The obligation to recycle grew during the 90s. At the time, my father felt obliged to learn about it and do his part. My mother, on the other hand, let me take care of it, but she wasn’t convinced about it and there were no repercussions for her unwillingness to see why it could help.
Greenwashing is not new
Sadly, much of our efforts in our squeaky-clean persona of Canada were for nought. A lot of the waste was not recycled in Canada, but rather shipped off to China or Malaysia. Even today, much of the recycling of waste from Canada is done in India.
In 1995, as I was coming of age in this environmental quagmire, the first COP was held and this is where the Kyoto Protocol was established. This past week, I covered COP27 for our publication. 27 means the 27th year of trying to figure out climate change.
The awareness has not trickled down.
Ahead of COP27, there was talk of greenwashing, as is the case at every COP; and yes, this year is as abundant as any other. Eco-friendly goody bags are given out for free, filled with a glass water bottle, and recycled paper pad and pencils. Food can be purchased (at exorbitant prices) all wrapped in paper, apart from the plastic juice bottles.
In every event room, the air conditioners are cranked up to the max because the heat beneath the Sinai sun is hot and foreigners may not like to feel warm. The local architecture that could have been used to keep heat at bay is not seen as modern or Western.
However, the moment you step into the pseudo-real world of Sharm, a resort town, you step back into the true reality: overly packaged goods, people throwing stuff on the street, and development in all directions clearly impacting the natural environment, which huge billboards announce is important.
The awareness has not trickled down.
This reality is not specific to Egypt (apart from human rights). It happens at every COP and every country outside of COP: A beautiful veneer of ‘we can do this!’ coupled with ‘eco-friendly’ items or venues and the belief that maybe this year we’ll figure it out.
We’re not that smart
Humanity has proven itself to be the stupidest of all species. I say this as a member of this collective group. Wars, inequalities, racism, genderism, selfishness, etc….can be traced back to every culture and empire, regardless of geography. We refuse to learn. We refuse to evolve.
The only common thread in our thousands of years of existence is the drive for profit – be it in exchange for food, jewels, territory or money.
People keep saying the youth can make a difference. I’d like to believe it too, but the reality is a whole other story, and frankly it’s a lazy way of putting-off hard decisions. The youth can drive awareness. They can make noise, but they can’t effect change high up.
Here at COP27, there was a day to celebrate their voice – one group was visible on site. I walked by, as did others. Some took photos, some stopped to listen to their cheer: “What do [we] want? Climate Justice. When do we want it? Now!” Lots of applause, and then back to business.
Journalists cover this important business – from the signing of this ‘near-ban on coal deal’, the celebration of ‘country X to offer more funding’, to how leaders ‘agree to tackle climate change by 2030’. That business is shrouded in power trips. When someone high up from any one of these events grants the lowly journalist a moment to ask a question, it’s often very rushed, the I-don’t-have-time-for-you-I’m-very-important-and-needed, because at the end of the day, the person also doesn’t know how this will help solve the problem.
Nothing will change until we start to block out profit and focus on change
So long as humanity is driven by blind greed, our planet will continue on the same trajectory. We can produce as many eco-friendly gadgets as we want, strut around like peacocks at these grand COP events, sign deals, take photos as proof of our good intentions, and then perhaps granting a journalist a comment to say: “I’m so excited about this, this is a real game-changer”. However, nothing will change until we start to block out profit and focus on change.
I have close family friends who run a plastic business in an undisclosed African country. We jokingly argue about how companies like theirs are the problem. They sell plastic pellets (even if they are less plastic and more carbon carbonate) to other factories to melt down and make into bags, containers etc.
Whenever I mention that they are part of the problem of our climate crisis, I am told quite simply that it’s a question of profit and that turning to alternatives, such as bio-plastics, is not profitable. On top of this is that there’s no impetus to alter the status quo. If “governments banned plastic” then companies, such as the plastic business, would be faced to make changes. This is the bottom line of our latest discussion.
Ahead of COP27, Coca Cola, aka the ‘King of Plastic Pollution’ – one of the official sponsors (who provided endless amounts of glass-bottled coke during the event, but has since secretly pulled out of its sponsorship) – increased the use of its newly manufactured plastic by 3.5% since 2019, reported the Financial Times.
They may sign deals to offset carbon through the carbon credit market, or provide glass bottles, but so long as plastic is still a viable alternative, and their factories continue to function as they do – producing as much CO2 as two large generating plants, not to mention the other toxic pollutants often dumped at nearby communities (if unregulated) – we will continue to have a classic case of profit over change.
Would love to know why we can’t just ban plastic bags altogether when places like Rwanda, China, Taiwan, Macedonia and Kenya all have. We know they’re destroying the planet and we know there are less harmful alternatives. It’s only matter of time. Let’s get on with it. pic.twitter.com/Ae9423UDm6
— Carrie Johnson (@carrielbjohnson) December 25, 2018
At no point, between my early environmental years and the present, has a government taken the high position of banning such practices. Bangladesh and Rwanda have both banned plastic bags, but there’s always someone smuggling bags into each respective country.
Other countries and regions, including the EU, have banned single-use plastics. Is it enforced? When I grab take-out from nearby restaurants in my rather bobo-left-leaning neighbourhood in Paris, the answer is no. Much of it is still served in plastic because the companies producing such items have no reason to stop.
What is real power in action
Small declarations, such as what will come out of COP27, are band-aid solutions. The trick to ripping off a band-aid with little pain is to do it fast. The one way to really make huge strides in saving this planet, which is run by humans who are still functioning the same way they did thousands of years ago, is to enforce change.
Leaders from the top – however they are elected – wield power. Rather than walk around these events surrounded by bodyguards to ensure their power is intact, why not use that power to bring about concrete change? Not an idea, or another possible deal to sign, but a real change that may hamper profits in the short-term, but benefit everyone in the long-term.
Doing so would force all citizens to pay attention and to readjust. Without access to plastic bags, or polluting factories, people would adjust, as they always have. Even my mother would then recycle.
That’s real power in action.