From when I was about eight years old, we did a project on climate and pollution every year. Our last year of primary school, when we were 11, usually performed a musical for the whole school. Ours was on the plastic soup in the oceans. (It did also claim that because of pollution, no more male merfolk were born so the merpeople were about to die off. I guess, since I haven’t heard anything about them in recent years, that’s what eventually happened?)
I am 40 now, so this all took place long before Greta Thunberg was born. Obviously the climate and pollution has been a concern for a considerable time.
As someone who keeps a vegetable garden, I definitely notice the change. Whether the current change in climate is 100% the fault of humans, or 75%, or 50% doesn’t really matter all that much; we definitely need to shape up NOW and do something about it. (Seriously, cleaning up after yourself is a good habit to have.)
However. (There’s always a ‘however’).
Our prime minister was asked how exactly he’s travelling to the Climate talks in Madrid. His reply was that he is going by plane. Of course, this earned him some (well-deserved) scorn, but, one of our news outlets did the math. Travelling by plane from Amsterdam to Madrid takes two hours and costs under a 100 euros one way (apparently our prime minister doesn’t do budget travel, or he could’ve gotten a return ticket for half that price). Travelling by train is more environmentally friendly, but costs well over 300 euros for a one-way ticket and takes a whopping 15 hours.
Now, I’m sure our prime minister could’ve afforded the expense of the train journey, and I guess he could’ve brought a laptop or something so he could keep prime ministering from the train.
But it does show a problem; that sustainability comes with a rather hefty price ticket. If plane tickets increase 25% in price to compensate for the extra pollution and to deter people from going by plane, all it’s going to do is stop people on *lower* incomes from travelling. Train journeys – in Holland we have a pretty decent network of trains; at least, as long as you don’t want to go to Madrid – are far more expensive and take more time. Unless the increase in plane ticket fees come with a hefty reduction in costs for more environmentally friendly ways of travel, all it will do is make the rich grumble for the ten seconds it takes them to whip out their credit card, and further reduce the mobility of the poor.
This doesn’t just apply to travel; for the ladies (men, if you’re squeamish, don’t read) more sustainable products for periods are becoming more available, but they are also an investment. Three cloth sanitary pads cost $30, particularly if you need a larger size, and three is not enough; unless you want to be washing non-stop to get your two spare pads cleaned and dried before you leak through the third, you’d need about a dozen. That means a $120 investment at least.
And investments are the very thing that are nearly impossible for low-income families to do. It might be cheaper in the long run, but you need to hand over a large amount of money NOW. Aside from sanitary products, toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo are items many low-income families *already* often struggle to afford; the sustainable products are at least four times the costs of the ‘regular’ brands, let alone the budget ones.
The ecological footprint of low-income families isn’t that significant compared to large industries and the top 10% income families. The impact of any measures – which most of the time might even be pretty meaningless compared to the totality of the problem of climate change – will affect the lowest income families the most, creating even more inequality and poverty.
The fight for climate change has to go hand in hand with the fight for social justice, or we could well end up with a world that may not have been worth the bother of saving.