Donald Trump, Neoliberalism and Reusable Coffee Cups: Climate Change in 2018
These days, many people across the globe face increasing pressure to adopt ‘eco-friendly’ lifestyles in order to combat climate change that may be causing weather extremes. Charges on single-use plastic shopping bags, reusable coffee cups and bamboo toothbrushes are just some of the many recent initiatives designed to reduce landfill and ocean plastic. The motivations of such products are impossible to argue with. As we all know, increased individual responsibility becomes collective, and small steps like paper straws and compostable takeaway containers like vegware may affect greater changes in policy and practice. However, with the deadline to stall climbing temperatures and sea levels fast approaching, the onus on neoliberal individual responsibility appears more and more outdated.
Whilst all these minute efforts are undoubtedly towards the ecological good, it increasingly seems that these initiatives are too little, too late. Rather than taking any steps that might limit the growth or practices of large corporations – or policies that might affect economic growth – it appears that companies and political leaders have chosen instead to shift the responsibility (to say nothing of guilt) onto the general public.
The onus now appears to be on individual ecological action, rather than seeking answers from large corporations or elected officials. Certainly, the only decisive and consistent public commentary coming from the latter appears to be in emphatic denial or rejection of widely-reported climate change truths – such as the now-regular comments from the President of the United States, Donald Trump.
Mr Trump, who has repeatedly asserted his belief that climate change is ‘a hoax’, said last week of his cabinet’s grim forecast for America’s future under global warming: ‘I’ve seen it, I’ve read some of it, and it’s fine. I don’t believe it.” The National Climate Assessment, released the day after Thanksgiving, warned of the collapse of industries and economies as well as lives lost to extreme weather. Mr Trump’s administration has repeatedly acted in opposition to reports and advice from climate change officials. Indeed, the National Climate Assessment stated that drilling on public land caused a quarter of carbon dioxide pollution between 2004–2015, a fact which stands in stark contrast to the administrations’ efforts to enable and facilitate this process. The President’s 19th Executive Order, entitled ‘Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth’, in March of this year sought to review protocol put in place to defend America’s national parks and federal land from harmful drilling.
With the resonating message from the highest office in the world effectively declaring, in the eyes of many, a blatant rejection of scientific warnings, perhaps it is little wonder that the general public find themselves shouldering the responsibility of – and fears for – the planet’s future.
This side of the ever-warming pond fares little better; even the UK’s recent recycling scandal could not prompt Prime Minister Theresa May to make environmental comment. Critics have long accused Mrs May of inaction, and at worst, complicity with the Trump administration’s failure to tackle global warming. In a letter of July this year, over 130 of the UK’s leading climate change researchers urged Theresa May to challenge Mr Trump over his rejection of widely-recognised scientific fact – and yet, three months later, she remains silent. The Prime Minister’s reticence is particularly notable of late, as the UK reels from the recent recycling scandal, wherein a National Audit Office (NAO) report indicated that millions of tons of plastic intended for British recycling bins may instead have been transported to landfill. With 64% of packaging waste reported recycled in 2017, according to the NAO, speculation grows about the exact amount of plastic packaging which may have been discarded along with general unrecyclable household waste. Certainly, despite promising in December of last year to increase her focus on greener energies, word nor deed nor policy supporting this have escaped the doors of No.10.
The British Government’s 2018 Budget, released on October 29th, revealed a new tax on the manufacture and import of plastic packaging containing less than 30% recycled content; however, this tax is not due to come into force until April 2022 – a lukewarm stance to take towards perhaps the most urgent crisis facing our planet, and one which seems to define the phrase ‘too little, too late’.
Comparisons seem inevitable to the opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who just months ago called climate change ‘the biggest threat facing humanity’ as he publicly vowed to take environmental matters to the heart of his party at the Labour conference in Liverpool in September – a promise which, for now, remains to be realised.
Given the stagnancy of these political actions, coupled with the near-constant prophecies of doom littering the press, the neoliberal emphasis on individual responsibility and lifestyle may just be a last-ditch attempt to re-instil the urgency of our situation as it falls on deaf political ears. Despite the quiet terror imparted by recent headlines, it remains difficult to predict the exact consequences of our centuries-long obsession with fossil fuels. It seems doubtful, however – without decisive action from our political leaders – that the purchase of a single bamboo toothbrush will do much to stop it.
Global Seven News