Wrong Kind of Green Op-ed
September 8, 2016
by Forrest Palmer with Cory Morningstar
“Mother Water – don’t they understand that you’re a living being? ” — Hija de la laguna, Peru
Photo: Beautiful daughter of a fisherman. Kalri Lake, Pakistan.
Did you know that last week (August 28 – September 2) was World Water Week in Stockholm? It is an annual week where the world is focused on global water issues. This is an acknowledgement that there is a problem with freshwater scarcity at a global level and an attempt to address it accordingly by the Western world. As commendable as this is on the surface, when you look underneath the rug of that which is comprised of mainstream acceptance that the environmental problems are worrisome (with water being one of almost countless others), it seems as if these various activities can best be described as giving a pretense that there is some actual work being done to solve the particular problems at hand. To demonstrate the flimsiness of it all, the average person is given a veritable buffet of choices regarding which particular problem he or she wishes to personally address by action.
Therefore, if you don’t actually concern yourself with water scarcity, yet you feel as if species extinction and poaching is a problem, then you can focus on World Wildlife Day on March 3rd. If you are abhorred by the amount of deforestation being committed in this world, then there is always the International Day of Forests on March 21st. If you have a problem with the amount of wetlands being destroyed globally, then you can always circle the calendar on February 2nd to “protest” this ongoing loss loss (a “click” of a mouse defining the word “protest” in the West). And here are some more days that the average citizen can choose amongst an abundance of “protest” throughout the ongoing year:
- World Ocean’s Day – June 8th
- World Population Day – July 11th
- Ecological Debt Day – September 8th
- World Soil Day – December 5th
And the list goes on and on and on.
And after all these events that have been devised by the Western world over the past few decades to focus on all the particular issues, there has been little to no action achieved in having any effect on the ever worsening ecocide. Therefore, by any unbiased, honest opinion, these daily, weekly, monthly and even yearly celebrations that happen annually are just superficial attempts at the establishment giving the semblance of action on all the issues that are plaguing us as a species and nature as a whole. It is sloganeering for a sparse number of people in the Western world to feel as if they are collectively being socially responsible in regards to our ongoing quixotic war with the environment that we will inevitably lose in the most spectacular of fashions. The most insidious aspect of these days of recognition is what it does to individualize all of these particular issues to give the participants the idea that they are not interconnected. For example, World Ocean’s Day gives a person the ability to “protest” the dire state of our oceans while continuing to emit carbon throughout his or her daily lives that is the cause of ocean acidification, which ultimately is one of the primary issues plaguing all sea life and its environment.
Hence, there is no discussion about an actual change in the daily lives of people in the Western world or the smattering of nations that are attempting to replicate Western lifestyles and also act as the manufacturing base of the Global North, such as China and India.
To illustrate the fallacious aspects of these endeavors, let’s look on the fatuousness of World Car Free Day, which is upcoming on September 22nd. This is a day set aside for people in the Western world to not use their cars one day of the year as a sign of how carbon emissions are an environmental problem. In 2015, the global carbon emissions were at 32.1 billion tons. Although there are peaks and valleys of this during an entire calendar year, this is still an average of 87 million metric tons of carbon emissions daily.
In order to combat this egregious emission of carbon which is the basis for our ongoing atmospheric catastrophe (represented most problematically in climate change), these handful of events that leave it up to the volition of the average citizen to partake in are portrayed (or more likely perpetrated) as shining a light on the problem as a way of ultimately solving a particular issue. All evidence points to this as being anything but the case.
But in order to digest how futile this type of endeavor is, the focus must be on the amount of change elicited at a granular level on this one day of sacrifice. As the United States is hands down the worst perpetrator of carbon emissions globally per capita, in this instance regarding passenger vehicles, the data for this country will be utilized as the baseline for determining the worst possible case scenario regarding carbon emissions due to the cars and trucks in which usage is only being asked to be temporarily suspended for a single day. To begin with, the annual carbon emissions per car in the United States is approximately 4.7 metric tons per year, which means that the daily emission per car is about .012 metric tons. This means that for the estimated 253 million passenger vehicles on the U.S. roadways there is a total daily emission of 3.25 million metric tons that the U.S. population is responsible for daily.
Therefore, utilizing the most extreme data available being that of the typical U.S. citizen and extrapolating the .012 metric tons emissions to every driver across the world committed to biking for a single agreed upon day, the most that could ever be achieved by ceasing all passenger vehicle transportation globally (with an estimate of 1.2 billion as of 2014) would be 14.4 million metric tons per day, which is a paltry 14.5% of the total global emissions from all sources. And to further illustrate how miniscule that amount is regarding a day that is only symbolic and not substantive, the 14.4 million metric tons that could potentially be saved on Car Free Day would only be an infinitesimal .04% of yearly emissions.
By all evidence, this is the definition of the term “a drop in the bucket”.
Consequently, this clearly illustrates how the few moments per year that are utilized to bring a certain level of consciousness to the lay people are wholly useless. In perpetuating these annual events as a salve, it gives the individual participant in the Global North the false reality that he or she is actually making a difference in their singular choices of “protest” regarding what they personally feel is an issue.
The great black American social activist Audre Lorde said ““There is no such thing as a single issue struggle because we do not live single issue lives.”. This is no more true than when it comes to the environment when individual choices of what is considered important have no effect upon the global structures that are causing the profuse amount of carbon emissions (i.e., the economic system of capitalism, the reliance of fossil fuels for perpetual growth, the industrial basis of Western civilization, et. al.). Until we as a global community are willing to tackle all these issues at a macro level, then the choices we make as single citizens make no difference in the grand scheme of things and are only used to afford us the ability to sleep better at night with the false belief that we are being personally responsible.
As a global community our daily micro choices make a small difference and as long as the overwhelming majority have the ability to partake in all the endeavors that are the cause of carbon emissions, then any individual choices not to contribute in the readily available ability to destroy the Earth through Western comforts will be for naught. As we have had a mountainous number of celebratory events since the first Earth Day in 1972 and have seen carbon emissions climb exponentially during this interval, we can say definitively that these aforementioned events have been ineffectual in any change in the behavior of the people in the Global North who are almost entirely responsible for the voluminous amount of carbon emissions.
On the flip side, very few understand that 50% of emissions come from 1% of the world’s population [Source: page 77, Kevin Anderson, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research)] Thus, one can legitimately argue that with over 7 billion people on our finite planet, only 1%-25% of the global populace actually has the capacity to slow down global warming – as they are the very ones creating it. But rather than dismantle the systems and western consumptive patterns that keep such disparities and horrific conflicts intact, the NPIC successfully creates discourse. They redirect what would be necessary and critical gestures to promote gestures that collectively will not disrupt current power structures, which are then in turn, glorified by media in tandem with the non-profit industrial complex.
An example of this would be turning off the water while brushing your teeth, ignoring the massive waste of fresh water due to industrial agriculture and nuclear. [Consider that thermoelectric power plants, including nuclear plants, make up 40% of freshwater usage in the US, while agriculture is responsible for 80-90% of US water consumption] In doing so, we collectively we keep the wealth in the hands of the few at the expense of others, many who live unbearably. Well intentioned gestures become empty gestures at best as long as we ignore root causes of our multiple and escalating crises. This very minority (the 1%, that is anyone who can afford to get on a plane) are brainwashed into believing further consumption (under the false guise of “green) will alleviate our climate crisis – which in reality – only accelerates it. This can easily be compared to the false solution of offsets – essentially little more than a green-sanctioned licence to continue polluting and destroying ecosystems, while simultaneously exploiting the world’s most vulnerable, in the rapid race to convert all natural resources, blood and sweat into capital. Far from calling these what they are – crimes against humanity and cultural acquiescence to global-scale progenycide – our society recognizes this as just another day on the New York Stock Exchange.
Ultimately, we are past the eleventh hour of doing what is necessary to address all the social changes necessary to combat our ongoing global environmental catastrophe. Time will tell if this will ever be addressed accordingly. Yet, the doomsday clock keeps on ticking. The question is if anyone is listening.