Ethical elitism on climate change?

October 19, 2009

I am part of Critical Climate, an Adelaide activist group advocating a "sustained mass civil disobedience" response to the climate emergency.

Perhaps our most controversial decision has been to plan for a car parade to complement the mass bicycle parade we are holding on October 24. Predictably, many advocates of "ethical" consumerism have been outraged and even plan to boycott the event because of cars being allowed to take part. Critical Climate opposes this elitism.

It has been said that interrogators can improve cooperation from prisoners by getting them to internalise the ideology of their captors. One method to do this is to give prisoners a set of choices, which change their condition to a limited degree but ultimately leave them captive.

For instance, if the prisoner is told, "stand up or you will be beaten", when the prisoner inevitably sits down, they come to view their beating, not as callousness on behalf of the guard, but as a reasonable response to their "choice" to sit down.

Giving the prisoner a scrap of agency allows the captors to take the prisoner's focus off the guards or the prison and redirect it back onto the prisoner.

Likewise, "ethical" consumerism changes the condition of the planet to a very limited degree but ultimately does nothing to avert the climate emergency. At the same, time it often works as an insidious pacifying ideology.

Illustrating this point, the staunchest opposition to our mass civil disobedience protest action has not come from conservative, neo-liberal ideologues.

Rather, it has been left-wing cyclists, indoctrinated with the ideology of "ethical" consumerism, who have screamed the loudest: "You're not allowed to protest!"

Apparently, they see a few dozen extra cars on city streets as a greater threat to the climate than the numerous coal-fired power plants that litter the Australian landscape.

Absurdly, some have accused us of hypocrisy.

A hypocrite is a person who advocates one thing and does another. We do not advocate people individually boycotting cars because until there has been dramatic institutional change we see such actions as having virtually no effect on the climate.

We don't care what Prime Minister Kevin Rudd does with his car, we care what he does with this country.

If you are the official leader of a country, we demand you set a target of 100% renewables. We are not official leaders of a country. But if at any point we are, we promise to do the same.

[More information on Critical Climate can be found at]

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.