Just being a conscious consumer won’t work
Naomi Klein’s Capitalism and the Climate lecture at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in 2015 was an eye opener for me. I am a middle-class, immigrant from a developing country, first-world problems millennial. I was brought up on individualism and the fantasy of empowerment and self actualisation that the market economy promised.
Naomi explained that the first phase of the climate movement produced solutions that did not work because they reflected the market fundamentalism or Neoliberal ideology which collided with an ecological crisis. “…a lot of what we heard in the first phase of the climate movement was you can solve this as a shopper. Change your light bulb, drive a hybrid, write a letter…”
Why did these solutions fail? In his article in the Guardian, Martin Lukacs explains how Neoliberalism has taught us to face structural problems individually instead of collectively, and thus ineffectively.
No wonder I felt crushed under the weight of trying to be as sustainable as possible in what Naomi describes as a “throw away culture”. At the same time, my friends and family felt overwhelmed and defeated before they even began to try seeking a solution.
We already struggle with the cost of ethical and sustainable products in an effort to role model our values to our kids. But, oh the hypocrisy! Recognising that many fellow citizens would never be able to afford those products to begin with. After all, as Rutger Bregman illustrates in his compelling talk, poverty is not a lack of character, it’s a lack of cash.
Our politicians pit one need against another; farming against conservation, renewable energy against heating in winter, social security against welcoming refugees. But do they represent our common needs for nutritious food, fresh air, clean water, stable livelihood and biodiversity? Or do they represent the corporations that stealthily fund them? They threaten that the opposition will remove one need to gain another. Understandably, so many of us retreat into our fears, build walls around what we have and hold our spears at the throats of those they point to as the threat. It’s the colonial strategy of divide and conquer.
Why do we need a climate movement
As an individual, I feel woefully inadequate and ill-equipped to deal with the complexity of the connected problems we face. I am not an expert scientist, an economist, an environmental or human rights lawyer or the farmer dealing with crop failure.
Martin Lukacs says, “it is time to stop obsessing with how personally green we live – and start collectively taking on corporate power.” And in the most compelling part of her talk, Naomi explained why it is important to have a movement that pushes to meet our common needs as a society.
“There has been a way in which the climate discussion has really not reckoned with just how hard our opponents are fighting. They are highly motivated because they are fighting for their lives and the lives of their businesses. And what I am arguing is that if we can come up with these intersectional solutions that fight climate change, lower emissions, but also reduce inequality, also tackle racism, also create a living wage, unionise jobs, if we can weave together this holistic vision, then people will fight for that future. They will fight for that future because it’s better than their present. And as far as I know, the only way to win a battle against forces with a huge amount to lose is to build a movement of many more people who have a great deal more to gain. And that’s what this is all about. I think it’s realistic.”
Naomi gives specific examples at 27:19 minutes into her lecture to show we already know how to create the transformative change we seek and she encourages us to plug into the movements in our country.
Still, I could not deny the hesitation in me. Unfortunately, I don’t think I am alone in growing up with messaging that you cannot manage the paradox of belonging and autonomy. You either forsake your individuality for your place in the community or you bear the load, meant to be shared across many shoulders, for the sake of self-determination. But the trials of parenting have led me to question these assumptions. And now it is time for me to start asking how I manage this paradox. Brene Brown’s book, Braving The Wilderness, has some really useful guidance on how to engage with others to meet our common needs while contributing your individual skills and maintaining your integrity.
No more going it alone. Now I need to seek cooperation for a shared goal. Organised movements would have gathered the experts and stakeholders together across multiple issues and be in the process or have nutted out interrelated policies worth fighting for. These movements should be independent of any political party or corporate influence so they represent their members.
What movements can I join in Australia?
Among GetUp’s campaigns is one called Future to Fight For and their policies echo Naomi’s example solutions, including:
- a job guarantee,
- universal lifelong education and retraining,
- universal access to early education and childhood learning,
- guaranteed basic income,
- a roof over every head,
- household clean energy guarantee, and
- a public-interest banking system.
Read how GetUp! propose we pay for it here.
Australian Conservation Foundation
The ACF’s campaigns also aim to create a movement through social engagement to:
- stop Adani’s polluting coal mine,
- make 2019 a climate election,
- create strong laws to protect biodiversity,
- shift to clean energy, and
- speak out for a nuclear free future
These organisations also monitor decision making and hold politicians accountable. Yet another thing that feels like I would need a degree in journalism and lots of free time to do alone. But here I have somewhere to start. They organise and make it easy to sign petitions to the prime minister, email my local MP, show up at important events and, most importantly, they show us how we can vote for our common needs.
So, with one tired three-year-old and one sick six-year-old, my husband and I braved the thunderstorm yesterday and attended our first GetUp! meeting. And now we have an election to work on.
What to look at next? The role of corporations
I have been asked why not wait until we invent a new technology that will deal with climate change, or plastic pollution. I have lamented that our political system is broken. Why not focus on what corporations can do? My future post will be on Anand Giridharadas’s insight into market fundamentalism, the role elite philanthropy has played in society and politics and where the motivation for profit should fit within a planned economy.