Be the Change you want to see in the world…
Well, sounds good doesn’t it? A a great Mantra. Didn’t Ghandi say it? And look what he achieved.
But Ghandi and partition was sixty years ago, before modern globalisation, before data farming, neoliberalism, before widespread industrial expansion and social media virtue signalling. And he starved himself, remember. And risked his life, while many others lost theirs.
Sorting your eggshells from your single-use plastic straws doesn’t really compare does it?
Meaning well has never meant so little.
So why do we do it?
I think it’s this. We discovered our votes and our protests were ineffectual. We started feeling foolish when we said “The government should do something about it” and then the government didn’t.
So what was our response to feeling powerless? To tell ourselves by thinking in a certain way, in being positive about the small changes we can make, we could make a difference. No one in their right mind, would stand on the deck of the iceberg-stricken Titanic and imagine positive thought was going to unsink the ship. Yet here we are, watching freak weather events and mass migration, watching dying coral reefs and an ocean landfill the size of France, telling ourselves it will be okay if we all encourage each other to buy a few less lamb chops at the farmer’s market.
We ignore the fact that this stance is nothing new, and therefore has already proven itself by its ineffectiveness to be part of the problem.
But you don’t want to hear that, right? You don’t want to hear that while you’re dutifully trundling off the the recycling centre – in your CAR of course, because it’s at least half a mile away – while you’re carefully sorting your rubbish into ‘bio-degradable’ and ‘other’, somewhere else, a new coal-fired power station is being built.
Six months ago the news broke that we had twelve years to try and reverse some of the damage we had done to the planet. We had, scientists told us, very little time left to do something about Climate Change. The response of many: “a lot of little people doing a lot of little things can make a difference”.
Well here’s the news. We don’t have twelve years. We just blew six months hiding our heads in the sand. We now have eleven and a half years.
By all means continue to reject plastic drinking straws and go vegan. The queues in MacDonalds and the plastic trash being sold on your high street hasn’t diminished. By all means buy an electric car. The concretisation of the far east will continue. By all means encourage your colleagues to become more aware. Airline sales, meat farming, car ownership, deforestation, none of it is slowing down.
Like a toddler hiding her eyes behind her hands, who thinks because if she cant see you, you cant see her, so many of the middle classes imagine by refusing to see the problem, the problem will go away.
Take a walk down a busy high street and think about the lives of those thousands, millions of people who find some solace in buying plastic junk, cheap mass-produced clothes, junk food. Take a drive and watch all those people who take comfort in owning a car that offers more status than the home they can never afford to buy. You want to tell them to stop consuming so they can live an even more joyless poverty, waiting for the world they cant afford to ever visit become greener, waiting for the coral reef they will never see come back to life?
The change we need to see in the world, to avoid the flooding of coastal cities like New York, Mumbai, Jakarta, St Petersburg, London, to avoid rendering vast swathes of the world, including but not limited to central Africa, Asia, Mexico and Australia uninhabitable, to avoid a level of mass internal migration that will create societal breakdown. That change requires enormous sacrifice and commitment and courage. It isn’t going to happen because you bought a Katherine Hamnett T shirt and ate a vegan burger.
It will happen, if it happens at all, the same way all radical change has ever happened in the world; through people putting their lives, their desires, their needs second to the greater good. Ghandi starved. If you’re prepared to quote him, does that mean you would too?
Still want to be the change you wish to see in the world? Great, start working out what the difficult stuff is, and start doing it.