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The ‘leftieness’ of climate activism

Roar writer Sam Light writes that climate activism has an optics problem that needs to be addressed. 

I speak to people too often who reflexively show disgust at the first mention of Extinction Rebellion or Greta Thunberg. It is not that they deny the reality of human-caused climate change. We usually even agree about the urgent attention the issue demands. Yet the discussion too often gets bogged down in the minutia of what specific protest movements get wrong, rather than whether the aims of these organisations are commendable.

For some reason, people don’t seem to like climate activists. Or, they don’t want to like climate activists. Everything Greta Thunberg does is put under a microscope and analysed with the aim of finding faults. She cannot even eat lunch without people criticising her for eating bread out of a plastic bag. Now, this is not another piece about Thunberg being bullied – the issue is not with her or Extinction Rebellion’s critics. I think climate activism has an optics problem.

When someone stands on a box on Waterloo Bridge or on a podium in Parliament saying we are running out of time and need to start acting, they are not telling most people anything new. People already know this and generally agree with it. We need to start bringing people on board who are currently being turned off by the holier-than-thou condescension which seems to surround environmentalism.

There are plenty who accept the science and care about climate change in theory but reject the ‘woke’ ideology of a bunch of bourgeois left-wing people who don’t seem to have jobs. We, the woke people, have got to build a less ideological image of climate activism. Extinction rebellion needs to be appealing, and not just for old stoners and twelve-year-olds. Before the non-hierarchical carbon-neutral utopia can be actualised, a lot of votes need to be won, and they are not found only on the left-wing.

It needs to be cool for people who believe in weird things like Brexit, the Queen and capitalism to also like the idea of a carbon tax and being vegan. This is not going to be achieved by just dumping another truckload of depressing factoids onto people who’ve heard it all before or shaming them for their non-sustainable habits.

The climate crisis presents plenty of issues that typically motivate the right-wing, we just don’t talk about them very much.

As Himalayan glaciers continue to shrink, they struggle to feed the Indus river which, in turn, feeds the people of Pakistan. Falling crop yields mean land will soon struggle to support the nearly 200 million who live in the country. The break down of the climate will push people out of their homes, turning millions into refugees and migrants. Drought and famine plague Yemen, and several countries in North Africa just as they did in Syria in the years before the civil war.

Not to begin fear-mongering around migration, but it may be necessary to start joining in on these discussions and turning them to our advantage if we are to win the support of people currently irritated by the ecological activism. The prospect of an imminent wave of immigration, at least an order of magnitude larger than from Syria in 2017 may get Brexiteers backing the greens and not Boris.

All this to say that in order to win elections and dodge our impending doom it will be necessary to drop the ideological utopianism and engage in a little realpolitik.



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