As social media hits go, Iceland have pretty much nailed it. Its recent advert, which depicts an orangutan seeking refuge in a little girl’s bedroom as humans are ransacking its habitat in the pursuit of palm oil, tugged at millions of taut heart strings across the world. Regardless of whether Iceland’s release of the ‘banned’ advert was genuine frustration to advertising red tape or a cleverly strategised marketing move, it’s made waves for the right reasons. It embodies the notion, that despite being the most crucial problem that will dictate the future course of our planet if not addressed swiftly and properly, the plight of the environment is not taken seriously enough.
You might have noticed that I put ‘banned’ in inverted commas. That’s because there is no ban. Clearcast, the body responsible for vetting adverts, have made clear that it’s not actually the message the advert conveys that is too political it itself – it is the association with Greenpeace that is problematic. In other words, the issue of palm oil production and its disastrous environmental effects is not the point of contention politically – it’s the fact that Iceland have collaborated with Greenpeace for an advertising campaign, which is an organisation with an entirely political purpose. The public furore, albeit indicative of the place we’re at now where seeing to be displaying fury publicly for a cause is more important than the true nature of the facts in its context, certainly shows that the environment is still a centrepiece for people’s values and compassion.
I must admit I was a bit ignorant when it came to the subject of palm oil. I cooked up a dinner for two a few weeks ago with some experimental ingredients in an attempt to show my girlfriend that I can do more than heat up pre-cooked food in the oven and present it limply on a plate. One such ingredient was palm sugar, which I will hold my hands up and say that I didn’t know what it was until it showed itself on the recipe I was attempting to follow. Ignorant, I know, but I decided to be conscious and read more into it. It was only after that meal that I discovered the damage that palm oil was doing environmentally. Used from shampoo to margarine, the scale of rainforest that needs to be cleared for its production is frightening and this can be seen by the impact it’s having in countries such as Indonesia. So one key triumph that Iceland can claim is managing to raising awareness of this very important issue. The first step to eventually solve anything is to highlight that there is a problem, and give it oxygen so that the masses can also see that there is a problem, before coming to collectively come together to create a solution.
And air is something that has been sucked away from this topic by the vacuum occupied by recent political figures in charge of influential political states. There was the brash and public intent displayed by Trump when he withdrew from the Paris Agreement, a convention designed to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, bringing all nations to the table in a combined effort. This notably impaired confidence in the legitimacy of climate change as well as laid down a worrying precedent for climate change cooperation for the future. There’s also more covert, insidious intent that has emerged politically, with newly-elected president Bolsonaro’s policies clearly signposting further deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest, by weakening the enforcement of environmental laws and showing a readiness to challenge laws that protect the indigenous people and their lands that reside there.
But how can the environment be a topic that is tossed about and not quickly held on to like a political American football? Usually, you can quite clearly distinguish a political ideal from a moral one. For example, people have varying opinions on taxation, immigration and education principles in this country, and there can always be a debate about the effectiveness and practicality of such ideas. But you’d struggled to find people who differed with each other on whether an individual should have the right to a fair trial, to be treated fairly in your workplace or have the right to express their ideas and values without condemnation or oppression.
The safeguarding and preservation of our natural world is a fundamentally human and moral value that we should all seek to uphold, and any attempt to politicise it should be politely rejected in favour of real global change that everyone is naturally motivated to achieve. The change will happen from two ends: local communities taking the initiative and global leaders laying down a markers as an absolute priority, not a fad policy that comes and goes when it’s fashionable. Dealing with apathetic viewpoints and the utter neglect that the environment has faced is not fashionable. It’s an incredibly complex issue that is difficult to talk about and inherently messy. But it’s an essential conversation that needs to be had.
We don’t want Man’s red fire to be kept a secret any longer, or else we might be responsible for the permanent relocation of orang-utans in little girls’ bedrooms.