"The nature of the ecological crisis is principally moral and theological rather than technological."
Ellen Davis, American Theologian
We're on the heels of the lukewarm COP26 Climate Summit. My husband was invited to read an Arabic-English poem over Zoom at their Middle East and North African Forum. He did so magnificently. As I Zoom-bombed over his shoulder afterwards, I saw delegates drum off usual platitudes about climate solutions. One representative instructed the delegation to look toward Gen Z as a source of inspiration and hope. It reminded me of when my little sister - a true Zoomer at 16 - called out Boomers for leaving them to clean up the shitty climate mess. I don't think the Gen Zers want to be a beacon of inspiration: Greta least of all. I think they just want politicians and business leaders to get on with doing the dishes after the feast of the century. Can the patriarchy manage such a thing, or do we need radical reform to stop plates, and more, from breaking too?
Apparently, just 90 companies have caused two-thirds of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. As the scales of national interests are balanced, geopolitics, trade and the economy are vastly more important than our global habitat. This is perhaps why Alok Sharma, the COP26 President, cried while giving the closing speech. I think the reason behind people's disenfranchisment is the way the climate discourse has been framed. It's hard to take seriously because it seems to bypass much-needed solution-making at many corners, while being turned into profitable greenwashing, carbon offsets and the like. It seems like oppressive power structures that service the white elite most have facilitated the slow poisoning of Earth and simultaneously evaded the responsibility of healing it. Hey, we can't expect them to, for that is not what they were made to do. Look upon corporations as colonizing powers and you'll see how the archetypal myth of the Conqueror has been rehashed in modern terms. They operate within, or outside, dubious laws. They get away with externalizing pollution from doing business as usual. They simply cannot embody the Healer archetype; or, dare I say, the Wise Sage.
"These systems are also designed in such a way that they make us feel guilty. They make us feel hopeless and helpless like we don’t know how to overcome them, and that is again designed by the system to keep us oppressed."
Afrin Sopariwala, Climate Activist and Ayurvedic Practitioner
Let's crank it back a notch. For those who need it, here's a wee refresher on climate change 101. Let it be known that greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane) are naturally occurring, and make Earth a cozy place to inhabit. However, due to the burning of fossil fuels since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, greenhouse gases have been unnaturally warming the Earth's surface at a rate of 0.08° C per decade. Industrial activities trap these GG pollutants in the atmosphere and contribute to extreme weather events, raising sea levels, food shortages, virulent disease and destruction of natural habitats. Chlorofluorocarbons from our aerosol sprays, solvents and refrigerants are also a major greenhouse gas, albeit synthetic. While people think most emissions come from energy production and transportation, animal agriculture is actually one of the biggest culprits, because most deforestation occurs to grow grain to feed these animals. This is why environmentalists say a plant-based diet helps us be more "green" (have you looked at your poos after a dark leafy salad?). As I'm sure you noticed, 2021 showed us up with its devastating AF weather; buckle up, and read to the end for cooling tips.
So we've gathered that greenhouse gases are pollutants, and climate change is but an effect of large-scale pollution. Unfortunately, this has been lost in translation in the climate conversation. The narrative is too abstract or alarmist for folks to feel its daily relevance, as much as we try. As a result, it's put many people off taking action - even when the majority enjoy being in nature and want to protect natural habitats. Even though Trump pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Agreement, his voters urged him to conserve national parks by insituting the Great American Outdoors Act. This is straight-up cognitive dissonance y'all. We can relate to what is more visceral: smog, the crushed bottles on highways, asthma from wildfires, oil spills, dirty white beach foam, sulphuric-smelling soil, a neighbour's cancer. Reframing the climate conversation as a pollution problem could help us empathize and grant individuals more agency.
“When addressing air pollution, we also address a critical and easy-to-implement solution to climate change. Short-lived climate pollutants are negative in all senses, and we have proven technologies and policies to economically and immediately reduce air pollution,”
UN Environment Climate Change Specialist Niklas Hagelberg
One reason the needle is stuck on climate matters is that climate change is racist. The climate discourse has been historically dominated by white men, from scientists to activists and politicians. People of colour make up 12% of employees in environmental NGOs and foundations, yet they are most brutalized by the changing climate, while white people, by and large, produce it. Within the U.S., Black and Hispanic communities endure more air pollution than what they produce and are most likely to be living near toxic greenhouse gas emitting facilities. White Americans, in contrast, cause the highest levels of pollution per capita, yet enjoy better air quality than the national average. This disparity is called "pollution inequity": the difference between damage done and damage experienced by a racial-ethnic group. How can BIPOC weigh into the climate convo freely when many deal with environmental illnesses, a racist healthcare system, and an inequitable green sector?
I'm surprised more people haven't thought of rebranding the environmental movement like this. I feel like detoxing is permanently trending anyway. Scientists got to stamp it with approval, probably, and I'm not sure it sounds complicated enough. If the discourse was flipped on its head, would we care more about a poisoned Earth than a warming one? Trump did.
Indigenous cultures historically were never fixated on ruthless extraction and exploitaton like their colonizers. Quite the opposite: their spiritual beliefs are more polytheistic, matriarchal, and Earth-worshiping. Abrahamic religions (like Christianity, Judaism and Islam) worship a monotheistic paternal god who created the Earth but is detached from it. Those cultures imaged heaven/the afterlife as a desirable destination, which morally justified them behaving more irreverently towards the Earth - and the people closest to it. John Locke's 1689 Second Treatise of Government set the precedent for European colonialists to steal land from Indigenous peoples around the world. This "legally" permitted them to parcel Indigenous lands after it was mixed with their labour. We called it land "rematriation" now when this unceded land is returned.
I have a squiggly little thought - hear me out - that religious mythology about the heavens has seeped into our climate narrative, causing cultural, political, and even scientific biases . As Western cultures became more secular in the 1980s, and stopped believing as much in the afterlife, climate science picked up momentum. Has the West transposed its religious beliefs onto the ecological crisis subconsciously, so that preserving the atmosphere - this liminal band around the Earth - is more important than our soil, water, forests and wildlife?
If we believe that what is above is more important than below, we're missing the plot. We've become estranged from our planetary body; we're even colonizing space in another grandiose gesture of bypassing actual responsibility. To heal our planet, global leadership should place more power in the hands of Indigenous peoples, who are Earth's stewards, not rulers. Remember that climate change is a product of our toxic industry, and perhaps even of toxic cultural attitudes of progress and productivity. Recontextualizing the climate conversation by talking about pollution and systemic oppression makes it more honest and actionable (ugh business jargon). Look around: it is possible these oppressive systems are expiring. It's time to reach for a new (or perhaps, ancient) way of living, focused on what we can do as a community, in the name of communal interests, for our shared Earth.
What You Can Do to Clean Up the Earth
- Support BIPOC owned businesses. Give BIPOC power in your organisations and seats in policy-making and legislation. Donate to BIPOC organizations and get to know faces in your community.
- Plant a tree every year in your yard, or your friend's, or your company's yard, or donate that amount to be planted. Do it more often if you can and take care of it so it grows strong! It benefits all our lungs and more.
- Move away from using disposable (synthetic) products and towards biodegradable ones.
- Support locally owned businesses. Buy locally produced food and herbs as much as possible. This cuts down emissions from transport and mass production. Plus, your community will get to know your beautiful face more!
- Take microtrips around your property, your road, your park, and your community. Reduce your car and especially air travel.
- Literally go and pick up trash around your house, in your park, in your neighbourhood. You will feel cleansed. You will get to enjoy more beauty in your surroundings. Nature around you will genuinely show you love. I did this in the spring of 2020. It took so much effort because I was pretty ill at the time, but I found that people stopped throwing crud out of their pickup trucks when it didn't look dirty.
- Compost! Garden! Share or donate your harvest!
- Rewild a patch of your lawn, or your whole garden. Plant native species for native pollinators and wildlife.
- Consume less meat and dairy. Animal agriculture contributes to one-fifth of greenhouse gas emissions. Source it locally and organically where possible. It's not always accessible to eat this way, so please take care of your nourishment how you need to, first and foremost.
- Try hybrid or remote work to reduce your car travel. If you can, cycle, walk, or even take the train.
- Take part in the exchange and/or gift economies!
- Opt out of investing in fossil fuels and into responsible projects social impact funds and reforestation.
- Become more energy efficient. Consciously reduce your hot water use, make sure to turn off lights when not in use, and put an extra sweater on instead of cranking up the heating. Switch out appliances for the most energy efficient models such as LEDs.
- Shop slow. Buy quality pieces that will last you a lifetime. Learn how to mend them when they fray.
- See if you can bring your food waste to zero (I am still trying!!!).
- Enjoy yourself. Because nothing good really prospered out of anger, hatred, doom and gloom.
What have I left off this list? Email me with suggestions and thoughts please! And if you'd like to collaborate on an idea or event, get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.