The two weeks of environmental protests led by Extinction Rebellion (XR) are underway across the planet. There’s hope that there will be a fresh impetus injected into the movement, which is demanding more of the world leaders and their respective governments to publicly announce that we are in the midst of an ecological and climate crisis. And of course, XR will hope this leads to concrete, meaningful legislation being enacted in order to redress this crisis properly. For them, the public campaigns and half-hearted recognition of the problem isn’t enough; it is time to act.
I can’t claim to have been in and amongst the masses of protestors clamouring outside London’s public institutions voicing their concerns. More worryingly, I haven’t felt compelled to. In addition, here I am professing my deep concerns regarding man-made global warming, yet I still eat meat and don’t do as much as I could do vis-à-vis recycling. This would rightly make me a hypocrite, and I was wondering why I am haven’t been more invigorated to act, as I strongly believe in being proactive.
There’s an apathy I am experiencing that’s dominated by two things, upon self-reflection. First, the lazy reluctance, that there are enough people who are passionately fighting my cause on the streets, which means that my own call to arms will be largely surplus to requirements. Second, what’s the point, really? The extent to which the real power resides in the gated institutions backed by companies with a vested interest in short-term profit, surely renders these protests largely meaningless. Pessimism of this kind isn’t supposed to be in my nature.
There’s this creeping fallacy that because civil rights movements have ‘rectified’ the overt, historical mistreatment of marginalised people, that things are a lot better now and we should focus on the more pressing matters of our time. Whilst there are a number of global metrics that indicate that we are indeed living in more prosperous times, we can’t ignore the simple fact that, as a result of bettering our own lives, something had to have give way. And that thing is our own, single-use mothership.
I have to admit that for all the merits that XR deserve in forcing sunlight to be shed onto this most pressing of matters, there have been aspects of the environmental movement that are preventing it from reaching its full potential. The fact that there are still politicians and scientists on significant platforms that will publicly endorse climate denial is a crippling barrier in the road to a co-ordinated global effort. It’s a classic therapist trope that, in order to begin tackling a problem, there must be some recognition that the problem exists in the first place. The fact that we are not all singing from the same hymn sheet is proving detrimental to real change being achieved at the governmental level.
Then there’s the question of sustainability versus economic growth, an age-old friction that has become increasingly politicised and therefore a greater sticking point between activists and conservatives. I sat down and pondered it, came to my opinion on an effective approach to appease both camps is to focus on cost-competitive green technology and subsidies in the short to medium term. But then, it hit me.
We’re full of excuses.
I’m sure that as the civil rights movements of years gone by were starting to gather momentum, there were unwavering sceptics. Experts and commentators who saw faults in their purpose, and sought to undermine new ideas and demands that smelt of revolution. Across the pond in the 1960s, Martin Luther King encountered much opposition, where many Americans failed to see the merits in what the civil rights activists were saying. There were also mainstream reasons highlighting why women should not be emancipated or that the sanctity of marriage should not accommodate same-sex couples when these debates were being had, that were commonly perceived as being valid.
There are key moments in history where we look back through more progressive lenses and wonder, “How could society not view the world that way?” In these instances, it’s hard to imagine that it was ordinary, well-intentioned people who stood in the way of progress, not out of malice, but for fear of unprecedented change.
A crisis calls for a measured blend of action and nihilism. The unconventional necessity of sweeping reform is that it has to happen radically, not through stuttering, slowly-implemented provisions. A leap must be made that appears to be a step too far or even considered to be extreme. This is precisely how the most vital change is achieved, and given the time constraints that we have shackled on ourselves as a result of our poor ecological management, radical reform is needed before we reach a point of no return.
For all the reasons why we might question the environmental movement’s success, we need leaders to take drastic steps to ensure that it is.
To act, before it is too late.