It seems as though 2019 and the following decade will be pivotal for the structure of global society. We need only look to the October 2018 IPCC report to acknowledge the state of our environment and the very little time we have left to radically transform our ways of life and, consequently, our ways of perceiving the world and what is possible for its future.
What is interesting about mainstream narratives surrounding the future of sustainability and social change, however, is the distinct lack of attention given to the root causes of environmental destruction. This is arguably no coincidence; when 71% of global greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to just 100 of the world’s companies – companies which directly benefit from the belief that it is the individual who is to blame for climate change – it is no wonder that the influence of capitalism and profiteering are often left out of conventional discussions around how to create a greener world. To scale the issue of climate change down to what only you as an individual can do for the planet is to essentially let the political and economic system off the hook. To depoliticise sustainability and environmentalism is to do ourselves and future generations a disservice.
“To scale the issue of climate change down to what only you as an individual can do for the planet is to essentially let the political and economic system off the hook.”
This is not to say that we shouldn’t each be doing whatever little thing we can – recycling, using reusable straws or coffee cups, not using plastic bags – because those things are undeniably important and valuable ways to deal with our current destructive ways of life. But have these steps proven to be enough? Where do these harmful ways of life come from? And how can we deal with the environmental crisis without addressing the pivotal role that capitalism has had to play in its creation? Individual ways to be more sustainable are important, but maybe we can move beyond them. Maybe we can do more. Maybe the climate emergency that we have been propelled into will be what finally causes us to look at the foundations of our society with a more critical eye. Let’s make living sustainably and promoting sustainability a transformative act. Let’s stop acting as though environmentalism is apolitical. It isn’t.
Considering this, here is your (slightly alternative) guide to living more sustainably in 2019. Some of these things may seem to take up too much time or seem like too much of a lifestyle change. Some of them may seem too difficult to undertake when considering the constraints of our daily lives and struggles. It’s important to do only what we can, and never any more than that. Maybe you can commit to spending a few hours a month on one of them – maybe more, maybe less. These are just a few suggestions for some different – and radical – forms of self-improvement which promise to help transform society as well as yourself.
The acquisition, sharing and dissemination of knowledge is a radical act. How many people see the destruction of the environment for what it is – the product of a capitalist economy? How many more informed conversations can we start having about the depletion of wildlife populations, about what groups of people are most affected by climate change, about the power play behind it all? How much do you know about the part that race plays in the effects of climate change? Knowledge is arguably the first step in changing the way that we think about the world and its future, and it goes hand in hand with raising awareness about sustainability among the people you spend your time with. For more nuanced and sometimes ignored information on environmentalism and climate justice, take a look at groups such as The Wretched of the Earth, articles by George Monbiot, and facts and figures backed up with sources here: https://xrblog.org/science/.
2: PRESSURE LOCAL MPS
The more pressure we put on local Members of Parliament to bring environmentalism to the table, the more we make our voices heard. We know that local MPs rely on local constituents’ support to maintain their positions; we can show them what we as their constituents want by writing letters, attending local council meetings, getting in touch via social media, voting according to MPs’ stances on environmentalism. We’ve seen this work effectively in cities such as Bristol, where public pressure played a huge role in pushing the council to declare a climate emergency. This is a tried and tested way of getting issues which are important to the public on local agendas, and it should not be underestimated.
3: COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT
Banding together with your community as opposed to treating sustainability and environmentalism as an individual responsibility is incredibly important. It may be only through getting in touch with local community groups that you can see the environmental destruction that could directly affect you in the very near future. There may be new plans for a fracking site nearby, or inaction surrounding local air pollution – issues which you may not have been aware of if you didn’t take the time out to get involved. There may also be activist groups working in your locality, such as Extinction Rebellion or Frack Off which need your help. These are issues that we as a community can help fight together. This community cohesion creates the support networks needed to deal with the environmental problems we are facing and is a vital and radical way to show solidarity and refuse to fight climate change individually.
Shop local and independent. Boycott companies which continue to pollute and destroy the planet. Let’s collectively stop giving our money to corporations that are the root cause of the problem. Here is an initial list of some of the key offenders for polluting plastics: https://www.ecowatch.com/worst-plastic-polluting-companies-2611144880.html.
5: OFFER AN EXAMPLE OF A BETTER WORLD
This might be the most valuable part of scaling down sustainability and environmentalism to the individual. If we can show those around us that a different way of living is achievable then we can create the radical change that’s needed on this level too. We can send our plastics to be recycled into bricks, we can bring our own containers to shops which exist specifically to reduce packaging, we can take part in the circular economy through organisations such as Globechain, we can buy and sell second-hand. We can show that subscribing to consumer culture and capitalist ways of life are not the only ways to live and exist in the world, in order to show that an alternative world is possible.
Climate change doesn’t need to be fought alone. Maybe it can’t be – maybe there are better ways. There are a multitude of avenues through which to fight corporations, neoliberalism and climate change head on, and none of them are as daunting as you might think. You just need to take the first step.