Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Never Simple

Things are never as straightforward as people seem to they should be.  Take the recent 'Exrtinction Rebellion' protests in London, for instance.  Leaving aside the question of why the police seem to be able to make hundreds of arrests when faced by peaceful protestors, yet can never seem to arrest a single person when racists and neo-Nazis brazenly march through our streets, one of the issues raised by the protests was the degree to which it is legitimate to disrupt people's everyday lives in pursuit of your cause.  At least, this seemed to be the issue most concerning the right-wing press.  To be fair, it is a good question.  On the one hand, the protestors' defence was that the issue they were publicising was of such overwhelming importance, that forcing commuters, workers and shoppers in Central London to endure a few days of disruption to their routines was a small price to pay if it got the message over.  On the other hand, the reality is that the people having their journeys to work disrupted have to earn a living - they have no choice but to travel everyday.  Being late could result in a loss of earnings, or worse.  Not to mention the additional stress they will incur from such delays. That's the problem - while the alarming environmental damage we've inflicted on the planet is, indeed, one of the most pressing issues facing us, we also have to exist in the here and now, which means trudging to and from work every day and devoting huge swathes our time to drudgery rather than thinking about what we can do to save the planet.

All of which brings me to the issue of those people who keep writing into The Guardian, bemoaning all the time being wasted on Brexit, complaining that it is so trivial compared to the 'real' issue of saving the planet.  Not only does this make them sound unbearably sanctimonious, but it also betrays an overly simplistic world view.  Brexit most certainly isn't unimportant, not least in terms of its potential impact on environmental issues.  If the right-wingers driving Brexit get their way in the form of a 'No Deal' Brexit, then, with the UK 'free' of EU regulations and guidelines on things like pollution, carbon emissions and the like, will be able to, as David Cameron allegedly once said, 'lose the Green crap'.  It would be a huge step backward as far as green issues go - which is precisely why it is essential that so much time is spent on ensuring that any Brexit we have to endure preserves the environmental protections currently provided by EU law.  (Likewise such 'minor' things as the employment legislation which protects workers and human rights in general).  Moreover, Brexit will weaken the EU and its institutions, just a time when the extreme right is on the rise across Europe and might just help boost their chances of achieving power.  And I'm afraid that the rise of the right certainly won't help to advance environmental issues.  Quite the opposite: just look at what is happening in Brazil as laws which protected the Amazon forests from over-exploitation are axed.  I know the Nazis had a tree-hugging element, but in reality the Third Reich wasn't noted for its conservation efforts.  So bolstering any political institution which champions basic human rights is essential.  All of which means that Brexit isn't 'irrelevant' as far as the 'bigger picture' is concerned.

In fact, the Brexiteers and the green lobby do have something in common: both are single issue campaigners who, all too often, cannot see past their zeal for their causes and recognise that no issues exist in isolation.  To be sure, environmental activism is pursuing a far more important cause than Brexit, but just as the Brexiteers could not (or more likely would not) see how the achievement of their single cause would affect every aspect of life in the UK (and beyond), so the environmentalists are in danger of failing to see how everything else is interconnected with their cause.  No political issue (and the environment is a political issue) exists in isolation. The fact is that if we are to get anywhere with regard to taking meaningful measures to save the environment, then stuff like Brexit has to be sorted out, (not to mention stuff like electoral reform for the UK). Like I said, sadly, things just aren't as simple as we'd like them to be.

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