Let’s stop feeling guilty and confront those in power

By Jon Crooks, published on The News Hub on 13 March 2015.
We need to rise up and demand real change if we want a better world. Big business can’t be trusted to save us from a crisis created by capitalism

My wife will tell you, I’m a tortured soul. If you know me you’ll know that I can’t help wrestling with large-scale social and environmental dilemmas like inequality, the degradation of the natural world and climate change. I feel profound guilt over what humans are doing to each other and to the planet. And I know I’m not alone. As individuals, the primary way people like me deal with this guilt is as consumers – buying organic, locally-produced seasonal food or signing up to Green Energy. But, in the end, whilst these are important choices to make as individuals, for our own peace of mind, a minority of us making ethical consumer choices won’t change anything. What we really need to change is the system.

We need to target the architects and governors of the current system. We already do this quite well, but in my opinion too much of this is focussed on the private sector; we focus too much on the big corporations in particular. We’ve made the oil companies enemy number one in the war on climate change and big food producers, agribusiness, logging companies, big fishing corporations etc. the focus of our attentions.

Don’t get me wrong, they are the culprits and we must continue to pressure them and shame them, but in the same way that consumer choices won’t bring about real change, neither will pressuring big business alone be enough to stop all their harmful practices. We can’t expect a multimillion pound fossil fuel industry to simply wake up one day and decide “hey, all those trillions of dollars worth of fossil fuels on our balance sheet that we keep being told can’t be burned…why don’t we just leave them in the ground and go and do something else”. Clearly that’s not going to happen.

This is because there are obvious limitations to targeting the big corporations. In simple terms, these companies exist to make a profit for their shareholders. Indeed, to maximise profits through continued growth. Whilst they engage in corporate sustainability programmes (some more than others), this is not usually through a desire to do good, or do the right thing, even if this is one of the companies stated values. Corporate social responsibility mostly exists in order to project an image or a suggestion that they are doing the right thing, in order to be able to continue to attract customers, deflect government regulation, and in order to continue to make money.

The idea that capitalism can save the world from a crises created by capitalism is a ridiculous notion. The change required from private corporations won’t happen on a voluntary basis. Even those who work in the fossil fuel industry acknowledge this.

Our governments are the problem. They act like they are powerless to act; almost bystanders. And that’s exactly what they are most of the time. Calls for action on climate change for example are growing among societies around the world, but government actions are still restricted to those that will not hamper existing business or potentially act as a drag on the growth-obsessed economic system.

The alternative ‘green’ approach is still considered too progressive, too left-wing. A green future is equated with returning to living in caves. It’s a very entrenched mentality and a huge challenge to promoting change. But is it true? Of course not. All the green movement are saying is let’s stop the obsession with growth and GDP and think about how we can develop a new green economy in a sustainable way and stop working in individual silos as nation states and start thinking more cooperatively. We need a narrative of positive change, in which our adaptation to climate changes does not just protect what’s already here, but also creates a more just and equitable world.

The time has come to demand real change.

 

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