It’s sometimes hard to remember that only a year ago the world wasn’t really talking about our climate crisis. Extinction Rebellion hadn’t yet started their campaign of disruption to raise awareness, Greta Thunberg was only just starting her school strikes and the Green Party hadn’t yet had its best ever local and European election campaigns with massive victories across the country.
Jumping forward and we’ve gone from having to battle to get climate change mentioned in the mainstream media to it being covered almost daily. This hasn’t happened by accident, but is the result of so many years of work by so many of us finally paying off. And given that we only have eleven years according to the UN to prevent irreversible climate change, we really only have about a year to put the brakes on from the worst climate damaging projects, and to make our economy less carbon based through plans like a Green New Deal.
The climate emergencies being declared by Parliament and local and devolved governments across the UK are not a moment too soon.
However, with success comes greater opposition for the green movement. There are plenty of people who don’t want us to change the current system. Some individuals as well as big businesses make huge profits out of polluting, ecologically destructive and climate damaging industries. And those people will put big money into finding ways to belittle the vision being created for a greener future.
The spokespeople for this anti-movement have privileged prime positions at the centre of the media, and there are some clear patterns developing in their narrative.
Scrutinised for hypocrisy
To begin with, as Meghan and Prince Harry recently experienced, the moment you publicly express concern about climate change you will get scrutinised. Everything you do will be looked at for possible signs of ‘hypocrisy’. If you declare a support for the green movement then drive a car, take a flight or put your recycling in the wrong bin, you will be upheld as an example of saying one thing and doing another.
Obviously flying private jets isn’t good for the environment. And nor is driving cars. But really we need to look at why we live in a broken society where billions of pounds in subsidies are given to carbon-intensive industries while subsidies for green industries are being cut. A system where aviation fuel is tax free and the fuel for our trains is taxed, one in which the greenest option isn’t the cheapest and easiest one. We don’t need to vilify individuals, we need a fundamental change of our economy and tax system to destroy an economic order currently enabling environmental destruction.
One of the real stories here is that the private jet industry appears to be booming in the UK. Rich people are taking more and more private flights and I would like to see a cross party commission investigate this industry to ensure it is being properly regulated, safe for passengers and also is being looked at in terms of its contribution to our climate crisis. If it’s growing out of control, one answer could be to tax the industry more heavily.
If you declare a support for the green movement then drive a car, take a flight or put your recycling in the wrong bin, you will be upheld as an example of saying one thing and doing another.
And in terms of Prince Harry and Meghan, surely the fact that they have spoken out about the climate crisis and raised public awareness of it is good. There is plenty we can do to look at the climate impact of the royal family but singling out this particular incident for such major media attention just because they have dared to speak out about their environmental concerns is disingenuous.
The people highlighting this in the media aren’t doing so because they think the royals shouldn’t fly private jets – they are doing so because they don’t think they or anyone else should admit we have an environmental problem.
They are shaming people for a single flight or car trip, rather than shaming our system and economy which fails to present being green as the cheapest and easiest option. Individual actions do make a difference, but these techniques used against anyone who raises their head above the parapet to tackle the climate crisis is working to silence anyone who speaks out.
The second tactic being used here is to state that anyone who tries to change their behaviour to help the environment is virtue signalling and those who praise them are upholding them as Saints. This is how Greta Thunberg is being vilified by our media for using transport that’s not accessible to the majority of the population when she chose to travel by yacht instead of flying.
Greta’s actions have inspired younger people, and older people, for her amazing ability to take a stand against our current system. She is the latest in a very long tradition of young people rebelling against previous generations, and those who decry her are as uninspiring as those who stood outside concerts protesting against punk music or the squares who tried unsuccessfully to shut down the peace movement of the 60s. This will be how history remembers the anti-Gretas.
But for now, as public figures who talk about the climate emergency, the choice is to be either shamed for flying like the royals, or undermined for being ‘Saint Greta’.
Rebranding the movement as a cult
The third tactic seems to be to rebrand the whole climate movement as a cult, suggesting that discussion of climate emergencies is creating undue panic, and that concerned young people can’t possibly have control over their opinions but must be being brainwashed.
This is a classic attempt by conservative figureheads to stand in the way of progress by trying to rebrand it as something more sinister. The true hypocrisy comes from those who, while claiming that green campaigners want to send us all back to the stone age, simultaneously campaign against things like modern wind farms.
With a green vision of a prosperous future for everyone, where polluting industries are replaced by a green revolution and where trains are affordable and efficient, it’s not really surprising that other forces want to bring us down. The truth is, while these campaigns against us are frustrating, they are clear indications that finally we are starting to win.
Amelia Womack is Deputy Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales and Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Newport West.