Escape the system? Change it!

May 12, 1999


Escape the system? Change it!

By Gina Knight

Some environment activists argue that "living green" is the most important step towards saving the environment. But can individual lifestyle choices reverse the destruction of the planet's ecology?

Many believe that if we minimise our personal impact on the environment, others will adopt similar lifestyles. If everybody "lives green" by consuming less, recycling, buying organic products and growing their own food, we will reduce environmental destruction.

Sadly, we don't all have the time to grow our own food, and buying organic produce is often expensive. Not everybody — especially poor students and low-paid workers — can afford to pay $5 for a dozen free-range eggs. Not to mention how expensive it is to convert your house to solar power.

Some environmentalists try to escape the system completely, living in villages and communes. These alternative lifestyles are options only for a few and can't save the environment.

We need to address the underlying cause of environmental destruction — the profit-driven capitalist system. Capitalism creates a craving for the unnecessary consumer products we are told will make us happy. What impact can personal consumer choices have against a multibillion-dollar advertising industry that thrives on creating irrational wants that have nothing to do with our real needs?

Organic gardens and buying "green" products will not disarm the imperialist war machine of weapons that could wipe out humanity. It can't stop the US waging war on countries that won't play "house rules" in the global market game. It can't stop the exploitation of the Third World by giant corporations like Nike. It will not stop ERA mining uranium at Jabiluka, nor stop Bunnings and North Ltd from raping our old-growth forests.

It is easy to become frustrated and pessimistic about the ability of ordinary people to mobilise to challenge the power of the ruling class. It is tempting to think that the only thing that can be done is to throw yourself into the path of a bulldozer.

But desperate individual acts of heroism simply leave "politics" to professional lobbyists and capitalist politicians. We cannot afford to do this. No amount of lobbying can challenge the enormous pressure politicians are under from large corporations which rule society. We must take decision-making out of boardrooms and parliament and into the streets.

We need to develop a campaign strategy similar to the 1983 movement that stopped the damming of the Franklin River in south-west Tasmania. All around Australia, tens of thousands of people participated in enormous street rallies, campaign stalls, pickets and public meetings.

Unleashing the creative power of ordinary people in a mass, sustained movement is the only effective way to stop environment destruction.

It is impossible to escape the system. The only realistic option is to change it from top to bottom. Only when the economy is controlled by society as a whole, and organised to satisfy genuine needs rather than the private enrichment of those who own the corporations, can we seriously address the huge problems confronting us. This will require nothing short of revolution.

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