From plane to protest: hypocrisy and the climate movement

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With every new protest around the world, there is always one argument that keeps emerging as a supposed delegitimisation of whatever movement it happens to be.

Protesting capitalism is supposedly delegitimised if using a smartphone; protesting the government is somehow delegitimised when paying tax – and most recently, protesting the climate crisis is apparently obsolete if you’ve travelled by airplane recently.

Now of course, if you are prepared to give up flying, that’s admirable and I warmly support your choices, but for others that might just be a bit too impractical. What if you have family who live across the ocean? What if you have to travel for work on short notice? What if it just happens to be the most cost-effective and time-effective method of getting somewhere?

By all means, individual action is positive and should be encouraged, but even then we can’t quite reach perfection.

Perhaps none of these reasons justify air travel, or perhaps they do – but the reality is that there will always be those who will take the most practical option for themselves, regardless of the systemic or environmental impact.

By all means, individual action is positive and should be encouraged, but even then we can’t quite reach perfection. This point is exemplified in Netflix’s The Good Place: even the model altruist can’t amass enough “good points” to reach the heaven equivalent, given all the negative implications of his actions which he hadn’t had the time, effort or comprehension to research or foresee.

This is not just exemplified in a fictional scenario: even Greta Thunberg’s no-emission yacht trip resulted in members of her crew having to immediately fly home to Germany upon arrival. And even if one were to disconnect completely from society, cancel their yearly holiday abroad, and live as a freegan hermit for the rest of their life, the societal impact would still be minimal: the injustices of the world would still continue, and their plane would still fly, albeit minus one passenger.

So whilst individual actions are appreciated and aren’t always completely futile, they certainly are in comparison to collective action. Protesting, striking, voting, forcing governments and corporations to listen to concerned citizens – this has the potential to bring about much more change than freegan solitude ever could on its own.

So whilst individual actions are appreciated and aren’t always completely futile, they certainly are in comparison to collective action.

The way to combat the unfortunate fact that people fly too much cannot simply rest upon guilting the consumer, because they sadly have our own lives, work, and schedules which they have to accommodate. The work of finding the perfect balance between their own practicality and environmental sustainability could, and should be done much more easily by the providers of these services themselves.

How is a more environmental option like rail travel incentivised, when it’s so much more expensive and time-consuming? We already have the technology to realign the entire transport system away from cars and airplanes, towards rail travel, but it isn’t happening, because corporations, and the governments appeasing them, place their own gargantuan profits over collective sustainability.

Greta Thunberg’s movements have been scrutinised by observers desperate to identify hypocrisy (Image credit: campact via Flickr)

Capitalism is inherently centred around individualistic profit. Overproduction, both from oversupply and unnecessary competition, is therefore incentivised, contributing to a toxic consumer culture of overindulgence and overconsumption, which feeds into even more overproduction, creating a vicious cycle of environmental destruction at the expense of collective interests.

The US Military, effectively the enforcer of Western neoliberalism, is the world’s largest polluter. And given the need to compete for funding, capitalism damages the quality of climate research, with studies being rushed, exaggerated, or performed unethically – for money.

The need for intellectual property rights and unnecessary competition only makes this research more uncoordinated. In essence, capitalism is systematically working against climate justice, and as we know, it takes more than personal virtue to challenge the capitalist system.

The US Military, effectively the enforcer of Western neoliberalism, is the world’s largest polluter

In summary, it’s easy to call out certain climate protesters as “hypocrites” for flying about every now and then, but let’s remember that the consumer only bares a tiny amount of blame in comparison to the provider of the service.

Furthermore, if one wants to make a profound change by holding these providers to account, one would almost certainly need everyone they could get a hold of, “hypocrites” included.

So on that note, let us put our individual imperfections aside, and concentrate instead on the collective struggle!

Photo credit by Neil Howard via Flickr

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