*This blog post was written by Parker Johnston a grade 12 high school coop student*
With the way our society is currently structured environmentalism, like everything else, is tied to and restricted by capitalism. In order to make meaningful change it is important to understand how anti-capitalism goes hand in hand with environmentalism. How can we make progress doable and accessible?
The vast majority of companies and people in power prioritize profits over the environment. In our capitalistic society, money is what runs the world. Products are churned out at alarming rates and people are expected to always be buying something new. Planned obsolescence is found in everything from fridges to shoes. Trend cycles are getting quicker and quicker with fast fashion as the societal standard. Teens and young adults are marketed the idea that in order to be ‘in’ they must be on top of not only the trends of the season, but the trends of the week. No one has the money to buy that much high quality clothing, so corners are cut, fabric is cheap and workers are paid unethically low wages. As Lucy Siegle, an environmental journalist said, “Fast fashion isn’t free. Someone, somewhere is paying.” The bill is left to our planet and factory workers. Our governments, who could implement legislation to stop this, don’t seem to care. Time and time again those in power have made choices that harm our people and planet in the pursuit of hoarding wealth under empty promises of economics. An ongoing example at the front of my mind is Bill 23. Bill 23 claims the solution to the housing crisis is building into the protected land of the Greenbelt. Not only is this harmful, it does not achieve what it claims to. The bill actually limits the implementation of the rental replacement policies which regulate the demolition or conversion of rental properties. It takes power and tools from municipalities, affecting the communities in greatest housing need of housing severely. It does not incentivize affordable housing and only truly benefits real estate developers.
Companies are aware that people care about the environment and the buying power those people have. They have begun to make statements and claims about how they are sustainable and how they care because it is what the market demands. The act of caring itself has become a product to consume. Yet these claims often ring empty, the illusion of environmentalism is cheaper than the act. Greenwashing is becoming alarmingly popular. Greenwashing as defined by the Government of Canada is the act of making false, misleading or unsubstantiated environmental claims about a product. It can be discouraging to know how many falsely sustainable products there are on the market, but with a bit of research it is easy to sift the real from the fake. Companies that make a positive environmental impact are proud of their work and will likely openly advertise the difference they are making. Companies that are greenwashing don’t have anything real to share and will likely be vague statements or make no statements at all. You can’t always trust the packages that look like they’re housing green products, it’s always good to look into what you’re buying.
None of this is a reason to accept we’re doomed. The popularity of Greenwashing came from people genuinely caring about the environment, which means we know there are people who want change. As societal pressure becomes stronger and people push for transparency, more and more companies implement meaningful policies. Even if these acts are for the sake of appearances, intentions don’t reduce valuable change.
All this information is important to know, but it is also scary and can feel overwhelming. It is easy to freeze and want to give up when it feels like your actions don’t matter. It is impossible to be 100% ethical in every choice you make and everything you consume. Some may see this as a reason to stop caring at all, but making the least ethical choice because perfection is impossible helps no one. Being environmentally conscious isn’t something you are or aren’t; it’s a million little choices you make every day. Every step counts. Media can push the idea we’re all doomed, both because it’s an interesting story to sell and because those who make a profit off of our world being scrapped for every resource want you to stop fighting them. I have always been someone who cared a lot about the world around me and there was a time I was hopeless about the environment because I knew capitalism stood in opposition to progress. If corporations are responsible for so much, why do my actions matter? Now I am a little shocked I held that opinion, because I am not a person that gives up without a fight. Though I understand why others feel the same way. The statistic “100 companies produce 70% of emissions” particularly stuck in my mind as proof that there’s nothing we can do, but I’d like to actually look at the study it comes from. Many people quote the articles written about this study rather than the study itself. The 100 producers of emissions listed include both companies and entire governments. It also includes the emissions of those producers as they are used by people in cars, houses, etc. These emissions can be traced back to these 100 producers, but they are not the sole offenders, they are the ones making the fuel, but we are using it. By reducing your emissions, with things like public transportation, you still make a difference as you are a part of that number.
It would be a disservice to say that the only barriers to environmentalism are the ones we set ourselves. There is a big problem with accessibility in the movement. A lot of popular environmental alternatives come at steep prices and although many of them save money in the long run, lots of people do not have the ability to make that investment. Often the most sustainable options are the most expensive, because they are produced with care for the environment and workers, which comes at a price. This can isolate people who want to make a difference, but feel like they can’t buy into doing so. Additionally, many disabled people are excluded from conversations about environmentalism. Some physical conditions can prevent individuals from going to protest or other similar civic action due to the physically taxing and unpredictable nature of these events. Individuals may rely on certain disposable materials for their health and well being. For example, some disabled with limited mobility or motor skill people require plastic straws, and reusable alternatives do not meet their needs. In discussions about reducing plastic consumption these people are often ignored or shamed. People can be discouraged from environmentalism due to judgment in these spaces.
Environmentalism isn’t all or nothing. We all have our limits and not all options work for everyone. There are certain things I need for my health that are currently only available in disposable containers. I often can’t go to protests because I struggle to stand for long periods of time. I could spend my time feeling guilty about these things (often I feel like I’m being pushed to) or I could focus on the action I can take. One of the things I prioritize the most is keeping myself educated. I keep up to date on what bills are being passed, what’s going on in my area and revenant scientific developments. By knowing what’s happening I can talk to people about it and educate them or take their guidance. I try to take civic action that is accessible to me. This includes researching what events I can contribute to while sitting or when officials are taking public statements. I also make personal choices like buying clothes second hand, repairing items instead of throwing them away and making things instead of buying them when I can. I am quite an artistic person and I really enjoy getting to patch clothing because it makes it more visually interesting and I get a chance to use my embroidery skills. This isn’t to say “I have struggles and I still take action so so should you.” My life is likely very different from yours. It is simply a reminder that you don’t have to be perfect. If something doesn’t work with your life don’t burn yourself out pushing for it. Find what you can do and focus on that. A group of imperfect environmentalists is better than one perfect one. With our society structured the way it is there is no way to be perfect. Our greatest power is in community and numbers.
Lucy Siegle – The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/profile/lucysiegle
All the Ontario environmental protections Doug Ford wants to overhaul to build more houses – The Narwhal https://thenarwhal.ca/doug-ford-housing-plan-ontario-environment/
What you need to know about Ontario’s new housing policy – Bill 23 – Canadian Centre for Housing Rights https://housingrightscanada.com/what-you-need-to-know-about-ontarios-new-housing-policy-bill-23/
Environmental claims and greenwashing – Government of Canada https://ised-isde.canada.ca/site/competition-bureau-canada/en/how-we-foster-competition/education-and-outreach/publications/environmental-claims-and-greenwashing
Accessibility, Inclusivity & Climate Change Action – The Gaia Project https://thegaiaproject.ca/en/accessibility-inclusivity-climate-change-action/