My hope is that we start to value the really important things. Like Chris Whitty said, ‘prioritise what matters to you.’ Think what it is that’s really important.
Scientists tell us that what really matters for us is the climate emergency. We all want to do what we can to mitigate it; but, to be honest, it’s not solely our fault.
Who is responsible?
Multinational mega-corporations are pretty good at selling us stuff — with clever advertising making us think we must have it — and then we feel guilt for the planet-warming effects of its production. Hmmm…
Who invented the term ‘carbon footprint’? An advertising firm hired by BP to promote the belief that climate warming is not the fault of oil companies but of ordinary people.
Who invented the term ‘litterbug’? American companies in the early 1950s started a media campaign to pin responsibility for littering the environment on people, not the companies producing the unsustainable packaging. So ‘litterbugs’ are blamed for the problem, rather than industries being forced to do something about all the single-use plastic they produce.
Who invented the term ‘jaywalking’? In the 1920s the US motor industry initiated a propaganda campaign to convince people that roads were for cars, to label them as jaywalkers and fine them for stepping onto an area previously open to them. The industry shifted the blame for casualties from drivers to pedestrians. The car became king of the roads, and a massive polluter too.
There’s a pattern here
Companies want to sell us stuff, but its production and use has a carbon footprint. (Remember, plastic is also made from fossil fuels.) Planned obsolescence means we buy replacements after a few years. There is inadequate regulation on companies to reduce this harm. Even so, they don’t want a bad reputation for it, so they try diversionary tactics to make the public feel responsible. George Monbiot views worrying about plastic straws and cotton buds as ‘micro-consumerist bollocks’: a displacement activity; a ‘substitute for confronting economic power’.
So, of course we’ll all continue to be environmentally aware and try to reduce our carbon footprint. We’ll recycle, make ‘greener’ buying choices, limit our plastic consumption and so on. But a really powerful thing we can do is talk to others about who’s really to blame and put pressure on lawmakers and polluters.
What we need
Ultimately, manufacturers must make it easy for us to choose sustainably. Consumers exercise buying power through ‘the market’, but have insufficient information about the effects of the production of their purchases. If manufacturers want to sell us their products, they should at least tell customers about their environmental side-effects without ‘greenwashing’.
As Greta Thunberg states, we need urgent, decisive government action to phase out fossil fuels. We can write to our MPs asking if they support the Environment Act and the Climate Change Bill going through Parliament, and whether they place enough responsibility on companies to reduce emissions. This spring, we can ask candidates in the May elections how they would respond to the climate emergency at a local level.
We don’t need as much stuff as we’ve been persuaded we need
At the same time, instead of thinking about what we want, let’s think about what we need. Place greater value on time with loved ones, being outdoors, taking endorphin-generating exercise and improving mental wellbeing. Place less value on acquiring ‘stuff’. Our homes are full of things we don’t use which caused carbon emissions to produce, and of which we don’t really know how to dispose (neither do the manufacturers: they pretty much wash their hands of that). We don’t need all this stuff. Some people have so much that they rent storage units to get it out of their overflowing houses. We just need to stop buying so much. As my Granny used to say, “You can’t take it with you”.
Polluting corporations may bear more blame, but we still have agency in our purchasing power and ability to exert pressure where it matters. I hope government and big business meet the challenge. And I hope that, in 2022. we learn to enjoy simpler, lower carbon lives.
I wish a very healthy and peaceful year to all.