It used to be enough to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Not any longer. If we are to address life-threatening climate change, biodiversity, social and economic justice challenges, we desperately need to go beyond our cherished 3Rs. In Part Two of our series Resist, Rebel and Restore, I argue why we need to Rebel against vested interest intent on maintaining the economic unsustainable status quo.
Are You a Sustainability Rebel?
If you are reading this article, chances are you a Rebel (or want to be!).
Anyone who actively aspires, in these turbulent days, to make the world happier, healthier, and more sustainable is definitively a Rebel.
Rebels with a Sustainability Cause
Why a rebel?
Well, by definition, rebels fight authority or an oppressor.
Ho Chi Ming battled the French and US. Harriet Tubman fought slavery. Che Guevara rebelled against the Latin American political elite.
Ok, you say, if this is true, who are sustainability rebels rebelling against? Who is the enemy?
There are four main culprits.
We all know (mostly large) corporations are primarily responsible for slowly boiling the planet, destroying vital habitats, and putting millions of working folks into perpetual debt and poverty, amongst other unhappy outcomes.
Exxon, Shell, WalMart, Volkswagen, Blackrock, Perdue Pharma, JP Morgan, the list is long and sad.
Worse, many companies do bad things, spout sustainable nonsense, continue doing business mostly as usual while lying and or misleading regulators and consumers about their intentions and impacts.
Politicians responsible for government are often complicit with companies and/ or just don’t give a damn about the common good.
They allow themselves to be swayed, or outright bought by the propagators of the unsustainable status quo economic through campaign donations and or outright bribery. They are also easily swayed against doing the public good by lobbyists seeking policy outcomes favored by their corporate and industry clients who have little intention of making life better for the many, over a select few.
Governments have been compliant this way, well, since forever. Needless and sad to say, this is so much more the case in the time of Trump.
Three: The Deep Consumer State
More insidious than government and corporations acting alone or in cahoots, is what I call the Consumer Deep State.
You may be familiar with the term Deep State. It is defined as a body of influential members of government agencies and the military which secretly controls government actions. Trump, for example, uses Deep State conspiracy theory to enrage his base. So does Putin, Kim Jong-un, Duterte, and hundreds of other current and past presidents and dictators.
The Deep Consumer State, or DCS, is similar but different.
The DCS is a group of companies and pundits which deeply influence popular culture. Their job and strategy is to convince us that we will only be happy if we buy lots of stuff we don’t need, at prices we can’t afford, with credit we don’t have.
Unlike Deep State conspiracists who believe there is some sort of coordinated effort directing political outcomes, the DCS is the result of a fiercely virulent business philosophy bent on private profit, the common good be damned. Current and obvious examples include #BigOil #BigPharma and #BigAgriculture.
Finally: You and Me
It would be wrong to only point our fingers only at the cabal of ‘others’. It´s not just ‘them’ or ‘they’ that is causing the problems. It’s also us.
Not one of us lives a fully sustainable life. Most of us can’t or won’t even live as fully a sustainably life as we probably could. We buy too much stuff, we use too much plastic, waste too much food, drive about too much in a combustion engine car, etc. etc.
We are all part of the economic status quo, the very authority whose reign we seek to overthrow. In a phrase, and most awkwardly for our inner-Sustainability Rebel, we are all by degree sustainably self-oppressed.
There is hope: Ignite your Sustainability Rebel
George Orwell was someone who knew a little about oppression. He argued that until you become conscious of a problem, you might never rebel. He also observed that until you rebel, it is unlikely you become fully conscious.
That seems to make rebellion a bit difficult doesn’t it!?
But…. if you think about it, Orwell’s logic suggests if you do ONE single act of rebellion, you could easily become the Rebel you want to be.
Three things you can do to Rebel Right NOW
You are not special. This may be hard to accept, but you are not. Neither am I. In the fight for climate or biodiversity, no one is.
Just because I’ve spent my whole life fighting for sustainability doesn’t mean I can use a plastic bottle or a paper cup and not be part of the problem. Being good in one part of my life simply doesn’t compensate for not being good in others.
Denying your exceptionalism can have amazingly positive effects.
Say you find yourself outside a Starbucks. You don’t have your travel cup and your mouth is watering for a macchiato, paper cup and plastic lid be damned.
Deny the coffee. I’ve done it and it’s liberating. Embrace the feeling of overcoming your desire for the common good. I guarantee the emotion is strong and positive.
Condition yourself to seek out this feeling over others when buying (or not) something you know does not meet your sustainability standards.
Do this regularly, and all sorts of sustainable habits will root and grow in your life.
Deepen your personal sustainability practice.
No one can be ‘sustainable’ overnight. It takes time. Start slow and build momentum.
Do some new sustainable act once a month, or every three months.
Don’t buy a product that has ridiculous packaging. Stop buying new when you can repair or trade. Make a favored food instead of getting it processed off the shelf. Go out of your way to purchase from local vendors instead of commercial superstores.
The feelings are equal to or better than denying, and become habits, instead of exceptions.
Buy as few material things you can. Instead, buy art, culture, services, sports, and experiences. Do this especially if it enriches your communities’ and the environment.
You ARE a Rebel
You don’t have to wear a nose ring or carry a pistol to be a Rebel.
Fight every day with the way you consume, invest, and vote.
Fight against the sustainability sins of others, and against your own unsustainable impulses.
And when you do something to make life, yours and those of others, happier, healthier, and more sustainable, congratulate yourself, celebrate, and share your success.
Welcome to the Sustainability Rebellion.