I struggle in being an advocate of environmentalism. Most often it’s in conversations about things like food or consumption. I might say something suggestive about how climate-intensive the livestock industry is. When doing so, there is conflict in me. I feel like a radical know-it-all trying to force people what to eat. At the same time, I panic about how little people care. It has struck me that questioning norms from a sustainability perspective is still not very socially accepted. It might be in the very fabric of norms that they are sensitive to dispute, but it seems to me that there is a particular resistance when it comes to shedding light on the environmental crisis. Perhaps because of how intertwined it is with our everyday decision-making, constantly intruding on our choices. But if you look at the present day with norm-neutral specs, what behaviour is actually more extreme?
To some extent, I think the change in behaviour has to come from within each and every one of us. Not from some people yelling at some other people what to do. Behaviour will change when people want to be the change. Be that as it may, I also think that we need to speed things up. If any of the necessary change is going to happen fast enough and on a big enough scale there has to be strong incentives. Economic incentives. Rethinking how we measure success. Sustainability and well-being instead of profit. Shifting taxation and global leadership. There has to be a fundamental change in the system itself. For any of that to materialize, it’s going to take some serious yelling.
When asking oneself how to be part of a positive change, what strikes me first is to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle. Then I think of how I can inspire my surroundings to do the same. Perhaps more potently, I strive towards what sustainable efforts I can do in my field of work. This often comes across as far-fetched and it feels as if it doesn’t really make that much of a difference anyway. It is the system that has to change. But then how can we contribute to that systems-change? Recently, I have realised that there is so much impact a single person can do, simply by yelling.
Tonight, I’m on a bus back home after a week in Berlin, taking part in Extinction Rebellion’s (XR) global climate protests. We have been blocking streets and bridges all over Berlin, and with people in major cities all over the world doing the same thing at the same time. Chanting, singing songs and being a non-violent thorn in the eye to cause attention and put pressure on political leaders. It was very inspiring to see the dedication from all kinds of people, in all ages, chaining themselves together and getting carried away by the police, very peacefully. All this to make a stand for the climate emergency. I strongly feel that this kind of activism, is a very important component to the change that needs to happen, however controversial it may seem, and the best part is that everyone can just do it. No rocket surgery needed.
The catch is, I still hesitate to tell some of my surroundings about this, as I feel controversial and extreme. In some settings, I can’t even talk about the perks of vegan food without getting a subtle rejection. These social constraints are such big obstacles in themselves. Why should anyone who cares about our existence have to feel like an extremist? On the other hand, maybe that’s exactly what it takes, until enough people are “extreme” enough, to shift the norm.
I try to not shy away from rejections, and I try to simply lay out the facts. What inspires me mostly about XR is their research-driven approach. They are a grassroots movement that focuses on what is needed to be done if we are to prevent a climate breakdown, according to the science. Not according to “what is politically reasonable within an arbitrary timeframe, considering how exceptionally difficult it is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without harming our economic welfare”. To me, it feels like that mindset has not taken us very far in the past 30 years. XR is also driven by research in the way that they look historically, what has been the most effective methods in accomplishing societal change, and applying this with a healthy organisational structure. It spells out as non-violent civil mass disobedience. They claim that historically speaking, if 3% of a country’s population would engage in civil disobedience, it is a 100% likelihood that the demands they pose are met by their government. So, if 300 000 people in Sweden would just rebel for the environment, we’d be well on our way. Maybe.
Why would activism be considered extreme, anyway? It’s just people doing what is necessary to create a stir, according to the legal systems in place, while also doing it in a very humane way. I feel like it is our toxic norms and preconceptions that makes us think of this as extreme, while we go on with business as usual and don’t think twice about the current situation as something extreme.
Norms, as well as legality, is not a guide to morality.