Like it or not, Greta and Extinction Rebellion are here to stay
“Green with Envy”
By Steven Gislam, courtesy of Industry Europe
As we see a ramping up of the climate change protests by a newly emboldened Extinction Rebellion, like with so many other issues facing the world at this point in history, their actions seem to result in a total division of opinion and a further entrenchment of previously-held stances. What one person might see as a passionate fighter for future generations, another might see as an uncooperative crusty who should abandon their hemp-smelling bivouac, to use the vivid words of our ever-eloquent Prime Minister. In September, the movement’s unofficial figurehead, Greta Thunberg, made a fiery speech to the UN to either palpably uncomfortable claps of grudging agreement or seething, outright hostility and personal insults with almost nothing in between.
But there surely must be a more nuanced position on all this. It’s hard now for anyone to deny that the weather is changing. Winters are so much less, well, wintery, than they used to be. And the plastic island in the Pacific that’s now double the size of Texas and growing… Even the most ardent climate denier can’t think that’s good, can he?
And I say “he” because there appears to be something else at play here. For, while it may be true that it is undoubtedly galling for any adult to be lectured by a grumpy teenager, there seems to be a trend in the kind of people who are lining up to attack her; Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Piers Morgan, Jeremy Clarkson… The question of what it is exactly about this soft-spoken teenager with her hand painted sign and long overcoat that makes these wealthy, middle-class, white men over 60 feel the need to attack a 16 year old girl with Asperger’s is probably a matter for a different publication, but it’s not hard to join up the dots. One interesting thing to note is they never seem to attack the science behind her arguments, just the fact that she is young, female, outspoken, and has a different way of thinking.
The fact is, the world is changing, one way or another. Despite their methods, which are, to put it lightly, irritating for average working-class commuters in London, what ER represents is the sharp end of a long stick. In the same way that the likes of Trump and some of the more intransigent elements of the Brexit movement are representative of the death throes of an old order, kicking and gasping for air before it is slowly suffocated under the weight of the generation behind it, ER represents the noisier, angrier face of the ones holding the pillow.
Another common response to these environmental challenges is to take a position of staggering indifference. The argument that individual actions make no difference or that we’ve simply left it too late are hardly arguments at all, but more like an abdication of personal responsibility by those who simply unwilling to make a few behavioural changes, or those who have essentially given up on humanity entirely.
Of course, what they have got right is that individual actions are next to worthless without widespread actions on the part of governments, businesses and industry. Perhaps if the nihilistic types paid a little more attention to the news that doesn’t make the headlines, they’d see that an there’s been a sea change across all sectors of industry. Every day, companies are falling over each another to catch journalists’ eyes and prove their green credentials; sending out press releases filled with buzzwords like “carbon neutral”, “sustainability” and “circular economy”. While it’s easy to be cynical about their motives (of course, it’s at least partly about getting good PR, let’s not be naïve), the end results are, without question, a step in the right direction.
Human beings seem to do our best work when we’re really up against it. There’s nothing like a deadline to inspire a flurry of activity. And while we all, as individuals, should do our bit and make a few changes in our behaviour, it is down to politicians and business leaders to lead by example. While the transition is not going to be easy, and there is no guarantee that large portions of the world won’t be underwater in a century’s time, or that the ecosystem hasn’t been irreversibly altered, if we don’t try, then we’ve all got big problems. After all, no one ever won the lottery without buying a ticket.
And even, (suspending our disbelief here) if climate change does prove to be a giant hoax and, in the process of falling for it, we end up making the world we live in a cleaner and healthier place to be, then that is clearly no bad thing. You don’t have to agree with ER’s methods or all of their rhetoric to see that beneath the polemic and publicity stunts they have a very strong point. In the same way that the Black Panthers had a very strong point – some of their methods may be difficult to support, but in any social movement there has always been a noisier, more extreme element that gets the most attention precisely because they shout louder than anyone else.
Savvier business leaders have seen the change coming for a while now and, whether they believe in man-made climate change or not, they’re adjusting to the new way of thinking to keep the flame of their businesses burning as one generation hands it over to another. After all, generational differences have always been there but this one seems to be the starkest yet.
As Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan sang over half a century ago, “you don’t need a weatherman to know the way the wind blows”, and a quick glance out of the window will tell you that there’s a storm coming and those businesses who don’t fix the roof while the sun is still shining, might find themselves washed away in the deluge.
Steven Gislam is editor of Industry Europe.