When You Accuse Climate Activists of Hypocrisy, You Miss The Point Entirely

Vocal social media users attack climate change protesters

Survival of the planet requires radical systemic change. When we place blame on the masses, we allow the climate’s biggest enemies to quietly continue business as usual.

Our planet is burning. We are teetering on the edge of irreversible climate change that could trigger the sixth mass extinction, killing millions. Scientists don’t know when the tipping point will occur, or whether it has already, but once it does, we will have caused irreparable damage to the Earth.

I’m sure you’re all too painfully aware of the devastation and destruction that is ripping through nature. Greenhouse gas emissions are at record high, and there is more Co2 in the atmosphere than there has ever been. Thousands are dying in European capital cities because of polluted air. The oceans are rising so rapidly that at this rate we will lose cities to the sea. Los Angeles, Bangkok, Miami, Barcelona will experience annual flooding. Indonesia is even moving its capital city because Jakarta is sinking. If our planet warms by just 2 degrees, we risk losing five percent of animal and plant species, and an ensuring domino effect could collapse ecosystems. The warming climate is helping disease-ridden mosquitoes to spread. The climate crisis could create up to 1.5 billion more migrants by 2050, and yet we are increasingly tightening our borders and treating refugees inhumanely. Indigenous people are losing their home to wildfires and destruction of the natural land. We lost 120,000km of tropical rainforests last year. Ice sheets continue to melt at an accelerated rate. If the entire of Greenland’s ice sheet melts, the sea level will rise by seven meters. Flooding, drought, tsunamis and hurricanes are killing people and destroying villages. Yet two thirds of extreme weather events in the last 20 years were influenced by humans. We are at risk of running out of food. The planet simply cannot sustain the amount of people who live on it, if we continue consuming and producing at the current rate.

The climate crisis is real, it’s here, and it’s utterly terrifying. It makes for grim reading, but the worst thing thing we could do right now is lose hope. The survival of the species that remain on this planet depends on immediate, tangible and radical action.

Copyright of Dan Gold, Unsplash

A year ago, a 16-year-old Swedish girl started bunking off school to sit outside of parliament. She sat holding a sign that read “skolstrejk för klimatet” (striking for climate). Now, hundreds of thousands of people across the world have followed her lead, joining the #FridaysForFuture movement, leaving their school or workplace to disrupt the system.

The streets have been swarming with people demanding that governments listen to their desperate pleas. Children and adults across the entire world, in cities such as Milan, Washington DC, Montreal, New Delhi, Nigeria and London have come together in a brilliant display of unity and strength in the face of worrying odds. Protesting gives these young people a sense of hope and purpose. A sense of gaining control over the climate crisis, something so mammoth it threatens to overwhelm you until you can’t breath. They are shouting at the decision makers to realise the urgency of the situation. To act. To do something. And how are they treated in return? They are belittled. Scolded for not being in school. Jeremy Clarkson, who punched a producer over some steak, called Greta a “spoilt brat”, told her to “be a good girl, shut up.”

Piers Morgan, a man who lost himself in a fit of rage over vegetarian sweets and Gregg’s vegan sausage roll, called her a “vulnerable young drama queen”. Donald Trump tried mock her; only to self own when she changed her Twitter bio to quote him. It’s not just people in the public eye peddling this rhetoric. Every day I’m subjected to another tweet about the ‘emotional instability’ of Greta, or groups of grown men calling her a “twat”. This aggression from middle aged men and right wing politicians towards a teenage girl trying to prevent the collapse of the planet is utterly embarrassing. It’s reeks of toxic masculinity, to be threatened by a woman speaking her mind without trying to hide her anger and anguish, to argue she must be brainwashed under the control of her parents, because how else could a 16-year-old girl with Asperger Syndrome possibly have her own mind and opinions? This does nothing but reveal their immaturity and that they care more about pride and protecting their fragile ego than fighting for the next generation to have a future. These people simply feel threatened, and will go to any lengths to avert the focus from the climate crisis, because change is not in their economic interest. We should not entertain it. We know who is on the right side of history in the survival of the human race.

Copyright of Markus Spiske, Unsplash

Right wing media sneer at celebrities and public figures in some perplexing fight against people who don’t fancy mass extinction. Emma Thompson was called a hypocrite for flying to an Extinction Rebellion protest. Members of the Royal Family were attacked for taking a private jet to Elton John’s house. Whilst this a far from ideal way to convince the public to change their actions, it’s also a lazy ignorance of the simple message they are trying to spread; that we need green energy solutions so our easiest mode of transport doesn’t cause environmental carnage. These are isolated examples used to push an anti-climate, pro-growth conservative agenda.

When we place blame on the masses, we allow corporations, governments and fossil fuel companies to quietly continue business as usual in the background. Whilst we squabble between ourselves, critiquing the lifestyle choices of activists, we are allowing the system to continue as normal. Capitalism is killing this planet. It’s time to accept that. We are not in this state because a few kids made some paper posters.

When companies feel under enough pressure to put people before profit, when we ban fossil fuels, when we provide worldwide access to sustainable waste management, when the USA accept and care that they are global leaders in greenhouse gas emissions, when we fund research into solutions, and technologies to extract carbon from the atmosphere, improve sustainable farming methods, then, and only then, can we accuse individuals of not doing enough. This is exactly what those in power want. They want submission, they want order, they want continual profit even if it is at the detriment to the public.

We, the people, are so much stronger together. Division makes us weak. If we are mocking millennial's and Gen Z for drinking soy milk, telling them to go back to school but simultaneously accusing them of not doing enough, then less energy is being directed at those who have the most power to enact the change that could save us.

We have a climate denier ruling one of the most powerful countries in the world. We live in a capitalist society that spreads dreams of unsustainable and eternal economic growth. Deals and decisions are made in private rooms, and the public are only drip fed details of the real rate of consumption and key players behind the continued destruction. We cannot just simply ‘leave this to the scientists’ as Clarkson so ingeniously suggested. We need to up heave the entire system.

This is not to undermine the impact that an individual can have. We have to drastically reduce our mindless consumption so we can change the market. Only if companies see there is not profit in continuing business as usual will we enact change. This argument is not ignorant that supply and demand have an impact on the state of the market. There are simple, daily changes we can all make to do our part. Eating a vegan diet, for example, is the simple most effective way you can reduce your climate footprint. A study by researchers at the University of Oxford, showed meat and dairy produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions and takes up 83% of farmland, but delivers just 18% of calories and 37% of protein. By going vegan, one person can save approximately 219,000 gallons of water a year. Globally, animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gases than all the world’s transportation systems combined.

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What you must realise, is that this information is causing the younger generation to change their behaviour. Veganism is consistently growing in popularity. Children are pledging not to have children when they grow up because of the uncertainty of the future. There is public outcry. We are angry, we are not satisfied with the state of the system. We want solutions, not just acknowledgement that there is a problem. So why are we not putting the most pressure on those who make the decisions, who mine for coal, drill for oil, farm animals, manufacture more cars, and devices that are built to be disposable, who sign bills into law that allow companies to produce, make, destroy more, to those who are digging up natural land to build railways, and turfing people out of their homes to frack for yet more oil and gas? Why are we directing our anger at people who are trying to make a difference; those who are unwilling participants in this society? Products we have been using for decades aren’t made to last. Wet wipes, nappies, sanitary pads, tampons, water bottles, almost all food packaging, toothbrushes, coffee cups… it’s the most successful business strategy. The less time your product lasts, the more of it you can sell.

We have spent our lives surrounded by advertising. We are subliminally fed marketing messages constantly. There’s no escaping it. And companies with the biggest profit margins are the ones who can continue to pump out adverts, despite their harmful practices. Coca-cola produces 3m tonnes of plastic a year. Along with 30 other companies, including Mars and Nestle, they produce 8m tonnes a year.

Fast fashion is another huge offender. Making a pair of jeans produces as much greenhouse gases as driving a car more than 80 miles. Clothes you throw away can rot in landfills for up to 200 years. It takes 2,700 liters of water to make one cotton shirt. That would keep you hydrated for two and a half years.

So, “people should just boycott those 31 brands and not buy new clothes!”, I hear you cry. I don’t think you understand the magnitude of what you are expecting from everyone. These companies are ingrained in our society so deeply that it’s formed part of our daily life to mindlessly contribute to their monopoly. And only now are the effects being made public, after people have built consumerist habits over years of conditioning.

Copyright of Julia Joppien, Unsplash

Personally, I only buy second hand clothes. I don’t eat meat. I drink oat milk. I don’t eat butter, and avoid products with palm oil in them. I own a bicycle, not a car. I make my own deodorant, use soap bars instead of plastic bottle of shower gel, and carry my metal water flask everywhere I go. My housemates and I subscribe to a local, organic vegetable box. We reuse and recycle.

I try, but I am far from perfect. I could do so much more to reduce my carbon footprint. I have still flown, for work and for leisure. I shop in supermarkets. I exist and contribute to the society around me. Not everyone does; some heavily dedicated people become completely self sufficient; swapping gas and electricity for solar energy, using reusable toilet paper, growing their own food and never flying. They rebuild their lives to exist outside of our consumerist culture that thrives on mass production. They go off grid.They sacrifice all of the comforts we have been convinced that we need. Living such a life of minimal environmental impact is incredibly difficult. It’s isolating, and it’s just not practical for people who have vulnerable individuals relying on them, or can’t afford to leave their job, and don’t have the skills to go all Bear Grylls on their friends and loved ones.

It is just not feasible to expect the 20% of people in the UK who live in poverty, which includes 8 million working-age adults, to make choices based on anything other than economic necessity. Have you shopped in a supermarket lately? Have you looked at every item, and noted how many are in recyclable packaging? Have you studied the carbon footprint of the fresh produce? Have you compared the prices of fruit and vegetables that are wrapped in plastic and those that are not?

Can you expect a family, who are just about making enough to survive, to shell out for vegan alternative milk when cow milk is half the price? To afford solar panels for their home they can just about afford? How about the millions of people across the world who live in areas so remote, they rely on a car to get to work, or disabled people who cannot rely on public transport?

Whilst we take a scrutinising microscope to individual action, we are ignoring the root of the problem.

“I BeT ThOSe ProTEStoRs DriVe To THe MArch

“I Bet THey Use ELEctriCiTY InsTEAd Of CanDLeLight”

“I bET ThEY lEfT AlL ThAt LiTTEr On The Street!”

“I BET TheY Live In a HOuse!”

“I bEt THey AtE MEat OnCe!”

The people who use this defence are simply angry and bitter, and their feelings are woefully misdirected. They fear change. They don’t like being told what to do. Especially when they are being told by a teenage girl.

Copyright of Ian Simmonds, Unsplash

But we need to suck it up and accept we have to do more. This year, humans’ use of ecological resources and services exceeded the amount the planet could produce in a year. We reached this point on July 29th, 2019. This is known as Earth Overshoot Day. To shift this date, we would need to reduce driving by 50% across the world. 50% of the world need to stop consuming meat. We need to reforest 350million hectares of forest. We need to have less children. And most of all, we need to de-carbonise how we power the economy. Who does the power lie to make these changes lie with? 71% of total greenhouse gas emissions originate from 100 companies. Want to know who the biggest offenders are?

And, finally, ladies and gentlemen, the Government of China? 14.3%.

Seeing climate change protests and actions from groups such as Extinction Rebellion, fills me with pride. I’m proud that so many of us are refusing to roll over and accept our grim fate. But progress is still too slow. We think banning plastic straws is a triumph. Life in the West is still too comfortable. We have grown accustomed to accessibility without a thought for the consequences. We need to stop using pesticides and weed killer in order to protect natural wildlife. Councils need to stop using and allowing toxic chemicals, and build wildlife friendly processes before we lose the birds and the bees.

We had one single car free day in London. Why not more? Why not limit personal car use in favor of public transport? Why not limit personal flying? People are drawn to the most environmentally costly options — the cheap food, cheap flights, cheap clothes, cheap disposable items. Can you blame them? We need to destroy the economic model of profit at any cost. We need the governments to make drastic changes to the law. But which are prepared to do that, when the satisfaction and support of huge conglomerates holds more weight than ‘hysterical’ teenagers?

It is ludicrous to demonise children for simply existing within the consumerist society we bought them into. The younger generations are smarter and more mobile than we have ever been. Awareness of the climate crisis has never been higher. Kids understand the impact of fossil fuels, the carbon footprint of transport, agriculture, fishing, population growth and pollution. We have done this to them. We have robbed them of their childhood, of hopes for a rosy future. Children live in fear that they are not going to have an inhabitable planet to grow up in. A rising number of kids are being treated with psychiatric drugs for eco-anxiety — a word used to describe intense emotional stress and exhaustion caused by fear of a mass extinction caused by climate change. The symptoms of ‘eco-anxiety’ mirror that of clinical anxiety. Those who experience a natural disaster during childhood, a symptom of our unstable climate, suffer behavioural changes, and impacts on their physical and mental growth. Their memory, decision making and performance in school is affected.

It’s easy to get despondent and disheartened by the state of the planet. When you are not only fearing for the future, but are faced every day by insistent climate change deniers, it can be easy to feel hopeless. But we mustn’t give up. We cannot accept defeat, and simply stop fighting for the survival of our planet and all who inhabit it. The voices of those denying what is in front of their very eyes, those who deny the scientific proof, those who demonise scared children who are protesting for their future, are much quieter than the resistance. However hard it can be to see sometimes, there is good out there. There are people who are making a difference. There are people who have had enough.

Individuals are not powerless. Change can certainly come from the masses rising up, rebelling, challenging the status quo. We are more important than we may feel. We can all do better, be better. But let’s not let that fact distract from the systematic changes that need to happen. Our planet is not going to be saved by a few individuals abstaining from plastic, nor is it going to be destroyed by Greta eating some bread on a train. Individual action is valuable but it is simply not enough. The responsibility lies with the state, the world leaders, the greedy corporations, the oil and aviation companies. Let’s start demanding solutions from them, shall we?

Freelance journalist and mental health advocate

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