Protesting is a great way to get involved in activism, but if your actions don’t back up your words, holding a sign is pointless.
Everybody loves a protest. You get together with friends, paint a witty yet politically astute sign, feel part of something bigger and – critically – have an excellent excuse to avoid your lecture reading with the excuse of literally trying to change the course of history. The problem comes when we don’t actually practice what our colourful cardboard preaches.
COP26 has once again shown us that politicians will ignore the severity of the climate crisis despite desperate pleas from scientists, activists and civilians to take decisive action. The unfortunate truth is that protests won’t work unless we take what we preach at climate marches and apply it to our own lives, at the expense of a bit of convenience.
I think many of us are trapped in a mix of climate nihilism - we believe that the world is going to end and there’s nothing we can do to stop the impending climate apocalypse. We experience a subconscious feeling that we can free-ride the benefits of those dedicating their lives to saving the world from climate catastrophe; if these committed activists achieve their goals, we will all benefit from a greener future. While Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain protestors are blocking motorways and being imprisoned for doing so, we can quietly cheer them on - or criticise, depending on your opinion of their methods - from the comfort of our own homes.
"I think many of us are trapped in a mix of climate nihilism - we believe that the world is going to end and there’s nothing we can do to stop the impending climate apocalypse."
A significant number of those at the huge climate protests, like the Global Day of Action for Climate Justice which saw 100,000 people march through the streets of Glasgow, are there to convince themselves that they are doing something to help the climate crisis. But, attending one protest for a couple of hours truly is the bare minimum we can do. If you attended the protest but you have a £100 order from SHEIN on the way, haven’t considered changing your diet to a more earth-friendly one, or chuck out items that are perfectly usable, it really makes me question: why bother?
Large protests are certainly more visible to those in power, but politicians don’t seem to care anyway. I’m not suggesting that we all need to immediately go vegan, never buy a cheap item of clothing ever again and go live in a yurt in the woods. However, it is not enough to take comfort in believing there can be no ethical consumption under capitalism and using this as an excuse to bury our heads in the sand. We shouldn’t just blame governments and corporations without doing what we can, no matter how big or small that may be.
Every time we spend a pound we are voting for the kind of world we want to live in. For those who are in a financial position to do so, we need to think more about our spending. Yes, this may take a lot of the fun out of shopping, but there are many factors to consider, such as the sustainability of materials, whether an item has been ethically produced, whether it is going to be out of style in two months, whether we will use it until the end of its life-span, or whether we really need it. If we put a bit more thought into our consumption, then our presence at marches makes significantly more sense as our actions back up our words.
"Every time we spend a pound we are voting for the kind of world we want to live in."
As consumers, we wield much more power than we give ourselves credit for. Fast fashion companies would not exist if people were not buying their items. If we bought less and used items until the very end of their life span, less would be sent to landfill. If we chose to buy ethical products instead of cheaper ones, more ethical products would be produced. We’ve seen this in the impact of more people turning to vegetarian, flexitarian and vegan diets. In less than a decade we’ve seen an explosion in plant-based options in shops and restaurants. This is a direct impact of consumers changing their purchasing habits and corporations adapting to it.
If we want governments and corporations to take decisive action on the climate crisis, it needs to start with us. Going to one or two marches isn’t enough. If we don’t want to simply be victims of the climate crisis, we need to put our money where our mouth is.
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