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Who doesn’t get a say in the environmental debate

Europe, Canada and some other parts of the world are awakening to climate change more and more while the US seems to follow a thought process along the lines of “what isn’t convenient doesn’t exist”. At the same time, climate change is still speeding up and we hit earth overshoot day/ecological debt day (the day when all the ecologically responsible resources for the year have been used up and further over-consumption means indebting ourselves to the earth) on the first of August this year.

Of course, actually obliging companies to comply with strict environmental standards (instead of allowing an emissions trade) would be a much-needed step many countries still fail to take. However, our money votes for the companies that we want to support. Thrifting, consuming less, veganism/vegetarianism, organic and local food and fairtrade options are definitely growing trends, but for a huge part of the population, none of those things are an option, and they never get a choice on what to support. Ironically, climate change hits the poorest regions and inhabitants of this earth first and strongest and at the same time takes away their ability to do anything against it.

But while that struggle is important and the term “climate justice” seems to be catching on, those problems hit closer to home than I used to realize (beware, outing as somewhat of a snob will follow). How is it possible to buy organic food on food stamps? How would someone with little money take the train instead of the plane (and please spare me the classist thought that poor people should then just stay home and work more)? How does one plan to eat less animal products without becoming a hermit if they live in a food desert?

But most importantly, how arrogant is it to expect people to support humanely paying companies when they themselves don’t earn a living wage? The phenomenon of the working poor is becoming more fashionable for governments all over the world, it’s not as confined to developing countries and the US as it used to be (even though America-critical Europeans like myself like to believe that in our hybris). For those who would like to compare numbers: US, Germany. Unfortunately, the aspects of race and gender are only covered in the data on the US and even there they aren’t covered intersectionally. And living just above the poverty line and therefore not showing up in these statistics by no means gives access to decisions based on ethics.

Now I’m sure that if everyone else who could afford it did their part, the situation would already be vastly improved. However, that is not my point here. My point is that poor people don’t get a say. The option to act on climate change is a privilege. It’s time we recognized it as such, especially the political left wing (I’m criticizing myself just as much here). “System change not climate change” is a good start, but it’s not enough to “only” look at the end of the equation that pushes people into poverty elsewhere. It’s necessary to pay attention to how poor people are being pitted against each other, and where they live determines which end of the stick they get.

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