I have spent a lot of my life, in particular the last few years, questioning if I am a good person. If I were to die tomorrow, and found myself at the Pearly Gates, would I be rewarded, or condemned? The immediate reaction to this question, of course, is to assert your own morality. “Yes, of course I’m a good person!” you might say. “I support charities, I help the needy, I believe in minority rights. I try to do the right thing!” But whilst I don’t discount that many of us try to be good people, there is one factor that always slips by us when assessing our own morality. This is the influence we have over others, and how our direct actions can have some quite horrible consequences.
Now, this article is not trying to attack anyone, nor attempting to make anyone feel bad (or at least, not much). However, it will present one fact that is becoming increasingly transparent: corporations and governments do very bad things, and we should try to stop them. That’s an easy enough sentiment, and one that is near universally agreed upon. And yet in spite of this agreement, there is no large-scale attack on this problem. Where is the call to arms, blasting ‘the Internationale’ on a Mad Max-style speaker-car, whilst we march on our corporate overlords? This is mostly a joke of course; a car like that would just be infeasible. But the lack of fuss from all of us on this account is concerning. Nearly all of us have a heart. We have all seen or participated in rants and ravings against the injustices of our world. Social justice petitions regularly reach their goals, and selfless good deeds are given mountains of kind words, but that’s where much of our engagement seems to end. This laziness towards really solving the issues of the world is a massive problem, and it is one we need reminding of.
Our collective lack of action to combat the ills of the world could have been more forgivable, had it have been an earlier age, when our predecessors were more innocent to the ways of the world. We, however, do not have this excuse. When we buy clothing, we know it comes from a sweatshop exploiting child labour, with conditions that could make prisoners of concentration camps look on in pity. We know of the same issues in the electronics industry, with our iPhones and tablets coming from factories that drive people to literal suicide (albeit prevented by large nets hung around the factories). Our food comes from abused animals, or massive deforestation projects, in order to mass produce provisions that often go to waste. But you don’t need me to tell you this, because you’ve already read or seen all of this. And that’s the problem. We’ve grown up through all of these scandals, we have seen the abuse of those with power, and the failure of those in power to correct it. We are more aware of the problems facing our world than at any other time in recorded human history, and yet that doesn’t appear to be quite enough to inspire us to act collectively.
This lack of action is most heinous when it comes to climate change. We have thirty-one years. That’s when the 2018 report on climate change by the World Bank predicts that we will have reached levels of irreversible damage on the global environment; and that immediate radical change away from a global economy based on gas and oil is absolutely necessary to survive. This is no longer a distant threat. It’s here, it’s ugly, and it threatens to plunge hundreds of millions of people into abject poverty and death. And sure, there is no denying that many of us are trying to fix this pressing issue. Recycling initiatives have been implemented across the UK, Europe and many other nations, while the most recent marches by students across the world show a fantastic desire to get the job done. But it is not enough. With 71% of global emissions created by just 100 companies, many of them energy conglomerates that our governing bodies have failed to police, it is clear that individual actions alone will not save us. We need mobilised collective action.
That last point may seem counter-intuitive to the title, but bear with me. It is easy to see these huge corporations as impossible, formless entities that we have no power over. As such, we often end up shrugging, blaming these corporations for messing everything up, and say something along the lines of “what can you do?” But this perception of all-powerful corporations is an illusion. They are not powerful in spite of us, they are powerful because of us. If we were to collectively abandon these brands, they would fall. No institution is ‘too big to fail’. And with these institutions abandoning us so readily with climate change, this is an action we must take.
Of course, this would hurt us, especially at first. But, if we don’t like where our town, country, city, nation or world is going; then we must do something about it, not just look on in disgust as everything gets worse and worse. Don’t wait for the precipice to come; it’s often too late by then anyway. Stand for office, join a pressure group, annoy your MP, do something to change all of this. We can choose not to feed these malignant ravenous corporations with our money. It won’t be comfortable, but much faster change will come about when you hit them where it hurts. We are more than we are trained to believe. We have both the means and knowledge to take action, and we are starting to, but we haven’t come close to reaching our potential. We have astounding influence on the world, each of us, but we haven’t started putting that to really, really good use yet. But now we must. Or we’ll quickly find that it’s too late.