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On the shallowness and ignorance of present-day environmental activists

By Rose Sauvage de Brantes, BA English and Japanese

“What can a group of children possibly know about science?”- “Speeches are nice but it won’t help to change the world. Go back to school.” and “It’s too late now”. Those are the comments one can frequently find under Greta Thunberg’s videos. But where does all this hate come from? It’s not like Global Warming is a novelty so why are the older generations so keen on criticism of a good cause, or worse in denial of a great crisis?

We had scientists raising concerns about Climate Change since the 60s, and agreeing on the fact that Global Warming has been human-induced since the 80s. Yet when you open the Wikipedia Page for Climate Activism the oldest recorded event dates from 2009 and there are only about two lines written about it. It’s not that there wasn’t any form of green activism before, it’s just that those movements, even the very successful ones would come and go, ending up forgotten. The reason for this green historical amnesia is that some of the most influential activist groups like Greenpeace were born in the 70s in the context of hippie youth movements. The “Hippies” were notorious for opposing the popular norms and comprehensive agendas of the ’60s, promoting concepts like free love instead of marriage, drugs instead of sobriety and pursuing passions instead of carriers. The Hippie movement was not only an act of contra-culture but also an escape from reality for those living in fear of seeing their friends and family drafting into wars in faraway countries. Since the movement did neither align with America’s Cold War politics, nor with the mainstream culture, the hippies gained the label of “irrational”, “misguided”, “frivolous” youth, chasing ideals they know little about. This unchanging stigma has been transported through the decades onto contemporary young climate activists. More unfortunately, the whole environmental discourse is often regarded as some “tree-hugger blabbering” and swept under the carpet by politicians reluctant to impose regulations on their most profitable industries. Thus many topics relating industrial production to environmental science would lack the credibility they deserved and escaped the radar of media, in those times limited to the radio and newspaper.

While many activists are indeed naive children, we should keep in mind that those children grew up with the internet, know how to navigate its content and independently educate themselves.

The advent of the internet, with documentaries like “The True Cost” suddenly available on streaming services, was able to gradually change the public’s conscience about environmental issues. Movements like “Meatless Monday” and lifestyles like Minimalism, Zero Waste and Veganism became more and more widespread. However, young content creators, conscious of their limited credibility caused by the Hippie stigma and of their pears shortening attention spans, started capitalizing on commodities to attract wider audiences. Soon concepts like “minimalist aesthetics” or the infamous “VSCO girl” with her “hydro flask” and “save the turtles” bracelets started flooding everyone Instagram feeds. Sustainability turned into a trend that got recently picked up by Celebrities, sending money to the Amazon fires while flying around in private jets. This dichotomy of consumerism and pretence adds a certain sense of shallowness to the movement, further compromising its validity.

Having said so, Climate Strikes are not a useless waste of time as the cynicism of the elders makes it out to be. The protests have had an impact on how politicians and citizens view the crisis. Around the world, newspapers dedicate sections entirely to Climate Change and the issue is discussed more and more in politics. Global warming has finally gained a serious approach. While many activists are indeed naive children, we should keep in mind that those children grew up with the internet, know how to navigate its content and independently educate themselves. Climate Change is a direct concern to them. We should also be vigilant and not fall in the trap of green commodification. Instead of allowing celebrities to steal the spotlight, let’s shift our attention towards scientists and make them our celebrities. Instead of buying the latest eco-tableware as a pursuit of an “it” lifestyle, let’s push for concrete, well defined structural changes. The Earth conditions are changing fast and it is the greatest challenge of our times to keep pace and adapt. However, no battle is lost if we are still standing all well and healthy on the battlefield. 

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