Friday 6 April 2012


I am an activist and campaigner and I learned how to be one from the climate justice movement.

As my mental health and then physical health deteriorated it became hard for me to participate in physical actions and so I did what I could online and in my home - and still do.

This week I realised how distant I feel from the climate justice community I was once part of, and for the first time I realised why.

It is nothing new to say that mostly the climate change movement doesn't consider the reality of disablement and nothing new to say that activists and campaigners often do not consider even basic access needs. (Note that this does not apply across the board and I am not suggesting that it is so)

What was a new realisation to me is how much rhetoric and implicit disablism that I had internalised.

I used to walk everywhere when I started uni - anywhere that was within an hour's walk I walked. I would feel lazy and extravagent for taking the bus - just think about the carbon. And then I had no choice but to take the bus because I was too sore and too tired. And then public transport became harder and harder to manage and I had no choice but to take taxis. And then I had to face the fact that I would have to learn to drive. I didn't learn at 17 because driving in a city that had 'good' public transport links was wrong.

I became vegan for the same reason. I can't cook from scratch any more, and my partner will start work as a junior doctor next year, so I am learning to make my peace with packaged, pre-chopped veg and microwave rice pouches to make it easier for us to eat.

You know what sparked the realisation though? My bendy joints and wonky autonomic nervous system and floppy blood vesssels have been joined by stroppy guts. It's been getting slowly worse, along with the rest of it. The list of foods I can't tolerate is getting longer. Another referral to another specialists, another 3 tablets to add to the 20 I take every day. And I've found that while (most) meat and dairy are on the list of foods I can't tolerate in any quantity (along with gluten, most veg, most fruit), eggs are alright.

Simple, right?

I feel like a failure. Every time I get in a taxi, or eat something non-vegan because it was easy and I can eat it I feel like a failure. I feel lazy, and wasteful and selfish. I would never feel the same about someone else in a similar situation, but I do towards me.

I have internalised this message that cycling is the only acceptable form of transport and that any form of high carbon convenience is absolutely wrong.

Part of that is my own neuroticism, granted, but a large portion of that is that the temptation as a campaigner or activist (or politician, or religious person) is to think and speak in binary. In right and wrong.

Binaries exclude.

It's in the grey and in the intersection that you find climate justice campaigners supporting the #nogobritain campaign - because the more people who can safely and comfortably access public transport, the more we can tackle our carbon footprint - it's there that you find feminists reminding us that climate change disproportionately affects women, and medics talking about the effect of the healthcare industrial complex on our environment as well as the catastrophic health issues climate change causes and will cause. It helps us to remember that if someone is overwhelmed with financial struggles, health crises, persecution, discrimination, if someone is afraid for their life, or doesn't know how they're going to feed their kids tomorrow, they will not be able to care about the fate of the planet in 5, 25, 50 years time.

That's why we need to make climate solutions cheap and easy, why industry needs to do their part and why we need to think really carefully before turning societal problems into individual problems with individual blame and individual solutions.

Maybe I can remind myself next time I get in a taxi that I'm working to make it possible for me to take the bus. And that even the best public transport system possible will not be accessible to everyone and sometimes it's my job to make sure my fellow climate campaigners understand that.

And here I fail to think of a wise and witty closing remark, so you can make one up for yourself...


  1. Friend's working on a PhD on disability and 'green stuff', mind if I post this at her?
    - Ceri

    1. No that's fine =] I'd be interested to talk more about it. I have been thinking the thoughts and stuffz

  2. Interesting thank you,
    for me it come sback to what or should i say who is at the centre of the picture, I have been involved in all sport so campaigns iver many years, and supported as many to get going. the recent realisation is that just like many polarised views we often fail to put people at the centre.

    we talk about the environment, social care, weflare, peace, transition towns etc etc
    but very very rarely is it done from a humanist perspective so we end up with a disconnect

    If we turn its on its head and come from a humanist perepctive and think about how dofferent people intereact and interconnect then "campaigning" becomes powerful because we step put of our idealogical bubbles

  3. The green movement is often accused of having a near-spiritual ethos of self-sacrifice - and that's not true, most serious environmentalists want to build a future where we can provide a better quality of life for everyone, whilst impacting far less on the natural world. But when we look at our individual lives, it's so easy to get sucked into that.

    These days, I don't feel very guilty but that's partly because I have very little control over this kind of thing indeed. However, I look forward to time where I have more money, and therefore more freedom to "do my bit". Anyway, these are things I have told myself, to help with my own guilt:

    1. We're relatively poor. Richer people are far worse for the environment, making more journeys, taking more flights, buying more gadgets and gismos, buying far more (often exotic) food than they eat and generating much more waste.

    2. Because we care, we're not ever going to be decadent. This is a little bit tricky because we all know people who protest their environmentalism and behave quite differently - just as we know people who are noisy about Christianity but neglect the basic tenets. But they were never at a stage where this kind of guilt was a problem.

    3. Eating humanely-produced and environmentally-sound local animal products is very often better for the environment and human rights than sourcing protein from nuts, soya etc. from overseas.

    4. The problem was never ever going to be solved by individuals changing their lifestyles. It's only going to be solved by a combination of industrial, technological, political and social change.

    I hope this feeling of failure passes soon.

  4. And here I fail to think of a wise and witty closing remark, so you can make one up for yourself...

    I'm getting better at it, but when I was younger I used to suck at conclusions. I'd put all my points into the body of a piece and have no wrap-up words left for the end.

    I never even came up with such a witty paragraph as "make one up for yourself..." I wish I had.

    Back to the rest of the post: I think there's much room for climate campaigners around making adjustments greener.

    Some people need to use cabs, there's no 2 ways about it. So lets make more of them green. In London there are a lot of inaccessible minicab Priuses, but accessible black cabs are all diesel drinkers: Lets campaign to get hybrid engines put in black cabs rather than guilt tripping the crips that need to use them.

    Some people need to buy ready meals/pre chopped veg. Lets campaign to make all packaging either recyclable or compostable rather than making the people that need to buy the stuff feel like shit.

  5. Thanks all for your excellent points. It's something I think about a lot. I also think that focusing on what not to do rather than the kind of world we're hoping to build is also a problem, because it's very negative. I should post more about this because it helps me to order my thoughts, and I love comments that give me more ideas to chew on.

  6. I don't think there's any point in making your life much more difficult for a small effect on the environment (one person's contribution). You're doing what you can, and that's better than a lot of people.
    Taxi's are still better than loads of people owning cars and driving everywhere, and free-range eggs I don't think are that distressing to hens, and unfertilised eggs would just get wasted otherwise! It's very sensible (although difficult, I appreciate) to sacrifice a principle for a realistic compromise :-D

    A lot of changes need to be made on a policy level too, so you can continue to campaign for those.

    There's some things I don't do as I just don't find them realistic- e.g. buying expensive organic food when I'm a poor student. In an ideal world I would (and will when I can), but for now, I'm not going to make my life a lot harder!

  7. I'm glad to see this discussion. AND....

    I'm a disability and environmental activist. For me, there can be no separation because my first set of disabilities were caused by chemical injury. For people with multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) and environmental illness (EI), disability rights activism and environmental activism are two parts of the same whole. For example, most MCSers must eat organic foods or the results will be very severe and dangerous. Even though most MCSers are poor.

    And yes, I get frustrated with enviro activists who then use fragranced commercial personal care and cleaning products, because this directly prevents people with MCS from participating in activities, and it also is bad for the environment.

    Likewise, I get frustrated when I read posts like this or s.e. smith's post today at this ain't livin' (which is what brought me to this post), that talk about ableism and environmentalism and don't discuss MCS/EI. If ever an issue was ripe for inclusion in a discussion about environment and disability, it is chemical injury!

    I'm a big fan of s.e.'s and I usually nod my head in agreement with everything they post. And I recognize that not everyone can cover everything in one post. But this seems a glaring omission. Sometimes I wonder if other DR activists or enviro activists are intentionally leaving MCS out of the discussion because it just seems to cause so much discomfort to people who don't know how to -- or don't want to -- address it.

    We are not separate from people with other disabilities. I am a wheelchair user, have many disability and chronic illness issues, AND have MCS. I have a friend who's deafblind AND has MCS. It's becoming more and more common among the general population and disabled people to have MCS. And we often get shunted to the side by the mainstream disability rights movement. It's very frustrating.

  8. Hi aftergadget, thanks for your comment.

    Firstly I have to admit my ignorance of MCS- I only know a small amount, mainly related to how to create fragance free spaces as an access need.

    I am aware that I have a tendency to hear 'environment' and only think 'climate change' and to ignore other issues, such as air pollution or built infrastructure (for example) which of course also intersect with disability.

    I am sorry if my post implied that folk with MCS are separate from the disabled community - I know that solidarity across impairment in the disabled community is really important to me.

    My plan is to educated myself further about MCS / EI so that I can try to avoid making the same mistake again, thank you for raising my awareness and taking the time to commment.


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