Consumer Activism Under Capitalism Is A Lie

Talking about politics isn’t something I usually do on this blog, but due to recent events and responses to them that have been playing on my mind I felt the need to write this post and get it off my chest. This post is also written from a “capitalism bad” (in the simplest possible terms) perspective, and will feature a lot of criticism of capitalism, but I’m sure you could tell that from the title of the post. Conservatives and liberals begone.

I will also be referencing and criticising “the system” a lot during this piece (is it a piece of writing? An essay? Or is it a rant? I’m going to say piece, since it sounds better). This refers to a combination of businesses, the government, and capitalism as a whole — all the things that rule most of the world, particularly the western world.

Anyway, let’s get into it. To start, what even is consumer activism? It’s defined by Wikipedia as “a process by which activists seek to influence the way in which goods or services are produced or delivered”, but in simple terms, it involves boycotting brands and trying to make a change by using the system to do it. If you came here because of the title, you’re probably expecting me to dunk the hell out of this (very liberal) concept, and I hopefully won’t disappoint.

A message perpetuated by the system that is crucial to consumer activism as a concept is that individuals’ choices have a tangible impact on the earth and society. This is especially due to the rise of climate activism, which is why I’m writing this — the system is lying to you by telling you that you, individually, can make an impact on climate change, whether good or bad, to try and distract you from the real issues and who’s really at fault. Businesses are also trying to profit off this new activism.

What are some examples of this? Well, I’m sure everyone who’s aware of current Internet trends will have heard about the VSCO girl meme. You know, those girls who own hydroflasks, scrunchies, metal straws to “save the turtles!” and who the internet loves to make fun of? Those metal straws are the result of the previous controversy surrounding the banning of plastic straws. However, this ban was the most useless environmental activism I’ve ever seen.

Plastic straws make up 0.025% of plastic dumped in the ocean, whereas fishing nets make up 46%. But, of course, we can’t reform the fishing industry to make it more sustainable, or just ban it outright, of course. That wouldn’t be profitable now, would it? Instead of reform, the system places blame on your choices as an individual — for example, using a plastic straw. Even if you’re disabled, and need a single-use plastic straw to be able to drink — it’s you that’s killing the planet. If everyone is talking about this, it takes blame away from governments who are failing to act. Furthermore, businesses can profit off the desire to be “woke”: your metal straw you ordered off Amazon really isn’t as great for the planet as you think it is.

Another example is the pressure to go vegan after the fires in the Amazon, spread mostly by white vegans. “White vegans” is a general term I’ll use to describe vegans who care more about animals than people of colour, and you’ll probably have seen them around online — making Holocaust comparisons which compare Jewish people to cattle, shaming indigenous people’s cultural hunting practices, and ignoring the immigrants who work in terrible conditions to grow their avocados.

While yes, the Amazon is being cleared to farm cattle, and we should cut down on red meat consumption, it was also an act done by the fascist leader of Brazil, Bolsonaro, to try and clear away the indigenous people who live peacefully in the Amazon as they couldn’t be governed by his fascist regime. A lot of vegans who were so up in arms about the fires simply weren’t paying attention to the true reasons why. As well as this, white vegans ignore the many people who can’t go vegan — people with dietary requirements, or people who are too poor to afford enough vegan supplements to go vegan permanently — and act like it’s their fault that the planet is dying. It’s pretty obvious fake woke middle class activism, like Extinction Rebellion blocking eco-friendly Tube trains in low income areas of London, stopping people from going to work to feed their families. Not to mention those who support PETA, which is such a trainwreck of a charity it needs it’s own post.

The reason these kinds of people are so annoying is because they ignore the real, underlying issues — that are the fault of the system — and instead focus their activism efforts on the idea that you, individually, can make or break the planet. Sorry to burst your bubble but you aren’t going to make much of a difference.

I’d like to remind you all that 100 companies are responsible for 71% of greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore the other 7 billion of us together are responsible for the other 21% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and that each person is responsible for just 0.000000004142857% — or, in English, basically zero. Because, in the grand scheme of things, our carbon footprints are pretty much nothing, my or your individual impact isn’t going to make much of a difference. If someone can’t go vegan, or has to use a plastic straw, it’s not the end of the world. White vegans, please stop harassing them.

“Don’t have that attitude! If we all worked together, if we all made lifestyle changes, we could all make a difference! We could all fix this!”

Sorry to burst your bubble, but no we couldn’t. There are lots of right wing climate change deniers who refuse to make any sort of lifestyle change, so good luck getting them on board when the system still allows them to eat all the steak and drive all the cars they want. Besides, even if every single person reduced their carbon footprint, that wouldn’t take care of those 100 companies I mentioned earlier. It would be like putting a plaster on a bullet wound.

“There are benefits to lifestyle changes like going vegan and reducing plastic. You’re just bitter because you like chicken nuggets too much to actually make any meaningful changes.”

That is true. I do believe we should be reducing our carbon footprints as much as we can. My family eats a lot of vegetarian and vegan food, we recycle, we use green energy. I carry a reusable water bottle every day. If you can make lifestyle changes you definitely should — but if you can’t, you shouldn’t have to, and you shouldn’t be made to feel bad about something you can’t control, like your dietary needs, your disability, or your class and income. You also shouldn’t have to forgo your culture and traditions.

“Well, that sounds kinda depressing. If I can’t do anything, who can?”

The government. The system. Politicians. They’re the ones who have enough power, who’s decisions impact the most people. They’re also the ones who are doing the least, which is why we have people like Greta Thunberg, who are trying to tell the people in power that they need to do something.

And if they refuse to do anything, like they’re doing right now? Well, then it’s time for a revolution.