Mike Baillie
Mike Baillie

Who are you calling radical?

The planet needs activism.

It is being drilled, mined, excavated, pumped, and fracked more than ever before. Rivers are clogged with clingwrap, Simba packets, and toxic dyes; saturated with the run off from crops that are lathered in pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilisers.

Forests are being wiped out: Even in the DRC where the Congo basin is reportedly being cleared at a slower rate than in the past, 5km2 are still being lost every single day. The Amazon and all it holds is being razed for the sake of more cattle farms; in South East Asia we’re losing some of the most densely inhabited ancient forest so we can have palm oil for our popcorn.

More and more people around the world are striving for the trappings of the lifestyles we lead — the iThings, the Big Car, the sheer excess of everything, the more, more, more. And our lives are themselves becoming more extravagant as fashion trends speed up, global travel intensifies, and gadgets update — and become obsolete — at break-neck speeds.

And everywhere you look, in virtually every urban space, we’re being advertised to: Consume damn it!

Climate change is one symptom of this; the depletion of our oceans is another. And yet as our planet overheats and oceans empty, we’re facing another round of global climate talks — this will surely be the 19th year in a row that world leaders fail to give us anything near what we need to avoid catastrophic climate change.

The planet needs activists.

It needs people to speak up and take action. It needs people willing to challenge the current economic system. On the most basic level, it just needs a critical mass of people to wake up and say wait a minute, things can’t go on like this.

And yet … and yet those who do take action are called radicals, quickly dismissed by the cultural machines or our time as “extremists”, “loonies”, “hippies”.

Take the Shell example. Despite its abhorrent track record, Shell is setting out to drill for oil in the Arctic, where another of its oil spills would be impossible to clean up. Yet Shell goes ahead, and it’s those protesting who’re seen as radicals. And again, as Shell hastens to frack and fill our Karoo with toxics and use up scarce water supplies, it’s the peaceful activists with placards that are the fanatics.

As Eskom builds one of the world’s largest coal-fired power plants, setting us up for an additional 32 million tons of CO2 emissions a year, it’s the peaceful protestors we admonish.

More than 5 million hectares of forest were lost in the last decade. Almost 32 billion tons of CO2 were pumped into the atmosphere in 2012. Every year roughly a million people around the world die from air pollution-related diseases attributable to coal-fired power plants. But it’s those protesting, those pushing for alternatives — they’re the radicals? Really?

No, I don’t think so.

The current economic system, which fetishizes growth above all else, which aims to maximise profits for the smallest slither of the population — that’s radical. A system that looks past environmental degradation on the grandest of scales in exchange for a few more dollars in the bank — that’s radical. A system that ignores deforestation so that the gluttonous few can have another extra patty on our big macs — that’s radical. An economics that is prepared to glance over real-life environmental and social damage, because not doing so would make a company’s bottom line flatter — that’s radical.

Activists are not the radicals here. Faced with all we know, being an activist for the planet is far from radical, or any of the other things they’re called. It’s what the planet so desperately needs right now. And actually, what could be more conservative than wanting to save the one thing we all have in common: earth.

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