Nihilism isn’t activism

One green city

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

There was a minute when it seemed like my Twitter feed was filled with jokes about the climate crisis.

I saw one about kids not needing to think about what they’re going to be when they grow up, because surely by then there won’t be a society or future for them. There was one about deleting the baby names from your Notes app because it was unseasonably warm in December. An Onion headline read “Latest Climate Change Report Just Heartfelt Farewell Letter Telling Humanity To Remember The Good Times.”

I think these tweets are kind of funny, if I’m being honest. Like, in an “if you don’t laugh, you’ll have a panic attack” way. But I also wonder if resigning ourselves to a climate apocalypse is harmful, even if it’s a joke.

The reality of our situation is that there is nothing we as individuals can do to prevent or stall climate change. None of us can carpool, reusable grocery bag or metal straw our way out of our situation. We need a massive restructuring of how we live as a society.

But who, if anyone, can make that happen?

In 2020, the BBC reported that about 70 per cent of all greenhouse-gas emissions in the past 20 years are attributable to just 100 fossil-fuel companies. Not only are they major polluters, but some of these companies like Exxon actively worked to hide evidence of climate change and prevent any kinds of regulation.

Even the concept of a person’s carbon footprint was made up by the oil and gas company BP in an attempt to shift the blame from the producer to the consumer. Individuals have the least power but are held to fairly high standards when it comes to reducing emissions.

So, if I know individuals aren’t to blame, why do the doom tweets rub me the wrong way?

First of all, the people who are likely going to be the most affected by the climate crisis are those living in poverty, not necessarily the people tweeting about the world ending.

If individuals can’t make a difference, it doesn’t matter that I drive when I could walk, bike or bus. It doesn’t matter if our city councillors implement a composting system or better rapid transit. Why would we demand better from politicians or companies if we have resigned ourselves to thinking we are living in the end times?

Politicians are only going to do the right thing if they’re pushed into it by people who care and who know there is still (briefly) time to reduce emissions. Fatalists don’t make good activists.

We can’t make enough of a difference with our consumer choices, no. But I think there are ways we can work together to demand those in power make changes.

Winnipeg is home to a number of grassroots organizations that push for a better public-transit system, more bike lanes and responsible energy use. Before making a disparaging tweet about the incoming climate apocalypse, consider visiting, or and asking what you can do to help.

Allyn Lyons is a graduate of the University of Winnipeg and Red River College Creative Communications program. She likes strong tea and brie cheese.

Published in Volume 76, Number 24 of The Uniter (April 7, 2022)

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