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Rest is good, but resolving global crises means not looking away

Rest is good, but resolving global crises means not looking away

plastic by Gary Bell

When people do things they shouldn’t, they often try to distract attention from their actions. Guardian writer George Monbiot notes that many corporations fuelling the planet’s destruction spend significant resources to shift attention away from themselves and onto us.

“The deliberate effort to stop us seeing the bigger picture began in 1953 with a campaign called Keep America Beautiful. It was founded by packaging manufacturers, motivated by the profits they could make by replacing reusable containers with disposable plastic,” he writes. “In 2004, the advertising company Ogilvy & Mather, working for the oil giant BP, took this blame-shifting a step further by inventing the personal carbon footprint. It was a useful innovation, but it also had the effect of diverting political pressure from the producers of fossil fuels to consumers.”

“Greenwashing” is another way corporations divert attention from their true ecological impacts. As British psychology professor Steven Reicher points out, “One recent McDonald’s spot boasts of the way the company is recycling cooking oil into truck fuel, coffee cups into greetings cards, and plastic toys into children’s playgrounds. The problem is that it makes no mention of the fact that McDonald’s beef footprint alone constitutes 22m metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year.”

Facing the real issues often leaves us feeling anger, anxiety and despair. While these are reasonable responses to the environmental crises engulfing us, the multi-billion-dollar self-help industry has profited enormously by convincing us that fixing ourselves is the priority.

How do we balance the need for personal change with systemic change, when both are necessary?

Personal actions can create consumer demand for sustainably made products, model greener behaviours and foster empowerment. But focusing on the personal runs the risk of eclipsing our responsibility to also marshal systemic change.

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