Humans are mainly made of water and carbon. It’s important to remember that if we release too much carbon into the air and the water rises too high, that is a human problem. It’s a problem caused by humans, which impacts on humans, and which humans have the power to mitigate, or perhaps, hope against hope, solve or prevent. I’m counterposing human here to nonhuman, rather than human versus other animal. Other animals are of course affected by climate change too, but even the plight of other animals must be considered a human problem – other animals don’t care, they can’t, only we care, as only we know how.
So yes, let’s not forget that if we want to address such problems, we are going to need humans to work together. One might characterise the climate change problem as a gigantic collective action problem played out across many geographical and institutional scales and between many types of heterogenous actor. The current mantra in Western thought when it comes to solving collective problems is to turn them into competitions, and at the risk of gross generalisation, this reduces the time given over to collaboration and compassion, which in my view have more to do with humanity than does competition, but I can see why some people disagree.
Of course, green capitalists do exist. Zac Goldsmith is one, and this week, in The Guardian, he did something extraordinary – he revealed his human vulnerability. He revealed that competition alone isn’t enough. Sometimes getting stuff done is absolutely draining. When you are surrounded by obstacles on all sides, sometimes you need a boost in confidence, and giving credit for an achievement, no matter how small, builds that confidence and strengthens resolve. If all you get for your efforts is ‘you could and should have done better,’ then you’re fairly well justified in replying ‘well why do I even fucking bother.’
Friends of the Earth’s Craig Bennett and The Guardian’s Damian Carrington, both of whom I immensely admire, responded to Zac with little sympathy, and some contempt, the former urging ‘ministers to stop feeling sorry for themselves,’ and the latter calling it simply ‘wrong to castigate green critics’. Note that there may be some editorial framing on the former but not the latter – DC is the environment editor at The Guardian.
Now when a friendly dog is down, even if you disagree with that dog on a lot of other things, and the dog lives in a kennel full of pricks, don’t kick it. When someone bears their soul, don’t put it in a blender. Zac probably isn’t crying as a result of these responses, you have to have thicker skin than that to survive British politics, but it is not the result he, or I, would have hoped for. A conservative called for a little compassion and collaboration from the ‘liberal media’ and third sector, and what he found was that they were unable to swallow their pride, preferring to act in an aggressive and competitive way. The irony is almost comic. Almost.
So let us applaud the good work that has been done, as Zac asked: The Green Investment Bank and Renewable Heat Incentive, for example, are world-leading environmental policies. Thank you to all those who have helped make them happen.
The environment is a human problem. But those who do the most shouting about the environment do not have exclusivity on humanity. Indeed, sometimes they lack it. Saying thank you is not as newsworthy as complaining, but it is every bit as worthy. News isn’t everything.
So let’s unite behind common goals, find Nick and Dave’s green tongues which we know exist but which that new Downing Street cat seems to have stolen, and get on with sorting shit out, one step at a time, starting with the FITs fuck-up…