Environmentalism is inherently a movement which requires people to change their habits, rather than waiting for the state to enforce change. Radical social movements challenge people to make alterations quickly to create the best possible future.
But people are averse to change by nature. They would rather ignore the issue, assuring themselves that other people, or the state, are managing the situation far better than they possibly could. This is the stem from which all problems facing environmentalists emerge. At some point, it has to change.
The reason why it is so vital that people make changes is that today’s governance systems are not designed with speed in mind. As such, the legislatures of various countries cannot, or will not, act at the rate required to tackle modern issues.
Many countries have rules in their constitutions restricting the ability of their congress, senate, assembly, or parliament to pass laws at speed. Most of these rules are designed with safety in mind — for example, requiring consultations on bills, several drafting stages, and several debates and votes — but they have the unfortunate side-effect of limiting pace.
In any case, politicians generally don’t care to move at a great speed on a particular issue, unless it is of specific importance to their agenda or the country. This lack of political will can often be just as restrictive as formal regulations, if not more so.
Therefore, it is the seemingly small, but incredibly important, changes that people must take into their own hands to force progress. When the public is willing to make these changes, it does three things.
First, it reduces the impact of whatever issue is in the spotlight. With environmentalism, this could be of fossil fuel consumption and related greenhouse gas emissions, or of water consumption and scarcity.
If the general public changes habits: turning taps off when not in use, fixing any leaky pipes, not spending too long in the shower etcetera, then this has a direct impact on the severity of the current situation. If a large amount of the population gets on board — for instance, after BBC’s Blue Planet II plastic pollution episode — then the situation can alter significantly.
It may be water scarcity becoming a thing of the past, or a simple reduction in CO2 emissions by a particular country. Whatever the change is, if enough people commit, it is usually successful to some extent.
Second, a grand sea change also indirectly affects the situation. If politicians are receptive enough — a quality which any politician worth their salt has in abundance — then they will soon become aware of an opportunity. If they jump in to support this new radical change quickly, then they have huge rewards waiting.
One is that they will invariably gain popularity, and so gain votes. Almost all elected officials care mainly for securing their next term in office — with a few exceptions only — and so a chance like this makes sense for any representative to take, especially if they have a progressive base.
Another is the opportunity to advance their political career towards the top. By becoming the “poster boy”, the leading voice, especially on progressive issues, they can claim credit for any success that it has. Of course, these types of issues will be treated well by all politicians due to huge public support, and so it is a sure bet for future legislative opportunities. Therefore, the first few politicians who advocate will undoubtedly claim a huge strategic victory.
Third, the private sector will be forced to discard its own poor habits, much for the same reasons as electees. An unethical brand is an unpopular brand, and an unpopular brand is a failing brand — so long as the public wants change.
Therefore, a strong shift in public habits has both direct and indirect impacts on the situation that it is addressing: be it climatic change, animal welfare, coral bleaching, plastic pollution, or water scarcity. This doesn’t just work with typical issues. In a democracy, this much is always guaranteed:
If there is public will, there is political will, and if there is political will, there is change.
So, then, it’s probably time to stop blaming politicians. It’s also time to stop blaming big corporations and businesses. Instead, we should use our democratic power to apply pressure, and use the free market to our advantage. If you happen to live in a socialist dictatorship: too bad, better luck next time, yeah? But for the other 7,459,500,000 of us (because China isn’t really socialist anymore), the power lies with you. Make the easy changes first, then the difficult ones, and all our problems will magically disappear…
Pause for suspense…
Not really, but close enough.