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 sometimes I feel like a hypocrite 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. We need to start paying the farmers what it genuinely costs to grow nutritious food so they can live with dignity. But we also need to make nutritious food more accessible to those with less cash than others.
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. Check my post on Drawdown: 100 most substantive solutions to reverse global warming. Happily, these solutions are intersectional!
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. The trials of parenting were not for nothing because they led me to question these assumptions. I started asking how do 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.