Often, when one first considers making a change and joining the growing environmental movement, one’s first instinct is to consider their own carbon footprint, choices, and lifestyle. This train of thought can lead to a decrease in plastic usage, eating less meat, or choosing to travel differently. Although this kind of lifestyle change is important, it is more important to fight for system change, which accommodates everyone and makes the world a better place. Activists must work against oppressive systems in our society, such as capitalism and other ideas that prioritize the few over the many and disenfranchise marginalized communities.
Your Diet Won’t Save The Planet
One of the first areas often considered in lessening one’s carbon footprint is on the topic of food. Eating less meat, shortening the distance between production and consumption of food, and supporting sustainable growers are all important steps to take, but they do not address the underlying issues of the climate crisis and have only a minimal effect on the issue as a whole. Underlying systems such as capitalism, which value wealth and resources over human lives and the environment, harms both marginalized communities and the planet. Choosing not to eat red meat, while it may affect local supply chains, does not help solve this inter-sectional issue.
In addition, research shows that new sustainable methods for raising cattle will solve many of the emissions-related issues with red meat consumption, and other solutions similarly seek to solve these issues as demand for food grows with our population. Instead, individuals should work to join movements and call for systematic change on a larger level, simultaneously creating more positive change and including more communities in the fight for justice.
Mentality Versus Habits
Another reason that individual lifestyle change is not the best way to solve the climate crisis is because one’s habits do not always reflect their mentality or motivations. While it is important for people of privilege to do everything possible to lessen their own impact, if the motivations for these actions are non-inclusive, they are not meaningful. For example, buying expensive, sustainable products in order to lower one’s plastic waste can be helpful in achieving this goal, but also plays into harmful capitalism. For example, not everyone can afford fancy new solutions, and by propping these up as the answer to all problems, many people who cannot afford these luxuries are excluded from the movement and doing meaningful work.
Instead, we must work to dismantle these systems and instead rethink our consumption in a way that includes the perspectives of marginalized communities most affected by the action of the privileged, not just the opinions of those already in power. By playing into schemes or incentives created by polluting companies, people can similarly be sucked into the facade of greenwashing, in which companies try to appear more sustainable and thoughtful than they actually are. These companies, despite claims of change and cooperation, are far more responsible for the climate crisis than individuals, and need to be held accountable for their actions.
More Powerful Together
Instead of dividing ourselves into isolated pods of individuals practicing sustainable methods– a phenomenon some say is caused by neoliberalism, such as Canadian journalist Martin Lukacs, it is important to see ourselves as a community working for change together. Individuals should look for organizations to join and work with other people on this issue, such as the Sunrise movement, local 350.org chapters, and other groups dedicated to dismantling our current systems and working for a better future for all. It is important to connect with these groups that are dedicated to connecting activists nationwide and globally, in turn allowing for the sharing of stories and struggles, creating a more inclusive movement.
How To Fight Oppressive Systems
On an individual and group level, there are many ways to approach the overwhelming climate crisis from a system-dismantling lens. Engaging in mass protests, boycotting harmful brands, and voting for climate-forward candidates are all important ways to work to reverse current standards. Individuals should be banding together in their communities to stop harmful local projects by polluting companies, like this example from 2014 in which residents of South Portland, Maine successfully blocked a tar sands operation from their city. Wins on a local, statewide, and nationwide are all important, so long as they are done with the intention of helping the many, not just the few.
In dismantling systems, it is also important to look inwardly and see what things one can give up and work against in their own lives. Buying less, for example, or purchasing secondhand items, not because you believe that you alone can stop the climate crisis but as a way to refute capitalism, is a worthwhile step in considering one’s lifestyle and how it affects others.
All Actions Are Important
At the end of the day, any actions someone takes to address the climate crisis are important and worthwhile. Wealthy individuals have even more work to do than others to actively lessen their impact, as they are more likely to have higher carbon footprints than lower-income individuals. These individuals should also join movements centering marginalized voices, and become involved in these system-dismantling actions, especially as they are most likely to benefit from those systems. These six actions, which include reducing personal emissions and demanding sustainable practices from elected officials, are all worthwhile in their own right. However, it is important that activists don’t quit after making one of these changes, and consider whether their actions are inclusive and helpful for all. To create an inclusive movement, it is important to include these different approaches and make sure that all can engage in the important work of dismantling unjust and polluting systems in order to create a more just world.