The climate strike is a waste of time. Here’s why
By Diane Small
This month, LUSH, Patagonia, Vivienne Westwood and other companies have announced they will shut their doors as part of a ‘climate strike.’ The strike, demanded by teenaged activist Greta Thunberg, is intended to ‘get consumers to demand climate justice, and an end to fossil fuel use.
It sounds good on paper, and no doubt thousands will follow Thunberg’s call. The thing is…it’s a stupid idea, for many reasons.
What is a strike?
First off, strikes are, by definition, a refusal to work organized by a body of employees typically in an attempt to gain a concession or concessions from their employers after negotiations have broken down. I get that the word ‘strike’ is symbolic here, and that the ’employees’ are, in this case, protestors. But what is the ‘concession’ they are demanding, exactly? And from whom, specifically?
The demands themselves are nebulous. What is meant by ‘climate justice’? And how, in practical terms, are we meant to ‘end fossil fuel use’ when the entire global economy runs on it? We need energy for just about everything we do, every day. I even need energy to type this, to post this and to research this article. Renewables are wonderful, but as they exist right now, we are far, far from having the capacity for green energy to fuel cities and mass manufacturing.
It’s not that easy being green
To illustrate that point, it has been well publicised that Iceland runs on nearly 100% clean energy – but many don’t realise this is a nation of just over 300k people in total, and one which is blessed with an abundance of natural hydro and geothermal energy that can heat the houses of that many people – there’s virtually no manufacturing or heavy industry in that country that would require any more energy.
Costa Rica is another country that uses a lot of green energy – but the entire population of that nation is under 5m (New York City alone has 8 million people, to compare), and once again, there’s no heavy manufacturing there – tourism and agriculture are its most important industries.
Let’s consider a more realistic example: Germany. The country is deeply committed to renewable energy, and the country has been called “the world’s first major renewable energy economy“. However, even this ecological powerhouse only used around 35% green energy in 2018, and as much of Germany’s renewable electricity comes from biomass, which scientists view as polluting and environmentally degrading, as it does from from solar.
The country has also run into numerous technological, economic and political problems that are stifling its progress in this arena, and Der Spiegel cites a recent estimate that it would cost Germany €3.4 trillion ($3.8 trillion) – or seven times more than it spent from 2000 to 2025 – to increase solar and wind three to five-fold by 2050. That’s a pretty hefty spend for one of the richest countries in the world – one that would be impossible to achieve for poorer nations.
Do the climate strikers realise that only the teeniest, tiniest of countries can run on green energy? And that even those with the best intentions to do so are having serious difficulties? No strike of any magnitude will change that.
Green energy and climate change are important, but there are other more pressing issues that are affecting people and the planet right now – namely:
- America and her allies’ involvement in several wars around the world (which has more impact on the climate than energy use in 140 countries combined)
- Nuclear energy fallout (which is currently about to contaminate the entire ocean system, thanks to the Fukishima disaster)
- Plastic pollution, which is choking our oceans, polluting our skies, contaminating our groundwater and soil, killing wildlife, and causing cancer in countless numbers of people and animals.
Much of that plastic comes from a few major companies, including PepsiCo, Coca Cola, Nestle, Unilever and Danone. Instead of going on a useless ‘climate strike’, what if we all threw a bag of plastic trash generated by these companies into their headquarters and forced them to deal with the waste they needlessly and shamelessly create?
Or what if we completely banned those companies, refusing to buy anything from them, or their multiple subsidiaries, ever again, whilst demanding our governments make plastic packaging illegal? That would have an impact!
Oh, and for anyone who still believes recycling plastic is a solution to the incredible pollution crisis we are facing: sorry, you’re wrong. Click here to see why, or watch the video below.
The majority of ‘strikers’ are likely going to be young people. But as author Heather MacDonald writes in the City Journal:
“These are the consumers who keep football fields of computer servers buzzing round the clock to support their social media habits. If being green meant turning off one’s phone for 22 hours a day or foregoing the latest smartphone upgrade, the reasons why such sacrifices are not required would spout from every Gen Z-er and millennial’s lips. Students from the University of California, Irvine, constantly run their air-conditioners in the apartment complex where I spend summers, regardless of how cool the temperature outside is. They drive with their windows sealed and the car AC on, no matter how fresh the day (this is the new driving norm for almost everyone now). The meteoric rise of food-delivery apps, producing torrents of plastic and paper waste and a constant circulation of cars and electric bikes, has been fueled by young people’s demand for convenience and instant gratification. Cooking is apparently unthinkable. At best, one buys pre-cut and washed food in the inevitable plastic containers. A daily Starbucks habit is deemed consistent with railing against environmentally destructive corporate greed.
New York’s tap water is among the purest in the world. Yet a young neighbor of mine in New York, like progressives throughout the city, receives towering deliveries of bottled water, entailing huge energy outlays to package and transport, not to mention generating flotillas of discarded plastic. The swim team members in my gym turn on their showers in the locker room, then walk away or do nothing other than chat as water gushes down the drain. Uber drivers in college towns report that students regularly call a car to get to class, rather than walk or ride a bike.
If the younger generations have any non-political interest in nature, they keep it well hidden. Instagram holds more fascination than forest mosses and lichens; like most air travelers today, the young fly with their seat windows down to reduce the glare on their screens, indifferent to the startling revelations below about geology and topology that John Ruskin and Leonardo da Vinci would have killed to observe.
In short, the young rely on galaxies of goodies beyond count, whose production requires resources, nature-altering infrastructure, and dependable energy systems. The latest environmental crusades—whether banning fracking or plastic straws—are as gossamer bubbles atop this rushing torrent of manufactured consumables.”
What MacDonald is clearly saying is that the millennials and GenZers who will comprise the bulk of the strike are all talk, and no action – except when it comes to bunking of school or work to do some shouting in the street.
They’re probably not thinking about the CO2 they’re generating to attend the protests (though it couldn’t be nearly as bad as the fuel actress Emma Thompson burned up when she flew from LA to London to attend a climate change protest), nor about the paper they’ll be wasting with their placards and painted sheets that will be used once and discarded after the event. They’re probably not thinking it was a terrible irony that the event has been advertised on the side of idling trucks. In fact, it seems they’re not thinking much at all.
Protests can play an important role in our society – but only when the objective is clear.
Stop the War protests mean just that, for example. But the ‘climate strike’ has no clear, realistic goals whatsoever. It’s easy to complain, but it’s much harder to come up with – let alone demand – serious, viable solutions.
Green energy is a noble goal, but so far, it’s not viable for fuelling most countries – far from it. And even when it works, it often comes with its own issues: for example, China’s ‘green energy’ Three Gorges Hydroelectric Dam displaced 1.2 million people, killed countless numbers of animals and plants, and flooded pristine forests.
The Climate Strike is a caprice; a feel-good event that seems to be at least partly designed to give totally un-eco-friendly companies like Vivienne Westwood a bit of a greenwashing boost, while acting as something of an excuse for workers and students to bunk off and join a huge street party. They may feel that they’re doing something positive for the environment, but in the end, they will accomplish nothing.
There’s no doubt the planet needs saving, but gathering a bunch of impassioned protestors (many of whom are too young to vote, even) with zero feasible demands for change is a waste of energy. If people really want to ‘strike’ in an effective way, real sacrifice is necessary. We must lower our energy use. Reduce our consumption. Boycott some of the biggest corporations on the planet. But it seems too few are willing to make those sacrifices.
If those protesting aren’t willing to make real change in their own lives, at least they could perhaps plan a day – or better yet, a week – of zero consumption. No Starbucks. No electricity use. No new clothes or accessories. No bottled water. No transport tickets even. Just a day (or longer) of staying near home, disconnecting from the material world, rediscovering friends, neighbours and nature. If we all did that, who knows what could happen?