The endless argument of Consumption vs Production

Boycotts + campaigning to take down capitalism

We’re stuck in this endless loop of arguing about how we get started dealing with climate change in a serious way. Until we reach a consensus about what will actually work, we won’t get anywhere. We will just keep going round in circles while we put giant amounts of emissions into the atmosphere every single day. I think you can fit the argument into these three main categories.

Right wing politicians and most of the media focus on individual carbon footprints, and shame environmentalists who aren’t perfect in every way.

Many climate activists say individual action doesn’t work and that we need to change the system first.

People like me say it’s boycotts that will bring down the system from the bottom up.

If you follow different environmental and mainstream media channels, as I do (as little MSM as I can get away with these days); then you’ve no doubt noticed that no one can ever agree and we just go round and round forever. Climate discourse hasn’t moved forward in years. You could play back something now from Good Morning Britain or BBC News that aired before Greta started school striking, and it would be practically indistinguishable from what you see today.

It’s time to end this nonsense once and for all.

How I see it, bringing down capitalism from the bottom up is the only option. The neoliberal political systems in pretty much every country are designed to prevent an uprising occurring at the ballot box. And even if it was possible; even if there were candidates allowed to stand who believed what many of us do, it’s definitely not possible in the next couple of years, which is all the time we have, if even that.

Those who say that many of the choices we make to pollute are made for us are correct. Many of us are effectively forced to do things like drive a car, fly, drink bottled water and consume things that are made of plastic much more than we’d like. This is because of political choices made by the right wing that mean infrastructure is not fit for purpose. I’m not arguing those things. But what I am saying is that there are plenty of areas where we do have real, affordable choices that put pressure on polluters financially. That’s how you bring down capitalism.

If you only consider things that are the same price, or less than what we’re doing now, you rule out plastic free organic food and things like that for a lot of people. But so many people could choose to not own a car if they live in an urban area, or stop buying useless plastic junk. I know there are lots of things I used to buy that cluttered up the house that I now avoid. There are ways most of us can cut down on our consumption of things we don’t need, cut our spending and put pressure on the capitalist system. If we live in smaller homes, with lower heating and cooling requirements for example. Even people who are forced to drive because they live in the suburbs and have poor, expensive public transport and no bike infrastructure can find ways to put pressure on the capitalist economy. Spend money only on the necessities, and the things that mean the absolute most to you.

And I’m not saying that boycotts and consumption reductions should come at the expense of campaigns. They go hand in hand. You may be able to boycott or reduce your consumption of certain products, but maybe you still have to buy the same plastic packaged fruit. That doesn’t mean you can’t join a campaign calling on the supermarket to get rid of the plastic.

We have to do what we can to pressure the polluting status quo with all the tools we have available, and we have to stop going round in circles being dictated to by the right wing media and its obsession with climate hypocrisy. It’s ok to be annoyed about wealthy climate activists and celebrities flying around in their private jets and living in mansions. But we have to stop short of falling into the trap of believing that their overall message should be voided by their individual actions.

We need to all reduce our consumption in whatever way we can. We all have something we can do less of, and those of us in more privileged positions have certainly accumulated more crap. We also have the moral duty to offset what those less fortunate can’t do. And then we need to come together to campaign and pressure.

You can’t use imperfection as an excuse to do nothing, and you won’t have success campaigning profit driven industries when you keep buying as much of their product as you always have.

Some messages just never get through to people

Stupid

The world seems to just get stupider and stupider over time. But even considering that, there are certain truths which never seem to gain any traction, even when we had a reasonably sane global society. I was reminded of this again today when hearing my neighbour mowing his grass again with his petrol lawnmower, while shirtless. I didn’t hear that he was shirtless to be clear, but the guy is a leathery sun seeker. I knew he would be. But anyway.

As you might have expected if you’ve read my stuff before, the two undeniable facts I was reminded of are the fact that perfectly manicured lawns are awful for everything, and also that there is no such thing as a healthy tan. These facts are so ignored in society to the point where when you hear them, you instinctively think they must be untrue, even as someone who’s heard them and understood them multiple times already.

If you bring up to anyone that there is no such thing as a healthy tan, they will think you’re the craziest person they’ve ever met, even though it’s a stone cold fact. Any expert will tell you to wear a hat and cover up in hot weather, and even to limit exposure and wear sun screen in cooler weather too. This single fact is honestly more controversial than even climate change.

Something like rewilding is probably less controversial than sun safety. People generally understand that having more trees and more nature is a good thing. Even Trump has talked about planting more trees. But when it comes to private gardens / yards; people will look in horror at long grass, weeds or overgrown bushes. It’s unquestionably the best thing to do for nature. What do they think was there before their houses were there? Do they think humans mowed the grass and planted perfect flowerbeds? Nature just figures it out. Things grow and things die. It all works in one big cycle without any human interference at all. You would think that’d be pretty obvious to anyone, but it’s really not.

There are so many of these seemingly obvious facts that most people fail to grasp, but my mind always comes back to these two. I don’t know why. They’re maybe what I associate most with the suburbanite morons I have to coexist around. I think if we can’t get to grips with these, then what chance do humans really have moving forward? We let people die of pollution that doesn’t need to exist. We eat diets that make us obese. We don’t exercise enough even when other countries have shown how easy and fun it is to cycle everywhere locally. We have e-bikes now and even that giant technological leap hasn’t sped up our transition away from cars by that much. And on top of it all, we heat our planet up to the point where our lives become progressively more miserable, and we never do anything about it.

We keep allowing bad things to happen and we don’t learn from experiences to make things better in the future. We’re just really, really dumb. How else can you say it? Humans are stupid. Especially in countries where the fascists are taking over. But even in smarter countries, can you really say they’re making all the obvious right decisions there either? I don’t think so.

I don’t think there is a country that’s got all of the basics right. I think if we took the best from every place, we would be at least close. But does global collaboration look likely to you when we can’t even agree on basic facts? Going back to tanning and rewilding, I really don’t see everyone letting their gardens go wild or covering up in the sun any time soon. And as long as that remains the case, I don’t see where any real change is going to come from. You can’t move forward when facts are debated and large parts of a population are divorced from reality. You just go around in circles while ever more damage is being done. We don’t have facts and we don’t have solidarity, so we have nothing to build from.

Be wary of car brands infiltrating the bike industry

So far, just an overpriced standard EMTB. But be wary of speed restrictions.

Car companies. They’re the bad guys who eliminated urban cycling in the UK and elsewhere. They brought us the joy that is one giant SUV after another on our narrow roads; originally built for bicycles, narrow vans and the odd truck. Now they want into the e-bike industry as well. Haven’t they done enough damage?

To be fair to them, there are a couple of potential benefits they can bring to the cycling industry. But before I get to that, I want to run through the obvious downsides.

High tech solutions to questions no-one asked

They’ll try to advocate for cars and bikes coexisting without infrastructure, and push overly complicated technology for bikes and cars to talk to each other. Just as momentum starts to build for bans on private cars in urban areas, they’d love to set us back and seduce neoliberal lawmakers (who eat this kind of stuff up) with plans to make cars and bikes work together by leveraging new technology. Why do the obvious thing of getting rid of the cars and having all that glorious space and clean air, when we can have cars and bikes that talk to each other and traffic lights to avoid collisions? It’s not as if we could use our eyes and ears to see bikes and pedestrians coming or anything.

Speed

They’ll try to increase speeds in e-bike regulations from 25kph to make them more like small motorcycles. This is a big one. Car companies are supposedly about speed and efficiency, so of course they won’t be able to resist lobbying their mates in power for higher e-bike speeds; and they may well think why not get rid of the pedals too while we’re at it? Never mind that you get stuck in traffic and passed by people on bikes gliding along to their destinations before you.

Greenwashing

They’ll try to use cycling to greenwash their businesses so they can phase out fossil cars or privately owned EVs later. Clearly, the car industry loves a bit of greenwashing. Manufacturers often promote hybrids while giving the impression that they’re better than EVs because you don’t have to plug them in. Just ignore the fact that you still have to fill them with explosive fossil juice. Or they make a car that powers the wheels like an EV, except the only way to charge it is with a tank of petrol. Seriously. Nissan calls that e-Power.

Presumably the next logical step would be to distract people with some e-bikes to make you look really green. But of course if you want to travel further than e-bike range, you’ll still want that aforementioned giant fossil powered SUV. Ok, maybe I’ll be charitable and say it’s a hybrid by 2025 when the world’s melting.

Survival

As a desperation move, I could imagine a car company or two buying a bike company and rebranding it in a last ditch effort to turn around their flagging fortunes when private car sales drop off a cliff. Or, alternatively, I could see it in the case of a manufacturer that gets caught particularly flat-footed during the EV transition. A rapid pivot to Micromobility might be the only play left to save the company.

The Positive(s)?

I did promise some positives, so here they are. Or here’s one anyway. All I could come up with. The car industry will bring a new perspective and prioritise vehicle grade components that last for urban journeys. Especially for cargo bikes, trikes and quads. But, the thing is that you can get a new perspective without resorting to embracing the car industry. Almost anyone from any industry can come in with a fresh vision of what bikes should be (anything without a derailleur would be a start). It’s not worth the risk of the automotive sector wrecking the bike industry. And I’m not saying that as someone who thinks much of the bike business. I’m very much of the opinion that it requires a massive shake up.

So… I guess that makes zero positives actually…

Before I write them off entirely, I should mention that this is assuming the current neoliberal system stays as it is. The system which of course will kill us all in due course if it does. However, if / when we do nationalise the car industry under a new economic system, it becomes a whole new ball game. You would have the engineering expertise of the auto industry but without the profit motive. In that case, you could repurpose their vast factories to make cargo bikes at record pace, and you wouldn’t have to worry about them lobbying for turning e-bikes into small motorcycles, since there would be no one left to lobby. The government (and the people) would be running the show.

So technically there was one positive in the end; but it probably won’t be a possibility any time soon when you look at the state of our politics. For example, Penny Mordaunt says she will cut fuel tax in half if she becomes PM (sigh).

Yes, we really must ban private cars

Logically, every day that goes by where we do practically nothing to address our climate crisis, the more reasonable the idea of banning private cars (especially in urban areas) should become. But in reality, it doesn’t feel as if we’re making any progress in this regard. People generally aren’t warming to the idea, or at most are warming to it at a snail’s pace.

I’ve been watching Al Jazeera a lot recently. They seem to be the best of a bad bunch when it comes to international media outlets regarding the climate crisis; especially when it comes to climate related suffering in the Middle East and the general global south. They still talk about GDP and economic growth being a good thing. They talk about F1 and World Rally straight after stories of record droughts, sandstorms, famines and so on. But at least they always highlight inequality, human rights under threat, and other uncomfortable issues that other outlets shy away from.

They’re extremely good at documenting the dire state of our climate. But when it comes to solutions, it’s a very different story. I don’t really see much about solutions, and I see very little possibility of them suggesting anything other than mainstream favourites like renewable energy and electric vehicles. At least not in the near future. So if the best mainstream media outlet isn’t informing people about the real solutions, then what chance do we have of change?

You might be thinking something along the lines of “yeah, but that’s mainstream media. What about social media and YouTube in particular?” Well, I do agree that YouTube is where the progressive ideas are going to come from. But in my experience, progressive news and climate related channels are still pretty small when you consider where we are in the crisis with seemingly endless weather extremes every day. And when I comment on these channels about a private car ban, I don’t see a lot of positive feedback. I’m more likely to attract either a troll or someone who’s supposedly on my side but who can’t imagine life in urban areas without cars. By now, it shouldn’t be controversial to end the plague of cars in our urban areas, but it is. It’s extremely controversial; even in places which could easily be cycled by unfit people if most of the cars were gone.

We all saw that non-cyclists were riding bikes during the original spring 2020 lockdown. But it didn’t lead to permanent change because the establishment didn’t want it to. I’ve talked about this a lot. Some cities and countries did use it as an opportunity to change a little bit; but no one had the bravery to go the whole way and severely limit private car use. Even when it’s clearly the fastest and cheapest way to get people cycling and to slash emissions from the transport sector.

So what happens next? My best guess is that nothing will happen until maybe later this year. The coming summer heat records combined with food supply issues and energy prices going into the winter could cause a societal tipping point around the world. But it will need to be an apocalyptic blend to make humanity wake up and start doing things that make sense (like banning private cars). The crises we’ve accumulated so far have not been enough, despite being pretty terrible. The climate crisis, the war, covid, cost of living, monkeypox, avian flu etc.

While we are seeing the status quo starting to struggle, we’re not yet at the point where people begin questioning everything en masse. But this is only going one way. The resurgence of unions and the disabling of a large percentage of the global workforce with long covid show that the current exploitative system can’t keep going for much longer. The question is how much longer; and if we will still have time to act once it does fail. One thing is for sure; it won’t be any form of media that changes the course of humanity. I just don’t see any progressive outlet growing fast enough to even challenge mainstream media’s viewership before our various crises start dictating society’s direction.