Performative Environmental Activism is Pointless


Protestors take to the streets to advocate for Climate Advocacy (New York Times).

Al Gore. Leonardo Di Caprio. Gavin Newsom. Joe Biden. Me. What do we all have in common? We all care for the environment, very deeply. So much so, that 4 out of 5 of them probably have an AC in the house. We all fly in high-emission airplanes. We all participate in inherently anti-climate behavior daily. The question then arises: Do we really care for the environment, or is it a facade to appease modern society? 

Modern society’s superficial obsession with caring for the environment is laughable. Every day, new climate activists seem to be born. Every month, new policies are passed around the world to combat climate change. Every year, the world’s leaders meet to discuss the ongoing climate crisis. Yet, the rate at which we are heading toward climate disaster only seems to be increasing.

Take California’s own climate change-induced drought, for example. Governor Gavin Newsom, in what was supposed to be a heroic measure, declared a state of emergency and pledged extra help to Mendocino and Sonoma counties in April. One might think, okay, so he chose to help the two hardest hit counties. Well done, Mr. Governor!

However, further investigation by the San Joaquin Valley Sun found that these two counties happened to be where Newsom’s water-dependent and highly profitable wineries are located. Meanwhile, other worse-hit counties like the San Joaquin Valley were left to dry. The superficiality in Newsom’s actions is prevalent throughout modern-day climate discourse.  

 Celebrities, in particular, have championed climate activism. Annually, the United Nations and a select few celebrities all head over to Glasgow to discuss how they can save the planet. Pledges are made to reduce emissions so that Earth only warms by 1.5 degrees Celsius over the next century. Leonardo Di Caprio gave a speech on the importance of plants in relation to climate change. The message was clear: the 200 countries and 100 plus celebrities that participated in this conference are committed to ending the climate crisis.

However, it all turned out to be bark and no bite. Many of the white-knight famous people in attendance flew in emission-heavy private jets, which emit 14 times more per passenger than normal planes. While statistically, it may seem like a small impact, celebrities have the ability to dictate narrative and action amongst the common people. There is a reason why modern-day celebrities are called influencers. The narrative they are pushing is that words are greater than action. At the end of the day, it is very different to say you are going to cut down emissions than to go out and do it.

The biggest crime in modern climate discourse is committed by the richer countries. Better-off countries like the United States and China lead the world in emissions per capita. Much of the industrialized first world is responsible for historic emissions and modern-day pollution. However, the brunt of the consequences falls on lower-income nations that don’t have the resources to deal with climate change. Despite countries like the US, Canada, and the UK pledging nearly 100 billion dollars in support of low-income countries since 2009, the BBC found that nowhere close to that amount fell into the pockets of low-income countries. 

The central issue in modern climate discourse is not necessarily hypocrisy. We have this weird notion that fancy pledges, goals, or speeches will magically change things. The reality is, whether we like to admit it or not, most of these fancy pledges almost serve as climate therapy. It comforts us and distracts us from the fact that every day we make conscious and unconscious decisions that hurt mother earth. Most of us aren’t willing to sacrifice air-conditioned classrooms’ on a 90-degree day today to prevent daily 90-degree days in the future. And because so many of the consequences seem distant, the general public has no intrinsic motivation to act. We are all, essentially procrastinating on climate change as we do with our English assignments. Except for this time, there is no 11:59 deadline to motivate us. It’s time we stop “caring” for the environment. We must confront the root causes of climate change instead of trying to patch a gaping wound with band-aids, no matter how painful it will be.