Why the climate crisis is a political priority, not a choice.

Rebecca Stevenson 31 January 2020
Image Credit: Pexels

Why the climate crisis is a political priority not a choice

Rebecca Stevenson

Until my late teens, I did not see climate change as a political affair. I simply knew that it was real and was waiting for everybody to catch on. Today, as the situation worsens, politicising climate change is the only solution left.

My first concerns about the planet arose when I was 6 years old. I was obsessed with monkeys and believed that they were a better version of adults. I read in my monkey books that the consumption of palm oil was causing mass-deforestation, leaving my adored orangutans homeless. I scavenged around the house and to my mum’s horror, I threw out any products that contained the deadly oil.

At the wise age of 8, I received a ‘Petit Quotidien’ magazine on the daily. It was wrapped in a plastic bag and although it had never been mentioned to me that plastic was bad for the planet, it didn’t feel right. I sent the company a letter proposing cardboard alternatives – alas, they informed me that the magazines would be ruined in the rain.

Pollution was similarly never a question of politics for me. It was a fact of life. If hairspray made me cough, it was bad. If water was sometimes dirty, the clear one was special. If planes made big trails of smoke and dirtied the blue sky it was probably harmful.

But as the eco-movement developed, the issue of our environment instantly became a political one, in the sense that it was beginning to earn its place in public affairs. Like any political issue, climate change has since been debated, denigrated, defended and denied…

…even to this day. Greta Thunberg who has become the face of the eco movement was labelled  a ‘spoilt brat’ by Jeremy Clarkson, as entitled by Dr Michael Carr-Gregg and compared to Nazi propaganda by Dinesh D’Souza.

By integrating climate change into politics, it is discussed in the same manner as unemployment, social inequalities and economic growth. While this is of course welcome, it can encourage poor leaders to make climate change into a political choice. The Australian Conservative Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, maintains there is ‘no direct link’ between the nation’s worst ever bushfires of this year and global warming, despite aggravating conditions. Tackling climate change is not in line with his agenda.

September 2019 saw mass deforestation in the Bolivian region of Santa Cruz where 1,7 million hectares burnt down in under a month. Ex-president Evo Morales’ government turned the fires into part of his personal political ambition. He believed that Mother Earth was punishing Santa Cruz for not supporting his presidency and refused international help to show independent strength in the face of upcoming general elections.

People do not want to agree with Greta and climate-change ‘fanatics’. Honestly, I do not blame them. Most Cambridge students are exposed to climate activists daily and still believe that using keep-cups, scorning single-use plastic cups, retweeting Greta’s posts and finding cute skirts in charity shops is going to save our dear planet. I believe that the main difficulty in you and I giving up harmful products and behaviour is that we are being asked to sacrifice our individual way of life without a guarantee that it will have any global impact.

Because of this hard truth, climate change must now remain in politics for good, even if it means poor leaders hijacking the political debate. Is it time to impose climate change laws? What would happen if eating animal products, using private jets and plastic became illegal? Would revolts break out in the name of economic growth and the crumbling of economic sectors? Perhaps. But let us not forget that the government has involved itself in the lives of citizens before in the name of long-term progress. When Thatcher privatized the UK’s nationalized industries in the 1980s, when smoking was banned in enclosed public spaces in  2007 and congestion charges appeared across London. Citizens only appreciated the changes when the benefits became evident.

The climate crisis must not be watered-down by partisan propaganda but rather become the political priority of our generation even if our comfort is taken away. If excessive flying, animal products and plastic were banned, the new demand for innovations would accelerate the race to find alternatives. By politicising the debate and including it into our legal, political and economic discourses, Greta Thunberg and environmental activists will no longer be ‘fanatics’ because we will all be making changes to our lives. And to all those scared to change our way of life, I can assure you, we will be just fine.