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Why The Climate Strike Is A Useless Act

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.

Other issues

Green energy and climate change are important, but there are other more pressing issues that are affecting people and the planet right now – namely:

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.

Hypocrites?

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.

Conclusions

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?

Diane Small

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11 Comments

  • Reply
    Stephen Geary
    Sep 21, 2019 at 8:22 am

    I hear everything you are saying and agree with most. One thing Greta has shown in one year is that there are a lot of people, not just kids bunking of school, wanting a change for a better environment. So why don’t you start a campaign to boycott the companies you mention that use plastic. I would be behind you 100%.

    • Reply
      Chere
      Sep 21, 2019 at 8:39 am

      Thanks for your comments Stephen! I think it’s safe to say that with very few exceptions, we ALL want a better environment, and yet what most people SAY they want and what they actually DO seem rather contradictory, as Ms MacDonald (in the article) made clear. It’s rather sad that all these people are attending these rallies thinking they’re doing something ‘good for the planet’ – yet they don’t think about the impact of those rallies (in terms of CO2 used via transport, for media transmissions or even in terms of the energy used by their phones for selfies, Insta posts, etc) and then go back to their normal Starbucks-guzzling, AC using lives. Personally, I have been boycotting those companies for years. My own big cause now is to boycott Brazil, due to the fact that they have an insane President who seems hell bent on ‘opening up the Amazon to business’. We’ve posted several times on social media to boycott Brazil, but maybe you’re right – it’s time to do the same for those big plastic companies, too – why not? 🙂

  • Reply
    Ruby platts-Mills
    Sep 21, 2019 at 4:53 pm

    What a pointless and in fact damaging article. What solutions are you suggesting? From what I can see none. All this article say s it that there is a long way to go and that the climate strike is imperfect, although you seem to admit necessary. An imperfect step in the right direction has to be better than nothing.
    Obviously there are only small countries pushing towards renewables but this isn’t because of a lack of technological ability but because of a lack of political will. We all know our governments are in bed with the petrol chemical industries. Pointing to the fact that individual campaigners use energy is completely missing the point (which they have, just because the author is will fully missing it) We need systemic change if we are going to survive as a species, yes this may cause change to our individual lives which we are wiling to accept, but we cannot achieve it by making individual choices. We have to break the hold the petrol chemical indsutry has on our governments, on our economy and I suspect on this journalist.
    The entire premise that climate change isn’t the most pressing issues we are facing at the moment is completely wrong but even if we accept that there are other more pressing issues this article completely ignores that plastic and wars are protested against in the strike through the prism of their impact on climate change. (plastic is essentially petrol)

    • Reply
      Chere
      Sep 21, 2019 at 7:37 pm

      Thanks for your comments Ruby. What solutions are we suggesting? They are at the end of the article, didn’t you see? Can you show me a link where war and plastic are two issues for the climate strike? If so, I will make a correction to the article. As far as I know, the strike is only about ‘taking climate action’ – and climate action normally refers to reducing CO2. Further, I think Diane made it clear your statement “that there are only small countries pushing towards renewables but this isn’t because of a lack of technological ability but because of a lack of political will” is incorrect: the small countries can do so because their energy needs are miniscule. Providing energy for millions of households and heavy industry is not possible with clean energy technology at the moment, and even if it were possible, costs for that would be in the trillions, which is far beyond the capabilities of most nations.
      Whilst the petro companies doubtless have major control over many politicians (though certainly not over the writer of this piece!), I personally disagree that systemic change is not possible on an individual level. Look at veganism, for example. It has majorly impacted the profits of the dairy industry. Individual choices can and do make an impact – for me, this was the takeaway of the article. Yet the protestors seem to be saying that they want to live lavish lifestyles, eating takeaway food, drinking takeaway coffees, using AC and driving every day – AND demand green energy. It’s simply not feasible or possible. If we all reduce our energy needs, it’s far more likely that green energy can meet those reduced needs, and less consumption is obviously better for the planet anyway, right?

  • Reply
    Debra Denniston
    Sep 21, 2019 at 10:56 pm

    The “point” is to let our representatives “know” beyond a doubt, where we, their constituents, stand on environmental safeguards, which the leaders of many nations, including President Trump have been disregarding, dismantling and destroying so that the fossil fuel industry can frolic along unfettered by any rule of law. Of course we have a long way to go for clean energy, but that is the point of creating action NOW.
    Saving whats left of the life forms on this earth is only impossible if we continue our selfish overconsumption of antiquated resources such as fossil fuels as well as factory farmed animals.

    • Reply
      Chere
      Sep 21, 2019 at 11:43 pm

      Agree that it’s important to let our representatives know how we feel is important – and the best way to do that is to vote Green. But as President Trump seems to illustrate well, protests don’t matter. He’s not going to change anything for anyone, no matter how many people are in the street. The point here is that we must take action that will be felt: reduce energy use and consumption, vote green, boycott the companies mentioned in the article. That’s direct action that will definitely make an impact if we all do it. The issue is that it seems people would rather go to a fun protest for a day rather than make big sacrifices in their daily lives.

  • Reply
    Gabriele
    Sep 22, 2019 at 8:35 pm

    Great article! I love everything in this. Last week I was at a gathering with discussions about how to spare electricity. One of the lecturers proposed that we all should switch our mobiles off during the night time, but was enthusiastically hailing the use of e-bikes and Teslas … isn’t this weird?

    • Reply
      Chere
      Sep 23, 2019 at 2:35 am

      Agree 100%!! That’s like all the people who say the Internet of Things and Smart appliances etc are the way forward – they seem to forget they run on electricity…. 😉

      • Reply
        Gabriele
        Sep 23, 2019 at 7:34 am

        Next topic I was confronted right now: when reading a newspaper on Internet – there were three offers for flights to Russia (from Austria, where I am living) for Euro 90,-!!! This MUST be forbidden 🚫!

        • Reply
          Chere
          Sep 23, 2019 at 7:43 am

          That’s insane!!! There are also ridiculously priced flights to Europe from the UK. It just doesn’t make any sense – economic or ecological!

  • Reply
    Gabriele
    Sep 22, 2019 at 8:38 pm

    Sorry, I meant praising instead of hailing.

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