The Conservation Conundrum
A very insistent (and wise) friend of mine has been insisting that I were to include a TL;DR at the beginning of these posts. What does that mean you ask? I asked the same: Too Long ; Didn't Read. I mean, so rude right? In essence it is a summary for the casual browser with no more than a few seconds to spare. These posts are leaning jargon-heavy in any event, so you know what: I'll stick to a good ol' summary:
Environmental conservation efforts need society, the small folk like you and me, to do our bit. It's easy to forget the world beyond your own backyard, and so we need strong lighthouses, people and organisations that create a strong pole, an extreme and stylised idea of what we should all be doing to save the planet. Think Greta Thunberg, think about the message (rather than substance) of Seaspiracy. But these figures are so hard to emulate, so unattainable in the simple yet radical example they set, they get demonised, we turn away from them and end up doing: nothing. Moderated messages like 'eat meat only twice per week' rather than 'never eat meat!!!' have more success. And yet we need both: one to spur us into action, and one to make us feel good and inspire us to sustain our small contribution. To me: a conundrum.
Still here? Awesome, off we go!
A Little History
We all need heroes. To inspire us, show us that the seemingly impossible is in fact possible, to spur us into action, to mobile our sense of accountability and potential to drive change, to give us something to aspire to. This has been true throughout the ages:
· The heroes of Greek mythology were as much a way to account for historical events as they were to teach societal norms to new generations and provide behavioural models through hyper-stylised depiction.
· The Golden Age of Hollywood in the mid 20th century gave rise to a new kind of celebrity: etherial, unattainable, idols to distract from reality and inspire dreams, set standards and trends. A piece of magic (it's altogether become rather toxic in the City of Angels lately, but you get the point).
What both of these examples have in common is the way in which their stars were uniformly showered in adulation. Nobody said "they are crazy, they are too extreme" for fear of their otherworldliness and perceived threat to the status quo.
My Kind of Superhero
In a world demystified by global mobility and the bottomless power of the internet, a world caught in the violent struggle to combat environmental decay (and with it: our decay), heroes to me have taken on an entirely different shape, and are receiving an entirely different treatment.
Greta Thunberg slammed onto a stage of world leaders consumed by their own (mis)fortune like a sledgehammer into a brittle piece of drywall in August of 2018, sitting in front of the Swedish Parliament equipped with nothing but a cardboard sign. Not glamorous, not otherworldly, but seemingly attainable, one of the people, with an honest and simple desire (admittedly one that is tricky to implement lol): save the planet, and do it now. She accomplished miraculous things in little over 2 years, and unless you've been living under a rock (no offence, I love camping), you know the story of her public success, so I won't retell it. What I will tell you is that while she mobilised a staggering amount of people around the globe, I've heard and read all too much of the following, and it all has a similar root-cause:
· "She is just a little girl, what does she know."
· "She is funded by (some sort of sinister apparently) lobby."
· "Am I supposed to sail to the US next time I take a trip?"
· "What she is asking of me personally is impossible, change the world?!"
· "Oh, you don't eat fish Tom? Are you the next Greta?"
Greta represents an extreme pole, a lighthouse of goodness and honest climate ambition towards which we can all gravitate. An ambition that rattles the globe and puts the topic on the map. At the same time, the extremeness of this pole inspires fear, a sense of subtle shame that we can't live up to her idol. And what do people of fear do? They ridicule. They ostracise. They belittle. They do: nothing.
(Seaspiracy did something similar recently. A simple message: stop eating fish. But the simplest messages, through their lack of moderateness, have the power to instil fear. And so the headlines are buzzing with anger and repulsion, from government, consumers and NGOs alike. Granted, the film didn't help itself by using deceiving interview tactics and editing. But hey.)
You made it all the way down here, congratulations!
We need people like Greta. Who remind us of the cost of our inaction in a big way. A way that shakes us awake. That makes us reflect. But people like her can also make us feel hopeless by exposing the horrific scale of the problem at hand. Hopelessness = inaction. So equally, we need people and organisations that moderate messages like her's for those not deeply entrenched in the fight for a sustainable future. Which is most people ey? It's not because they don't care. It's because their lives are busy. There are wars raging. Famine. Family dramas. Their neighbours playing music all too loudly. Big action needs to be driven by big organisations, by big governments, by big money.
Don't be disheartened, the small deeds of small people like you and me matter. We are the many. Try and buy products with as little plastic packaging as possible. Try eating more regional veggies. Maybe don't have red meat everyday, only have it once or twice a week and buy it from a local farm for a bit more money. Recycle. Buy second hand furniture rather than new (and boring) IKEA. Do a bit of research about which fish is not the product of industrial scale trawling, and buy that instead of your 5th can of Tuna this week.
It takes a bit of effort, I get it. But your children will thank you. I will. And so will Greta.
Let's go get it!
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