Saturday, December 14, 2019

The cult of personality vs saving the planet

Historically, the cult of personality tag was reserved for more obvious tyrants like Mao, Stalin and Hitler but the term applies today more than ever. We are surrounded by personalities in the media, both social and traditional. From Kayne West and Kim Kardashian to Donald Trump and Greta Thunberg (Time magazine's Person of the Year – with Trump Jr. Tweeting that the honour should have gone to the Hong Kong protesters; my immediate thought wasn't that dissimilar – it should have gone to the hundreds of environmentalists who are killed every year – I guess what I'm – maybe even we, as in me and Trump Jr. are getting at is that it's the anonymous people who make the difference, who are actually out there doing good, fighting, putting their lives at risk – it's not the leaders or the social media darlings), we have to endure daily these people's opinions and actions. I couldn't give a damn about any of them.

You may think Thunberg's name sticks out on the above list of morons like a sore thumb, and anyone who Jeremy Clarkson hates, I automatically love, but putting so much faith in a person is dangerous. If she died tomorrow, then what? We worship at her alter and say oh well, she would have saved the planet. There are books about her and by her – the whole of my local Waterstone's window is filled with books of her – her name, but not, you know, how to actually save the planet – believe it or not, the books are there to sell books. If you look around a shitty bookshop like Waterstone's you will see innumerable non-fiction books about nature, more than ever, perhaps, as we continue to destroy it (hedgehogs are about to become extinct – but hey, let's write a book about them, and do some cool illustrations of them to sell limited edition prints and t-shirts and mugs!). There's been non-stop discussions with nothing happening for the 50-plus years we've been aware of climate change (global warming, as it was called back then). Putting our faith in any political leader, pop star, anyone at all really, is not going to change anything. Look what happened with the once-lionised Aung San Suu Kyi and how the media turned against her.

Greta Thunberg is a brand, like Naomi Klein used to be (to a lesser extent), with, ironically, No Logo (25 years old this year – and a book which makes no sense at all to today's youth where brands are king, and even imagining a world without brands to the youth with their Apples, Vans shoes and branded coffee is not possible), The Shock Doctrine and This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (published 2014, before climate change became cool) covering, respectively, the power of brands; neoliberalism and the rise of disaster capitalism; and, again, the rise of neoliberalism in relation to its flagrant disregard for the environment.

Shock! Horror! These youth with their Apple Vans are protesting for climate change because it's cool and they get a day off school. They don't understand the effects of climate change, as their parents drive them to the protests in their 4x4s and they wear and use products that either exploit or destroy the planet, probably both. Neither parents nor their kids can envisage a life where they have to give up their brands, their jobs, their holidays, theirs cars, their lattes and their whole way of life in order to save the planet – but a peaceful protest once a month eases their consciences (but won't make a blind bit of difference). The parents vote Tory and applaud neoliberal values that have blessed them with a 4x4, a Victorian terraced house, a widescreen TV.

I don't think anyone actually wants to see the planet die, but ask these youth what they're actually doing apart from protesting, and they will tell you 'erm, nothing'. Even I, I who does so little, was planting trees the other weekend. I still argue we need to do less – i.e. nothing – for nature to make a comeback (it's at its best when left alone to do its own thing). Many writers on nature agree with me (sort of), believe it or not. In her 'landmark ecological book of the decade', Wilding, Isabella Tree argues that even conservation in Britain has done more damage than good to nature, citing hundreds of examples, including wrapping plastic guards around saplings to help them grow (actually it strangles them; believe it or not trees grew fine on their own for four billion years or so before us, and natural, thorny scrub did a great job of protecting saplings from rabbits and foxes – before we destroyed it all).

The problem with humans is they all want to do something, good or bad (when it comes to nature – usually bad). Good people with good intentions feel the need to do something around climate change –  be it protesting or planting trees. All political parties are big on planting trees this election – who can plant the most? To me, it's still not the core of the problem – which is to change our lives and our relationship to nature. You can't actively pretend to save the planet whilst endorsing capitalism (i.e. having a job), driving your car, taking your holidays and then plant a few trees like it makes everything hunky dorey (besides, at least a quarter of those saplings are going to die before they reach maturity; those that survive, well, it takes decades to create a mature forest; meanwhile, vast tracts of land have been destroyed for housing or retail parks or car parks or roads or runways).

Presumably, we're still culling badgers, buying and binning plastic bottles, wasting food, building houses, car showrooms and retail parks, chopping down trees, using insecticides, making babies, buying wide screen TVs and everything else, eating avocados, going on holiday, driving cars, eating meat – and a million other things each contributing bit by bit to the destruction of earth. Well done you all!

So, Boris Johnson, who the Guardian say is "The man who doesn't give a fuck about anything is free to do whatever the fuck he wants", "the worst of men", "unfit in every way for any kind of office" and a "liar, racist, sociopathic, narcissistic, glutton for power" (and that's them being objective about him), wins the general election by a large majority. On Friday the 13th (not April Fool's Day).

Despite climate change being front page news every day for months now, the Green Party still don't get a look in. I pretty much despair. Labour had actually put out a great manifesto (to misquote Jerry Mcguire and its "you had me at hello" line – Jeremy, you had me at a four-day working week and free broadband), full of optimism and taxes for the rich and the energy firms, 1,000 Sure Start centres to open (I remember Gordon Brown opening them; I used to take my daughter to them regularly – then Cameron shut them all down), with a strong commitment to tackling climate change by moving towards green energy. Labour actually topped Friends of the Earth's climate and nature league table – scoring 33 out of a possible 45. The Conservative Party scored 5.5 out of 45, with environmental commitments "entirely absent or just plain bad".

The whole divisive election process is of course a popularity contest. The leadership debate took place in what looked like the set of the 1980s children's TV game show, Blockbusters, and indeed the whole affair has the immature atmosphere of school kids arguing in the playground. Leaders are compared and rated in terms like 'stronger', 'confident', 'likeable', 'trustworthy', and 'performance'. Some leaders lie and put on an act. Then a whole nation believes them. I'd like to see politics without leaders, where manifesto and policy comes first and personalities don't get in the way.

So the blame game starts – mostly falling at Corbyn's door, of course. A decent man who presents a fantastic manifesto with a strong green agenda – but perhaps he was never going to be forgiven, say, for not singing the national anthem in 2015. Because the Queen and the Conservatives have done so much for the country. It's probably a small amount of people who actually read all the party manifestos. We all knew who we were going to vote for well in advance, and it had little to do with specific policies and a lot to do with the personalities of the leaders.

Social media adds to the mix with fake news and getting so wrapped up in the small stuff – Diane Abbott's two left shoes going viral on social media or Twitter being besotted with Trump's latest obsession with, say, water efficiency or his attacking a 16-year-old girl. Thankfully Thunberg is more mature than the U.S. President.

If I was the Guardian, Friends of the Earth, Extinction Rebellion or Greenpeace (in other words, anyone trying to make the world a better place) I would probably just shut shop now. What's the point? You've got Johnson and Trump vs. a teenage autistic girl.

Aspire to be average
In 100 years everyone in the world will be dead
Busy bein' busy
Blight of the plastic bag
Water as it Oughta

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