Bigger than us: sustainability beyond politics
Despite the disagreement in the media about whether there is consensus in the scientific community, there is consensus in the scientific community that global warming is real, and it’s a big problem.
The issue of sustainability affects everyone on the planet. It is universal. It has nothing to do with politics, class, religion, caste, gender, or nationality. So why is it, then, that the green movement is associated with wealthy, agnostic liberal elitists? How did an issue so important get so marginalized?
How is it that sustainability is thought of as a “liberal” issue? Unless you believe that global warming is some kind of giant conspiracy (which some people still do), halting climate change cannot possibly be thought of as a partisan political point of debate. In fact, I would argue that in order for an economic plan to be considered “conservative,” it would have to incorporate long term strategies for resource management, and allow for the population to still be alive and healthy in another 50 years. There is nothing conservative about burning through finite resources and poisoning our people.
Why is it that sustainable products almost always cost significantly more? It is a sad fact that the vast majority of Americans cannot afford to let any factor other than price come into their decision making when shopping. The distance between the classes has rarely been greater than in America today, and as a result most working class individuals live paycheck to paycheck, can’t save any money, and can only afford the least expensive option of any product. The wealthy, on the other hand, are able to pay more for the “green” version, making sustainability into a luxury product and a class distinction. The current system allows the more educated and better off members of society to pay more for an intangible feeling of superiority, while blaming the working class and conservatives for the problems that we (all of us) still aren’t solving.
In this way, sustainability has become one more societal wedge between the middle class and the working class, between republicans and democrats. Instead of being a universal issue, which by its nature it must be, sustainability has become a class issue and a political debate. Well, bad news folks, if only the wealthy liberals adopt completely carbon neutral lifestyles and sustainable best practices (which they haven’t) we would still end up destroying the planet, because the vast majority of people are not wealthy liberals.
I grew up in a very liberal middle class family in Laguna Beach, California. It was easy for me to jump on the green bandwagon, but that’s not something to be proud of, I was just born into it. I have a great deal of respect for the conservatives I meet on that wagon, because they had to see past the arguments surrounding them and risk the derision of their peers. Similarly, I draw more faith and hope from my working class friends who are trying to reduce their footprint while pinching pennies than I do from someone like Al Gore, who has devoted his life to the movement but had the money and resources to make the move with relative ease.
In the end, the sustainability movement must transcend class and politics. Sustainability cannot be a luxury, it cannot be something you have to pay a premium to buy into. Sustainability cannot be a liberal issue: socialism is not inherently green and capitalism is not the enemy. It is about the air we all breathe, the water we all drink, the food that we all eat, and the planet that we all live on. In other words, it does not belong to any one group, sustainability is for everyone who is for sustainability.