01 Feb 2019

The most common form of ordinary environmental activism today involves plastic straw bans. We have been pressured into integrating conservation measures at homes and workplaces.

It is not unusual to receive judgmental stares from fellow shoppers while out buying groceries without a reusable bag of our own.

It thus begs the question -- Is turning off lights and using recyclable material going to underwrite the massive environmental destruction caused by organised industrial activity?

There is widespread awareness regarding climate issues among students and the working class, but their remedies seem to be misdirected.

Instead of indicting ordinary folks for their lifestyle choices, we need to refocus our attention to the primary offenders – the private sector.

The private sector’s role

A recent study by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) revealed that a hundred companies alone were responsible for a staggering 71% of total emissions since 1988.

For decades, some of the most polluting corporations, under the aegis of their respective governments, have contributed to climate change denialism, repressed vital information, lobbied against the adoption of renewable technologies, and infiltrated the regulatory processes that were supposed to reprimand them.

They have spectacularly managed to manipulate the media and influence public discourse on the issue. These ‘economic elites’ have not only been the single greatest reason of our current predicament, but have also systematically disrupted our agenda for climate action.

Mobilisation on an unprecedented scale

While one cannot question the intentions behind micro-efforts of ordinary folk, the climate action agenda needs to radically shift from trivial changes in the way we live, to organisation and mobilisation on an unprecedented scale.

These, indeed, are extraordinary times. The era-defining IPCC report of last October was a clear call to action by the world’s leading climate scientists to shake policymakers out of their complacency. It basically handed the international community a 12-year ultimatum to fundamentally restructure our economies, failing which, the world will witness unparalleled damages to biological systems and poverty for hundreds of millions of people in the not-so-distant future.

The report is headlined by ominous statements from some of its authors – “It’s a line in the sand”, “what it says to our species is that this is the moment and we must act now”, “hope it can change the world”.

Some have even argued that the report’s summary for policymakers is an extremely conservative and watered down version of the full report and spares politicians some of its worst details, including aspects such as human migration and wars stemming from climate change.

The urgency is certainly not lost on most consumers.

But, the compelling mandate thrusted upon us by the IPCC report calls for greater transparency and accountability from governments and polluters in fossil fuel divestments and large-scale implementations of renewable energy systems.

Watershed moment in global climate activism

Last year can be termed as a watershed moment in global climate activism. The largely inconsequential COP24 in Poland saw the emergence of a prominent climate action leader in 16-year-old Greta Thunberg.

Her moving reproach of world leaders on their inability to acknowledge the urgency of climate action was representative of the rising wave of global student activism witnessed last year. 2018 saw widespread school walkouts and student protests across most of the developed countries, revealing their governments’ inaction in reigning in corporations that are major polluters, while demanding the implementation of concrete emission reduction roadmaps.

Thunberg also successfully took her student protests to the recently held World Economic Forum summit in Davos. In fact, last year saw the emergence of more grassroots level mobilization through initiatives such as Extinction Rebellion and the Sunrise Movement, providing the much-needed youth-driven impetus required for fighting climate change.

Big international NGOs like Greenpeace aren’t the only ones driving and organizing peaceful protests, with individuals from different domains coming together to lend their voice to the movement.

Hence, it is more than clear that today’s era presents a multitude of opportunities for common-folk to effect consequential climate action.

Guilt-tripping ordinary people for failing to turn off the lights is not one of them. For long, we have been disillusioned into believing that the fault, somehow, lies with the working class and not the elites trying to wash their hands off their crimes.

It is our primary duty as responsible citizens to pool in our efforts and speak truth to power, and in this regard, the fight against climate change is indeed the fight against injustice and inequality. So, move over plastic straw bans, organisation and mobilisation of the private sector is the required climate action agenda for the youth of today.

Photo by SWZLE on Unsplash