provocation, Fully Automated Luxury Communism (FALC) has morphed into a serious proposition of how technology and automation could be used to provide for everyone’s needs and free people from the drudgery of wage labour. Bastani’s piece attempts to counter some of the ecological critiques of the idea, arguing that FALC can be green.
Instead of trying to halt the progress of technological development, and reduce energy consumption, Aaron argues that we should ride the technological horse to move beyond scarcity, proposing a kind of accelerationism where technology is rapidly advanced in order to bring about radical social change.
In “Accelerationism.. and Degrowth? The Left’s Strange Bedfellows”, Aaron Vansintjan looks at accelerationist ideas like FALC and compares them to ‘degrowth’, evaluating the similarities and differences between the two frameworks. Degrowth is a movement that has emerged from environmentalism and alternative economics and is focused on theorising and creating non-growth based economies and societies.
Although accelerationism and degrowth are apparently opposed, Vansinjtan finds some shared ideas, including their recognition of the need for deep, systemic change, their calls for democratisation of technology and their rejection of ‘work’ (or at least the idea that work is inherently good).
The key differences centre around accelerationism’s focus on reappropriating technology to achieve a resource-unlimited society, versus degrowth’s aim of limiting the development of certain forms of technology and staying within resource constraints. Degrowth also seeks to slow the metabolism of society, whereas accelerationism aims to increase the pace of social change. Ultimately, while supportive of accelerationism’s inspiring vision, Vansinjtan finds it seriously lacking in dealing with ecological critiques.
Rut Elliot Blomqvist examines three different visions of possible future worlds and the role that technology plays in them. ‘Pulling the Magic Lever’ is a reference to how technology is used to answer social or ecological problems without explaining how it will do so: you simply ‘pull the magic lever’ of technology and hey presto, it’s all solved.
It’s a running theme in all three of the imagined futures Blomqvist chooses to analyse. The first is in The World We Made, a novel by environmentalist Jonathon Porrit, then The Venus Project, a technology based political proposition, and finally Fully Automated Luxury Communism. In their analysis, Blomqvist uses a World Systems Theory approach to evaluate the ideas, critiquing the story of modernisation by framing it around colonialism.
The World We Made is based on Design Fiction, where fiction inspires possibilities of new designs. It sees the human species in general as the villain responsible for destroying the environment. In the novel’s fantasy scenario, however, humans manage to turn things around and start to use technology and various existing world institutions for the common good.
As Elliot points out, this book flags up an important discussion around the idea of the ‘anthropocene’ (a proposed name for a new human-affected geological epoch), which may support the view that the human species in general is the problem, rather than certain humans or, say, a capitalist growth-based economy. They also describe the book’s tendency towards technological optimism: it presents technology as providing the answers, without explaining how, and ignores the socio-cultural-political reasons for current ecological destruction.
The Venus Project is found to be even further along the techno-optimist spectrum and again ignores how its proposed technological utopia might be brought into existence. As well as highlighting its fetishisation of the scientific process, Elliot explains how The Venus Project often engenders conspiracy theories, a number of which are dangerously close to anti-Semitism.
Continuing the trend, FALC is found to involve similar techno-utopianism, where the working classes seize the means of production and use automation to create a world of plenty. Elliot points to a blind spot, as FALC doesn’t consider the limits of post-industrialism beyond the western world. Elliot describes how all three rely heavily on ‘pulling the magic lever’. While they show imagination, they are limited by the fossil-fuelled mentality they seek to criticise.
In our discussion at Not the Anarchist Bookfair, we asked participants to discuss two questions:
What role does technology play in our ecologically sustainable future, and how do we get there?
How can we move beyond the techno-optimist versus primitivist dichotomy? (I.e. beyond viewing technology as either the solution to or source of all our problems).
The questions were discussed in pairs, in small groups and then with everyone participating, and led to a broad discussion of the various themes raised. Some key points that came out included:
The importance of considering the social power necessary to make futures, and how human agency is often missing in visions of techno utopias.
The need to change who makes technology, how it is produced and the inherent politics of technologies.
The need to highlight and develop technology’s potential within the ecological movement, including within degrowth discussions.
The need to positively promote ecological future visions, and how to counter environmentalism’s ‘hair shirt’ image.
Considering whether we should assume that technologies will inevitably be developed, and so ride the tech bandwagon, or try to intervene and prevent or hinder certain developments.
Thinking about if/how we can change the basis on which automation takes places and is implemented. E.g. is non-capitalist automation possible, and if so, how could it be made non-capitalist?
Thinking about ways of bringing ecological and technologically based visions of the future back together.
A number of participants were keen to continue discussions and we are considering further forums to hold related future discussions. Corporate Watch is currently working on a technology project, if you are interested in knowing more or collaborating on future work, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To get involved with discussions as part of the Plan C Climate cluster contact email@example.com.
Friday 23 November 2018
Written by Allan Todd
Following my involvement, on Saturday 17 November, in Extinction Rebellion’s very successful Rebellion Day 1 in London, friends have said I should feel proud of what I did. ‘Yes’, I was one of over 6000 climate protectors who, peacefully, blocked 5 of London’s central bridges for most of that day - my allocated one was Lambeth Bridge:
The scene on Lambeth Bridge, Saturday 17 November
And, ‘Yes’, because of my actions, I was one of the 85 who were arrested for ‘willful obstruction of a highway’:
About to be arrested for refusing to move off the Bridge
After 2 hours in Barking and Dagenham police station, having initially been told I would be detained overnight, I was later ‘released, without bail, pending further investigations’.
From guilt to shame
However, I have to say that, of the 2 main feelings I’ve had about that Rebellion Day, ‘pride’ is most definitely NOT one of them. During the day itself, the main feeling was a combined one of exhilaration and hope.
Exhilaration, because so many people were prepared, peacefully, to break the law in order to protect the planet, and all those species currently living on it. And hope, that this Extinction Rebellion movement will quickly grow into an overwhelming force which will succeed in at last pushing the UK government to protect its citizens by doing all that is needed to achieve a zero-carbon economy over the next 10-15 years.
But, travelling back to Cumbria on the Sunday afterwards - the last train to Penrith on the Saturday had left 30 minutes before I was released from custody - an equally strong feeling began increasingly to take hold: guilt. Profound guilt. Though, as I’m now putting into the public domain, for the first time, the reasons why I feel so guilty, then that feeling now becomes one of shame - as my failings are no longer known only to me.
Essentially, I am deeply ashamed of how little - in just over 50 years of political activism - I have done to protect the planet and, consequently, our children’s and grandchildren’s generations.
Because for most of those 50 years - as well as the usual attractions and distractions - I was involved in campaigns that had nothing to do with the environment. Beginning with becoming a supporter of CND, I got successively involved in the campaigns against the Vietnam War and Apartheid South Africa; countering far right and fascist groups; as well as supporting the Bennite movement within the Labour Party.
Yet my first general political awareness was actually closely connected to the environment and how big corporations were despoiling it. In 1963, I read extracts from Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring:
This was at a time when her warnings were increasingly becoming visible - and invisible - in rural Norfolk, where I grew up. Visible, as regards the number of small birds which could be found dead by the sides of fields: invisible, by the gradual reduction in the numbers of owls and hawks.
Knowing, but not acknowledging
This failure was not because I had no knowledge of the growing environmental problems - or had lost my very early interest in wildlife. Various nuggets of information concerning the environment came to my attention, even whilst I was engaged with other, more overtly, political movements and campaigns.
However, for whatever reasons, the various but isolated facts concerning the emerging environmental crisis were largely pushed to the back of my mind. Even though, some 4 years ago, I’d read Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction.
All this environmental ‘knowledge’ was like some increasingly disturbing background music that I just wasn’t properly engaging with. I knew various bits of ‘stuff’ about the environment but - crucially - just wasn’t acknowledging it.
As Stan Cohen pointed out in States of Denial, knowing how bad something is, is one thing; but, once you’ve acknowledged something is bad, then you have to make one of two choices. Either you say: ‘I know it’s bad, but I can’t/won’t do anything about it’ - and you ignore it and cross to the other side of the road. Or, you say ‘It is bad, and I must try to do something about it’.
Too little, too late?
It wasn’t until over 3 years ago that, as I was reading Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything, I began to fully acknowledge the state we’re now in - and where, if we don’t take serious action soon, we’re heading.
Because, as I read her book, I thought: “If only half of this is true, then - if we don’t act now - the world my grandchildren will inhabit will be truly awful.”
Thus it was mainly Naomi Klein’s book which prompted me, in 2016, to do nvda training with Greenpeace, in order to become an environmental activist. This summer, for instance, I was part of the Greenpeace actions against Barclays (over their funding of new tar sands pipelines in North America) and VW (over air pollution and their continued production of diesel vehicles).
Then, 2 years ago, I read Ian Angus’ Facing the Anthropocene - and thought: “Never mind our grandchildren, the planet is going to be really horrendous for our children - even though my generation will probably ok.”
It was that which prompted me to become increasingly involved - eventually by organising the Green Mondays - in the anti-fracking campaign at Preston New Road, in Lancashire.
Now, of course, as this summer’s unprecedented global heatwave and, most recently of all, the catastrophic wildfires in California have shown, even my generation - which has done so much to cause, and so little to prevent this climate crisis - is also vulnerable to the increasingly frequent and destructive extreme ‘weather’ events resulting from global warming.
So, “No”, I don’t feel proud of my small part in Rebellion Day 1. Nor will I feel pride in anything else I may do in trying to prevent catastrophic Climate Breakdown. What I will feel, to my dying day, will be shame. Shame that I have failed our daughters and grandchildren, and their generations - and all the wildlife that currently still lives on this vulnerable planet.
However, I do try to follow Antonio Gramsci’s dictum: “Pessimism of the intellect, but optimism of the will.” Even though I increasingly fear we may have left it too late - and that the powerful dirty energy corporations will block the changes that are needed - there ARE definite signs of hope. The IPCC says we have 12 years in which to make the drastic changes that are necessary to get global warming to 1.5C or less.
Plus Kate Raworth’s brilliant book, Doughnut Economics - she has been one of our Green Monday speakers at Preston New Road - provides an intelligent and inspiring roadmap of what needs to be done:
And, finally, Extinction Rebellion seems to be the organisation and movement that we need right now - and that could well be what finally pushes the UK’s government to act in the interests of the 99%.
As an Extinction Rebellion spokesperson has said:
“Peaceful civil disobedience has a long, proud and successful history in bringing about positive and necessary change - in the UK, and in other countries, such as India and the US.”
Allan Todd is a member of Allerdale & Copeland Green Party, an anti-fracking activist and a Green Left supporter
Wednesday 21 November 2018
The newly elected President elect of Brazil, who takes office in January, the far right Jair Bolsonaro, dubbed the ‘Trump of the tropics,’ has appointed Ernesto Araújo, as the county’s foreign minister, in a move that looks ominous for efforts to tackle climate change. Brazil is home to probably the largest area of rain forest in the world. Bolsonaro, has supported a weakening of protections for the Amazon, the richest area of biodiversity in the world. Forests will be felled and the land turned into savannah, for use for agribusiness, mining and building construction.
So, Araújo’s belief that climate change is all a Marxist plot, fits part of a piece, similar to Donald Trump’ claims that climate change is a ‘hoax’ perpetrated by China to hobble the US economically. China can hardly be accurately described as "Marxist,’ or even left-wing, especially these days, but you can see the lazy and nationalistic thinking that Trump is trying push. It is a thinly veiled attempt to open up the environment to further capitalist exploitation and economic growth.
Back to Araújo, though. Writing on his blog he says “The left has sequestered the environmental cause and perverted it to the point of paroxysm over the last 20 years with the ideology of climate change, climate change.”
“This dogma has been used to justify increasing the regulatory power of states over the economy and the power of international institutions on the nation states and their populations, as well as to stifle economic growth in democratic capitalist countries and to promote the growth of China.”
Quite why Araújo seems to think that he is qualified to pronounce on these matters, he is not a climate scientist, or a scientist of any description; he studied linguistics and literature at university, and was trained as a diplomat at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is a mystery. The vast majority of climate scientists do not think that man-made climate change is some sort of conspiracy. This is just right-wing rhetoric from Araújo,or if you like, fake news.
Some countries in South America have seen the rise of a form of ecosocialism, particularly in Bolivia and Venezuela, but again I don’t think you can call this Marxist, in any accurate use of the term. Perhaps, it is just a short hand expression to describe left-wing politics and those who practice it, to some extent or another, and to try and smear such governments with a term that is deemed to be politically toxic.
The British right-wing media routinely call the UK Labour party leadership ‘Marxist,’ which is clearly not the case, as in reality it is pretty mainstream social democratic, and not even as left-wing as Labour was in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Accuracy is not their aim though. Scaring the voters with this claptrap is the intention.
All ecosocialists do think that our ecological problems, including climate change, are rooted in the capitalism’s propensity for accumulation and infinite economic growth on a finite planet, and some might be more accurately described as eco-Marxist. James Bellamy Foster et al at Monthly Review are an example of this. Other ecosocialists, and I include myself in this, are more loosely Marxist, and Michel Lowy is a prominent example of this type of thinking.
Capitalism which really only got going during the industrial revolution in the nineteenth century, and this was only made possible by burning coal, to create steam power, to run the machines that increased productivity, and so profits, for the capitalist class. It is no coincidence that global temperatures began to rise at this point, accelerating in the twentieth century, so that temperatures are now around 1C higher today, and rising.
The denial of man-made climate change, funded by fossil fuel corporations, but also by other capitalist interests, is clearly an attempt to throw up a smokescreen, if you will forgive the analogy, so that business as usual can carry on. All perfectly rational for capitalists, given the potential that action on climate change has for stopping these corporations from making money.
Some ‘green’ capitalists of course, spy a new opportunity for making money, with a move to providing renewable energy, solar, wind, wave etc and they promote carbon trading schemes. As though the market which caused the problem, can somehow solve it.
Renewable energy would still use up precious resources, and probably doesn’t have the capacity to keep up with the veracious and increasing appetite of the system for energy input, to drive economic growth exponentially.
The really inconvenient truth, to borrow Al Gore’s term, and his rather modest proposals to solve climate change, is that if we don’t ditch capitalism, humanity faces a massive climate disaster.
Saturday 17 November 2018
First published at Conter
We live under an economic system which encourages consumption on an industrial scale and the consequences of climate change will be endured by future generations. What can we as activists do to affect change here in Scotland? Pete Cannell and Brian Parkin write ahead of this Saturday’s Just Transitions conference in Edinburgh about the steps we need to be taking…
We face an existential threat. Unless there’s a rapid transition to a low/no carbon economy there will be catastrophic climate change. The recent UN Climate report underlined how little time we have. In years to come, our children and grand children may ask why, when the danger was clear, there was no mass movement to drive the change that’s required.
The UN report, like government policies around the world, assumes the market will adapt to meet carbon reduction targets. However, growth in solar and wind energy production is taking place alongside a massive expansion in the use of coal. It’s now certain if we rely on market forces, driven as they are by the maximisation of profit, the targets will not be met.
The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, already higher than it has been for 10 million years will continue to grow and average temperatures will continue to rise.
But it’s also clear if we drop the reliance on the market it’s possible to make the transition to a low carbon economy in a way that will mitigate the future effects of climate change and provide immediate benefits for most of the world’s population. The Campaign Against Climate Change has developed a costed blueprint for transition at a UK level and the notion of a Just Transition is gaining traction around the world.
Today, a one-day conference in Edinburgh will look at how we can take the urgent steps needed for a Just Transition in Scotland. We start with some real advantages and some major challenges. Scotland as a ‘region’ of the UK is a distinct geo-political entity. It has a significantly higher proportion of its adult workforce in industrial employment.
Core industrial sectors such as shipbuilding, heavy mechanical (and electrical) engineering and construction have retained a ‘critical mass’ and skill content of their workforces and have been able to keep pace with world class technological developments. Long-term involvement in North Sea oil and gas has developed the most advanced marine engineering and process systems base in the world.
This is a major technological asset with massive spin-off and diversification potential. Scotland has by far the greatest share of the UK’s potential wave and tidal stream renewable energy resources (about 75%) as well as about half of the useable onshore and offshore wind.
It’s important that energy policy, the creation of a state run energy company and the creation of a green investment bank are on the Scottish Government agenda. However, the initial proposals for these essential components of a strategy for transition fall far short of the scale and ambition that’s required.
There also seems to be little recognition of a looming energy crisis. In terms of electrical capacity and distribution, Scotland is rapidly slipping from its pre-electricity privatisation situation (1989) of a 50% over-capacity with interconnector ‘exports’ to England and Wales and Northern Ireland, to one of sharp capacity decline and a possible import dependency by 2025.
ScotE3, the organisers of the conference argue that to build the momentum required for a Just Transition a full and democratic debate is needed to tackle hard political questions. Climate change in the abstract is terrifying. But recognition of the threat can’t be confined to committed environmental activists.
If you’re scared and feel powerless then it’s very unlikely you will join their ranks. Indeed anger at inequality and fear for the future is precisely the terrain on which the alt right is flourishing.
The relatively small-scale initiatives to tackle climate change that are currently in place or planned will neither be effective nor will they inspire confidence. However, large scale investment that guarantees job security (and paid retraining if required) for engineering workers in the construction and defence sectors as the switch is made to climate jobs would be hugely popular in these sectors which are rife with rotten agency staffing.
A programme of home insulation for all would stop the illness and anxiety caused by the high levels of fuel poverty that exist across Scotland but disproportionately impact old and poorer people in rural areas.
These are big steps and necessary steps. At the conference we’ll see film from REEL News showing how working class communities in the US are organising for a Just Transition and there will be speakers from Campaign Against Climate Change, the Campaign Against the Arms Trade and the defence and construction sectors.
However, the most important part of the conference will involve thinking about how we win the case for urgent and large-scale action. The manifesto or action plan produced will be shared across the labour movement and community groups as an open document for discussion and amendment.
For more information go to the ScotE3 Employment, Energy and Environment website
Thursday 15 November 2018
There will be a direct action protest in central London on Saturday 17 November, from 10am to 3pm, organised by the campaign group Extinction Rebellion. Originally, protesters were to meet in Parliament Square, but the latest from their Facebook page asks people to congregate on and around these London bridges straddling the Thames; Southwark, Blackfriars, Waterloo, Westminster and Lambeth.
Saturday’s demonstration will be the culmination of non-violent direct action protests this week, which saw protesters gluing themselves to gates outside Downing Street on Wednesday, 27 people were arrested. Protesters then moved onto the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, where a wall was spray painted with the message: "Climate emergency. Frack off. Climate breakdown equals starvation."
Earlier in the week on Monday, a similar protest took place outside the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which saw 22 people arrested. Saturday’s action promises to be the largest yet, with over 2,700 people indicating on Facebook that they will attend.
This move comes out of a despair with normal politics and politicians, who have failed utterly to get to grips in any meaningful way, with man-made climate change and other environmental crises. Year on year for the last five years, the planet has got increasingly warmer, Arctic icecaps are melting, wild fires rage from the Arctic circle to Australia, and hurricanes are more frequent and more forceful than previously.
The IPCC report last month says we at best we have 12 years to mend our ways if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change, and governments’ including in the UK do nothing, or worse, exacerbate the problem with fracking and airport expansions. This is why people are taking direct action and risking being arrested, to try and get the politicians to take the earth’s sustainability seriously.
Non-violent direct action has a proud history in the UK and around the world, the Suffragettes, Gandhi and the civil rights protests in the southern States of the US. All of which led to changes in the longer run. It is with this history and spirit in mind that Extinction Rebellion have organised their campaign.
I share the campaigners despair, no tinkering around the edges of current environmental policies will get us to where we need to be, so I fully support these protests and wish that I was as brave as these people. I don’t fancy getting arrested, I could well lose my job, if I did.
So, I hope that my efforts in support of the demonstrators, which only amounts to that of a ‘keyboard warrior’ will, in some way, help to bring about change.
System change, not climate change. Solidarity with Extinction Rebellion.
Tuesday 13 November 2018
Written by Harvey Perry
A McDonald’s straw holds the potential to change your perception on the current state of global warming. A single, 5 inch plastic straw.
Starting my second year of university was very daunting, which it is for a lot of people as not only are you there to get a degree that holds no promise of leading to a career, but also forming new friendships is difficult especially with people you are forced to live with. Thankfully, this year I managed to find a group of people who want to have a good time at university and get their work done, which are my kind of people. During a heat wave a few weeks ago we had a day out in the sun, getting some work done and eating a lot of food. Plenty of sandwiches and crisps. Walking back from the field, we picked up some fast food because why not.
I threw my burger wrapper and chips away into a bin but kept the straw just to play with while I walked back with my friends back towards the flat. Having something to play with has always been normal behaviour for me as I’ve been described as “very fiddly”, which probably isn’t the worst thing I’ve been called in life. After I’d chewed the straw to ruins I blew it out of my mouth and watched it fall to the ground, joining the empty crisps packets and used coffee cups littered all over the street. It’s quite rare for me to litter because I am rationally afraid of being fined hundreds of pounds that I know I won’t be able to pay, nonetheless I did it anyway and thought little of it because it was just one straw.
Something about seeing my straw joining the masses of rubbish that accumulated just 10 feet from nearby bins made me realise that I couldn’t have been the only person right then to have done that very same thing. Maybe it was the sun finally being out and enjoying the start of summer me see all the rubbish around, but that straw helped me see a bigger picture. A revelation, if you will.
I asked my friends why they thought that in 2018 there wasn’t a unanimous agreed upon law by world leaders to make positive strides in improving the environment, and why no one is held accountable when considerable damage is done to environment during wartime or oil spillage disasters and the like. One my friends, a Sociology student, and the oldest out of all of us, said that in some traditional perspectives, damage to the environment isn’t considered to be in the same category as crime between people, as plants and ecosystems aren’t harmed in the same way that humans are.
As argued by the group, this way of thinking is very outdated as to hurt the environment is only harming human life in the long run. A tweet I’d seen earlier that week by Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson said that planet Earth will ‘survive anything we throw at it. But Life on Earth will not’ (Twitter, 2018) and as apocalyptic as that sounds, I think it is important that even on an individual basis people need to take better care of this planet.
The Environmental Consciousness
My friend also told us about a sociologist called Giddens who presented a paradox in human nature towards the issue of global warming. The consequences of global warming will not take effect immediately and so people today may not see it as an issue that needs to be given immediate attention. However, this way of thinking will lead to the inevitable future where it will be too late to right the wrongs of the past.
Seeing all of this rubbish flutter around the city centre triggered images of mountains of rubbish that I’d never seen with my own eyes to race through my mind, striking me on a level I didn’t think was possible. Suddenly my environmental consciousness kicked into overdrive and I realised how easy it was to add to the damage to the environment, and think little of the consequences as you are doing it. Thinking of the thousands of plastic straws that were improperly recycled by the millions and millions of fast food customers every week, made me realise how important and immediate the issue of “fixing” the environment is.
The Generational Gap
Over the last few months in South Yorkshire, there has been a rapid increase of trees being cut down as part of a large operation to fix the roads and pavement across the entire county. In the process, hundreds of old trees are to be cut down and the saplings being planted to replace these old trees aren’t sufficient enough to adequately replace the adult trees that are being cut down. In some cases these small saplings have been reportedly vandalised and may take anywhere between 10-15 years to reach adulthood.
In February, I had the opportunity of filming a protest event outside of Sheffield’s Trades and Labour building where members of the Labour party were meeting. Labour controls Sheffield City Council. One of the protesters was a fourteen year old boy who, despite his age, saw the same paradox that Giddens theorised about and very passionately believed that the older politicians will have to live with the consequences of this operation, far shorter than himself and people his age would have to.
Seeing such fierce advocacy for change in someone so young was an odd sight to see in person yet I was reassured in knowing that he wasn’t alone. There are plenty of intelligent young people around the world, who are frustrated with how the world is and want to set things right for their generation and future ones. Alas, there are plenty of people in older generations who dismiss young people as being “snowflakes”, easily offended and angry for no reason. A truly inaccurate title that is becoming attached to young people.
I think as a general consensus for the common human, the attention we pay to our environmental consciousness is quite low on the list of things to worry about in life. The little things we could be doing on a daily basis to improve the environment around us are often dismissed because we have to go to work, to pay for rent and constantly fix our sleeping patterns, because a new show came out on Netflix. I follow various zero-waste Reddit and Instagram pages to find the latest tips on how to up cycle the things around me that might go to waste, but I seldom put these tips into practise.
Finding reassurance in knowing that I am doing my part to contribute is often at the bottom of my ever-growing list of things to-do. Similar to many controversial issues in the world, this mentality of “Surely I can’t change things, I’m just one person” is often what divides entire communities from ever being able to come together and make great change in the world. This same attitude is why 35% of registered voters didn’t show up to the ballots in the 2010 UK general election (BBC News, 2018).
Tried and Tested Mentalities
Growing up I noticed this mentality strongly imbedded in people within my family. My uncle had a very clear idea about everyone in the world doing the right thing and giving their best effort to keep the your conscious clear, whereas my mom had a similar mind state to many other people of only caring for those within the immediate family. It wasn’t a disheartening thing to constantly hear that individual action couldn’t lead to considerable change throughout the world, because I would read about people like MLK and Malcolm X who lead great movements and spearheaded change throughout history.
My uncle’s belief in individual action leading to significant change was so great that it compelled him to join the army, and growing up around a time when people in my family were finally starting to figure out what they wanted to do with their lives, helped me shape my own understanding of the world.
I believed that it was everybody’s role in society to do their bit for the sake of providing a balance in society, ensuring the world ran smoothly. It wasn’t until I developed a great sceptics mind whilst studying sociology at high school, where I started to realise that not everybody in society has intentions to go out into the world and spread peace and positivity. Some people just don’t conform to society as utilitarian as some of us would hope.
Moral Obligations to Society
Something I wrote at the end of a very long essay in my last sociology essay during A-levels went something along the lines of “No one is obligated to give anything back to society despite everyone living in it. But if we all stopped believing in these obligations that we give ourselves, then society falls apart”. As intellectual as I thought I was being in my exam, I think I was finally realising that everybody has intentions in the world, but not all of them are good, and not everyone has the goal of spreading peace throughout the world.
Anyone willing to risk their lives for something they believe is right is truly commendable, but even as a child I didn’t understand that if your own people back home aren’t upholding society then what is everyone fighting for? Are these obligations to society as important as we are told they are? We have to at least believe in leaving the world better than we found it, for the sake of admitting that we did our best to better the world to future generations.
Where We Go From Here
Taking into consideration how little my groups’ few bags worth of litter weighs in compared to the amounts dumped into landfills across the world, it all adds to the upsettingly long list of cases where the responsibility of government bodies and communities to protect each other and the environment from this scale of environmental harm is completely disregarded. Like Neil deGrasse Tyson said, the Earth will be fine no matter what we do to each other.
Yet somehow it seems very likely that humans will bring about the fall of the human race. The growing laissez-faire attitude towards this level of negligence when it comes to taking care of mother nature would result in ruining beautiful wildlife that are continuing to die at increasing rates, some we will even see become extinct within our lifetime. It would mean shorting life expectancies for future generations that we will never get to meet, and it will ensure the deaths of key ecosystems that provide so much life and value to the rare, perfect conditions for allowing us to live on Earth.
Not only do world leaders need to make active efforts in communication and cooperation to ensure we are metaphorically putting the right foot forward as a human race, but also swift action needs to be taken to ensure that future generations can benefit from whatever we leave behind. Change on a global scale could mean a great deal when combined with the efforts of individuals, of others willing to match their enthusiasm and desperate to pass that activism onto future generations.
‘A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit’ – David Elton Trueblood (Trueblood, 1951).
https://twitter.com/neiltyson/status/988127586139033600?s=21 [Accessed 22 April 2018]
Trueblood, E. (1951). The life we prize. New York: Harper.
BBC News. (2018). Who are the non-voters?.[online] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2015-32527697 [Accessed 12 April 2018]
Harvey Perry is a green political activist