Inanna Tribukait and Joseph Holland pick up their placards to talk politics and protests
Deputy News Editor
On 20 September, I went on the Global Climate Strike. It wasn’t the first strike I had attended, but something felt different about this one. Pictures kept coming up on social media of my friends, who had been protesting in their cities, scattered across the globe, different people in different countries; and those who couldn’t make it to the protest still made sure to voice their support. According to Greta Thunberg, at least seven million people worldwide participated in protests for rapid environmental action in the week from 20-27 September.
It was almost too fitting that Glasgow was eerily warm and sunny on the day of the strike, as if the weather had wanted to reinforce the point of the protest. I returned home having lost my voice from shouting, drenched in sweat, and giddily optimistic. To my own surprise, I could see some good to this environmental crisis: there was something historical about this moment in time, this movement. It was almost like an opportunity. I felt that for the first time in human history, mankind could have a common enemy in the climate crisis, and the environmental movement could not only be about addressing the climate, but also be the beginning of a global peace project.
This article was meant to be about this brief moment of euphoria when I believed in a naive utopia, in which all nations of the world would come to their senses, let ongoing conflicts rest and focus on the real issue: working together to rebuild the world. A world in which maybe 10, or 20 years from now, rivers and oceans would be plastic-free, you could walk in car-free city centres, the Amazon would be reforested, previously endangered species thriving, and indigenous territories restored.
Instead, this article is now about the responsibility we have. “We” in this case stands for the driving forces of global heating; more precisely, the members of western societies. The responsibility we have is to address what has been swept under the rug of historical self-glorification.
As a white, middle-class, able-bodied, university-educated person in a western country, with a passport that gives me the opportunity to pretty much attain a visa in almost any nation of the world, I have been dealt a pretty good hand. If I speak of hope for a better future, one that is free from the anxiety that the climate crisis causes me, that comes from a place of cruel ignorance and unearned privilege.
Right now, Haitians are still looking for their relatives underneath the rubble of the houses that were destroyed by a category five hurricane. Indigenous tribes have their homesteads burnt. Right now, small island nations - the ones least responsible for climate change - are pledging to do the most at climate summits, because they are trying to prevent being submerged in the floods of sea levels they did nothing to rise.
People like me, on the other hand, members of western, postcolonial societies, need to take responsibility now, to own up to the mistakes that our societies have committed and that they are still profiting from.
Addressing the climate crisis cannot simply be done by lots of westerners going vegan, or flying less, or buying second-hand (although all these things can certainly help a lot). It has to be done by addressing the very foundations on which our societies are built, because these are the driving forces of the crisis: fantasies of unlimited economic growth, colonial expansion, and the fatally flawed - but still prevailing - idea that the western model is somehow the blueprint to be applied in every country for an ideal world.
That is the essence of climate justice: we need to step back, take responsibility and give up privileges. We need to acknowledge that when we say we are fighting for our own future, we are downplaying the urgency of the issue and erasing the voices of those who are already suffering at this very moment. For us, it is our future that is at stake. For others, their present has already been ruined. Hope should be theirs to claim, and our societies and politicians need to stop taking it away from them.
If you've made it past the headline, I already know what you’re thinking, I really do. “Bet this guy’s a proper right-wing, posh, climate-change-denying, privileged, Tory dick!” I’m not a climate change denier and I’m not overly privileged or posh… but I am a Tory.
I do think climate change is real. As a politics and public policy student, I’m fascinated by the ways in which government can make a real difference in making us a cleaner, greener country. From incentivising more electrified transportation, cutting back on plastic usage and encouraging efficient and wide-reaching recycling programmes, all of them generally have my backing. They can only be a good thing.
But recently there’s been one thing that’s particularly got my back up - the on-going climate protests. These protests are held to voice disaffection to government, politicians and businesses over their handling of the environment. That in itself is great, by all means, protest - it’s a worthy cause to raise your voice to.
Instead, my issue with these climate protests is that they are, in essence, just a bit of a social fad. A trend if you will. Yes, there are some who are genuinely devoted to the cause, and some who are well-read on the issue of climate change; but for the large part, I think most are just a bit clueless, simply going along with the crowd. I’m not just saying this to be edgy or act like I’m on some high horse, I’m saying this because I’m just as clueless in the day-to-day as the next guy.
My point is that a lot of these protests are ironic, not least because when I was recently in Manchester, one of the Extinction Rebellion protests was using a diesel-powered generator for their stage, but for so many more reasons. No, I just think that it’s ironic that these protesters tend to be the same individuals who love a nice bit of fast fashion, holidaying abroad and eating loads of avocados.
Again, I’m not denying that I like these things too. But what I’m saying is that proverb of looking at yourself before you point the finger at others seriously needs to be applied.
An ITV Tonight survey found that of 2,000 people surveyed, only 2.5% considered the environmental impact of their fashion habits the most important factor in buying new clobber. The UN then underlines the actual environmental cost of fast fashion, with a recent report stating that the fashion industry uses more energy than both the shipping and aviation industries, combined. I know, kinda rough.
For the most part, the same people who are protesting the climate crisis will have probably rocked up in a pair of clean-outta-the-box Nike’s. Enough said.
Secondly, our diets. I’m a fan of the avocado, who isn’t? Love it on my nachos, or just scooping some out with some vinaigrette, but again, the same people who love them so ardently are the ones protesting climate change. Studies show that it’s mostly young people who love the green beauty, but its carbon footprint is outright enormous. We love our avocados so much that we Insta them 3m times a day, and Waitrose has reportedly sold 30% more in the last year, with the US expected to have an industry worth around $23bn by 2027. Yet it’s this exotic delight that has a carbon footprint five times larger than that of a banana, and three times as much as a large cappuccino. Just how much of our diets rely upon overly-exotic choices that are just fuelling climate change?
Lastly, heading abroad. The Boston Consulting Group has said that our generation is 23% more interested in travelling abroad than other generations… not exactly a positive thing to hear if you’re a climate protester when it’s expected that plane emissions could take up a quarter of the global “carbon budget” by 2050 … it doesn’t exactly look good, does it?
So, essentially, what I’m saying is: by all means protest. Go for it. Participate in democracy and exercise your right to hold government to account, but just look in the mirror and see what impact you’re making on a localised scale. It’s OK blaming the far-off politician or businessman and citing privilege and ignorance; but check your own ignorance the next time you’re holidaying in Mexico… eating an avocado… wearing your brand-new Nike’s.
Why climate protests are necessary for creating hope