Annie Leonard | Photo by Gage Skidmore
After a half-century of environmental activism and nearly universal acceptance of the need to act on climate change, carbon emissions and waste are still on the rise. Greenpeace Executive Director Annie Leonard had a thing or two to say about this paradox at a recent conference at The New School on Design, Justice and Zero Waste.
“For too long too many of us have been caught in the myth that the truth will set us free,” Leonard said. “Because we have a whole lot of truth. What will set us free is building a powerful movement that will drive the change that we know is possible.”
In her talk, Leonard critiques the focus on individual actions like bringing our own reusable bags to the grocery store and recycling, explaining that these everyday changes are worthwhile but simply aren’t enough to thwart the growing threat to the planet. So what does Leonard say that citizens should be doing instead? A lot more collective action and political change. Leonard laid out the following roadmap for effective environmental justice:
First, we must elect leaders invested in climate justice and hold them accountable. This can be achieved by voting in leaders who refuse money from fossil fuel companies, refuse to build any new fossil fuel infrastructure and don’t support new waste incinerators for example.
Second, we must publically campaign against companies that are not moving fast enough on sustainability. “Any company that continues to make composite packaging or unrepairable products or lobbies against legislation that would advance justice and advance zero waste needs to be named and shamed,” said Leonard. This can be achieved through social media campaigns, shareholder resolutions and brand jamming she added. “We need to let companies and politicians know that they can either work with us to be part of the solution or they can get out of the way.”
Third, we must exercise power in the streets by joining climate action demonstrations and protests.
Fourth, we have to take control of public discourse. What Leonard means here is that we must dispell and displace narratives in popular culture that are spread by powerful private companies, such as the notion that pollution is the price of progress. “We have to shift the narrative so that people know that a healthy economy and a healthy environment are inseparable,” she said.
Leonard encourages people to continue researching, setting up composting projects, carrying reusable bags, and all the like. But her takeaway was that individual action is really just the beginning. “Every time that there has been progress in this country it is because organized people got together, filled the streets, worked hard and demanded change.” Inspiring stuff. to find out how to get more involved in environmental activism, you can visit the Story of Stuff website or Greenpeace. You can also watch her full talk above.