Every year, more people are killed defending the environment than are soldiers from the United Kingdom and Australia on overseas deployments in war zones combined. During the last 15 years, the number of both deaths of environmental defend-ers, and the countries where they occur, have increased. Recorded deaths have increased from two per week to four per week over this period. These deaths are primarily related to conflict over natural resources, across a range of sectors. Of 683 total deaths, >230 were related to mining and agribusiness between 2014 and 2017.From : The Supply Chain of Violence – Nathalie Butt et al Nature Sustainability
After speaking about an article focusing on the problem we face with the Amazon rainforest quickly nearing the tipping point of no return on our Instagram stories, many were shocked to hear about how many environmental activists and indigenous natives were killed trying to protect the land. It’s not new news though, this has been happening for years, decades and in some cases centuries, most recently the Guardian wrote about the more public ones 4 years ago.
Climate change is showing up on our doorsteps
Now that the likes of Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion are making the mainstream news locally, and the focus from documentaries such as Our Planet and Blue Planet amongst others, about climate change, people are now listening, because it’s on our door step. We’re feeling it during the summer, the blistering heatwaves, increasing droughts and torrential rain, wild and farm fires, it’s happening and people are noticing.
What about the activists and natives losing their lives though? Have we really just ignored these issues because they’re not in our own country or because it’s been going on for so long? After all, I do remember learning about deforestation when I was in primary school over 20 years ago as do many before me. Our world climate balancing forests have been cut down (remember why we stopped using paper so much?) and burned down, to make way for extracting oil and gases, manufacturing, agriculture…( perhaps just because they could) for decades now, and we’re feeling the effects.
[ I had originally input stats of numbers known and estimated numbers of those who have been killed from various backgrounds, not just white public defenders for various climate activism around the world I’d found spanning decades but decided to omit these as it was turning into a university essay and the visual representation can be pretty emotive in a bad way. They can easily be found though (not so much indigenous tribes and natives unsurprisingly), through quick research though if you’re interested – also see highlighted links ]
Has the world become so impassive and apathetic about problems our environment has faced over the years? It makes me question whether we’re all just heading for our demise at 100mph while those with power (could also read as those-rich-old-white-guys-with-conflict-of-interest-investments) aren’t doing enough. They’re safe, they’re comfortable and they can choose to ignore the real harm for many, because “I’m alright jack”…
We’re being distracted and told how to feel
We’re taught that our biggest issues are massively varied (heads up, they’re not)- we’re not unique enough, we’re not impressive enough, we’re not beautiful enough, we’re not thin enough, we’re not muscular enough, we’re not travelling enough to get those Instagram perfect photos, our houses and cars aren’t enough, we’re missing out on the brand new thing, we’re missing out and aren’t cool enough… It somehow feels like we’re being pitted against each other and that we’re being distracted by clever marketing to focus on couples on a TV reality show (or people watching tv – again, why?!), while they sell us lip fillers, gym memberships, clothing made using slave child labour and to aspire to have the biggest backside or shoulder and arm muscles… We’re being marketed to that we’re missing something and that we’re not enough.
All of this, while 1% of the global population hold more power and control over what’s happening to the real life world around us, our environment, our ecosystems, our cultures, our food, our travel, our homes, our livelihoods and our health. Clever, yet scary isn’t it?
I don’t mean to get you down, but even the ‘zero waste scene’ has gotten like this too over the past couple of years. We’re decluttering ala Marie Kondo then replacing with more aesthetic-Instagram-worthy products that make us look like we’re living our minimalist #bestlife, all the while social media algorithms change to suit the ideal photograph (mainly white women) to show us.
Challenge them if you feel up to it. Next time someone laughs at you for what type of trainers you’re wearing or how old your phone is (chances are they’re not unless they’re still in their troubled teenage mindsets or they really have no other happiness in their life that they believe as a fully grown adult that it’s ok to bully) – if you’re feeling brave, start the conversation about your choices, or just put up a post on your social media explaining that this is NOT OK. Ask what they are doing to reduce their environmental impact, support their communities, their neighbour and those less fortunate? BUT, importantly, don’t bash those who can’t have/don’t have the same accesses or privileges as you. This is not an ‘I’m better than you at this zero waste thing’.
It’s time to honour those before us and become environmental activists
Most environmental defenders die in remote forests or villages affected by mining, dams, illegal logging, and agribusiness. Many of the killers are reportedly hired by corporations or state forces. Very few are ever arrested or identified.Watts and Vidal, The Guardian 2017
Living in Britain, we can all be environmental activists in some way and the majority are much safer for being one on this island. The latest strikes on the 20th September saw the biggest publicised climate activism the world has ever seen AND it has been on public news! (Unlike the daily fights of those affected most by climate change as the media doesn’t think BIPOC, disabled or poorer people are ‘sexy enough’). We need bigger actions from our governments, we need bigger, inclusive action taken on a community level.
We also need to stop berating people for not doing enough and instead support them and celebrate the little changes we’re making. NOBODY IS PERFECT.
We all do our best, within our means; sometimes we can’t handle crowds, sometimes our physical abilities are torn between using our energy to cook a meal for ourselves and getting out to a rally, sometimes we are trying to find something to eat and a warm place to sleep, sometimes our personal living situation isn’t exactly sunshine and rainbows, sometimes our families are poorly, sometimes we can’t afford the bus fare to the rally or give up our day of work in case we lose it, this and more are all absolutely ok. If you’ve got an internet connection, a social media account or email, you can still educate yourself and make yourself feel better for being active in your own way.
We who are privileged ALL need to become environmental activists for those who have a voice but aren’t listened to, primarily BIPOC, disabled and ‘working class’- I hate this term – are ignored. Listen to and learn from these actual VIPs and fight for their corner, hold them up in your stead, make these people your heroes. It doesn’t take much researching to see how many indigenous people have fought for decades, centuries and millenniums for some, to protect their homes, their environment, their communities, their livelihoods and their way of life. These people are the real activists and have been fighting for our earth and their home for far longer than we can imagine.
There are people being killed in the world for standing up against massive corporations destroying our environment and ecosystems, not just the Rainforests, but polluting sacred lands and water systems, forcing those who are deemed below society in their eyes, to live in dire situations, all for power and profit.
I think it’s time we stop listening to those who tell us and make us feel we’re not enough, when we really are more than enough, don’t you?
Distractions are all they are, to influence us to buy more and into something that will ‘solve our problems’. Will those botox injections or ‘on-trend’ dress made using very questionable ethics really solve the fact you or your neighbour may not have food or water or a home to live in? Please stop allowing TV shows and social media, influence how we feel about ourselves and instead put that energy into action in whatever way we can.
I feel like this post has been an angsty post saying ‘wake up’ repeatedly and in some ways it is, but it’s out of desire for a better world for all of us, merely because I’d like for us to survive. While everyone was saying the weather has been brilliant, all I, along with many others, maybe even yourselves were dreading it and wondering what’s going to happen next.
Now, because you’re reading this, chances are you’ve got an email address and internet connection, so I encourage every one of you to stand up for everyone around you and learn about your local governmental representative and who is in charge of making such decisions. You can find out who your local one is here as well as their voting record.
Contact your local councils environment policy officer about what they can do to help to improve green policies in your local area. Get in touch with your management team at work, or your place of study, your childrens place of study, contact your local community council, there are ways to take action that you may not have known how to without getting in touch with locals. Chances are, there are facebook groups or forums specific to your local area, sharing your ideas from your phone or laptop can be encouraging to others too!
Even if you’re living as best as you can, get on first name terms with your government and local government representatives who are making decisions about your local and global environment, drive up conversation and action if you can until they start to listen.
Our children, biological or not, our next generation have been fighting for our environment and it’s pretty sad that it’s the kids that are having to teach the adults how to look after the planet. Greta Thunberg has inspired so many kids to strike off school and they’re right to, why should they bother with school when their ‘house is on fire’.