Why You Need to Get ‘Political’ If You Truly Care About Saving the Environment

Why You Need to Get ‘Political’ If You Truly Care About Saving the Environment

Where I come from, denying climate change is not an option. No, not when it is affecting the lives of millions, and we are facing it with our scarce resources as a third world country. We can prepare for it, or we die pretending it isn’t real.

But to those privileged enough to look away, these are the facts: This year is set to be the hottest in history. We can expect more extreme weather events such as floods, droughts, and heat waves, which are strongly linked to rising temperatures. Ice and permafrost are melting, too, and the phenomenon is opening up a so-called Pandora’s Box of diseases.

The bottom line: Our lives are in danger, and we need to take swift, drastic action.

In response to global warming, many have been adopting changes in their lifestyle and encouraging others to do the same – a most noble pursuit, in my opinion. I agree, for instance, that going vegan is a great way to help conserve water and reduce one’s carbon footprint. I also understand that we should be supporting local farmers, and clothing manufacturers that adhere to clean, sustainable production processes. And I believe that we should use public transport as much as possible.

Supporting local farmers sustainaility

Agri business & sustainability

But I also know that if we are going for dramatic changes, the kind that will help humanity survive the next two decades and not have more small islands in the Pacific sink as the sea levels rise, these lifestyle options just won’t cut it. We need to address the crux of the problem, and identify the environment’s – and therefore our – foremost enemy: capitalism.

Everywhere, capitalism takes so much from and gives back very little to the planet and the people. Ever so focused on reaping more profit, it is keen on finding new markets, through creating artificial demand, and/or entering territories where it demolishes the competition and changes people’s lives for the worse.

Related Post: The Rise of Conscious Capitalism

It accomplishes these especially by forging strong relations with governments, which end up promoting business interests over human and environmental welfare as a matter of policy. This has been the story of the Dakota Access Pipelines project in the United States, the murder of Honduran environmental activist Berta Caceres, the wanton palm oil production in Indonesia and Malaysia, and in my own country, the irresponsible large-scale mining operations that leave in their wake impoverished people with ravaged mountains and rivers.

The Philippines archipelago islands

All these stories reveal one truth about our struggle: we cannot do it on our own. Our efforts as individuals, uncoordinated, would be no match to what Capital can muster with its global infrastructure that covers everything from pooling funds to finance its operations, to finding the cheapest sources of raw material and labor, to developing machines that could produce items the fastest, to waging bloody wars and toppling entire governments that demonstrate resistance to the existing world order.

For every sustainably grown piece of vegetable, big food corporations have truckloads of pesticide-laden produce waiting to be dumped at supermarkets at much, much lower prices. For every thrifted cotton shirt, there are millions of new ones being warehoused by fast fashion companies in the meantime. For every gadget repair cafe, capitalists are deploying billions of dollars towards tech ventures founded on the idea of planned obsolescence. For every urban garden set up in someone’s patio, somewhere in the world, an agri-business is clearing out hectares and hectares of land inhabited by indigenous people.

agriculture in cambodia
Agriculture in Cambodia.

Conventional farming

I have great respect for people who are willing to devote extra time and effort for sustainable lifestyle options, and on principle, would also not wish to give money to evil corporations. At the same time, I believe we should be doing more in terms of political participation, to be able to make so much more impact. And if the cause of our problem is an entire system that has taken root in politics, our response should be just as political and systematic, too.

We cannot be effective environmentalists if we are so afraid to foray into the often frustrating world of -isms, if we content ourselves on manifesting our opposition to the rape of our environment through “voting with our wallet.” If we spend inordinate amounts of time debating whether the oil used to cook the fries at a local restaurant is vegan, we lose opportunities to make more meaningful contributions towards legislation, policy research, lobbying, community organizing, and all other measures needed to push for radical changes in our society.

Why You Need to Get 'Political' If You Truly Care About Saving the Environment

There are unions to build so that corporations’ practices are constantly kept in check, so that workers’ rights are upheld over profit. There are citizens’ actions to lead: sit-ins, pickets, vigils, marches, strikes, boycotts, occupations. There are lawsuits to be filed against powerful businesses. There are education campaigns to organize in schools, in the factories, in the communities, and research initiatives to launch, to inform policy recommendations. There are progressive leaders to elect, and bad ones to oust and punish.

None of these actions, it must be said, can be completed without the sustained effort of an explicitly anti-capitalist people’s movement. If we keep confronting environmental issues only as consumers, without a critique of the political-economic system that breeds them, we would be going after just the symptoms, not the disease. And if we refuse to be part of an organized collective and simply rely on our individual capacities, we would be like lone soldiers believing we are fighting the good fight, but foolishly hoping to win the war.

We must aim to win the war. 

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