One of the words that is rarely associated with Leeds Festival is green. Every year photographs of litter-strewn fields, thousands of abandoned tents and piles of plastic bottles flood the internet, starting the discussion yet again about how young people have no consideration for the environment.
I went to Leeds Festival for the first time this year, and the narrative that I had been fed of a wasteful and indulgent festival is far from the truth. Everywhere, there were signs informing people of how to recycle in one of the many colour-coded recycling bins, signs emphasising the importance of everyone taking their tents home, and constant reminders to be cautious of what they were consuming. Extinction Rebellion had a stall, and their video outlining the unprecedented global emergency that is upon us was played between every act on the Main Stage. The 1975 even performed their 5-minute collaboration with Greta Thunberg in the middle of their set on the Saturday evening, cautioning everyone about the need for change.
And that is what it felt like, change. Throughout the weekend, there was so much conversation about the climate crisis we are facing, and how it is more than possible for us to achieve a more sustainable way of living. Water was handed out in compostable, plant-based plastic cups; every bag was biodegradable; cutlery and packaging was recyclable.
But, why is Leeds Festival doing this more proactively, and with more urgency than the Government? During the 4 days of the festival, I heard more about being conscious of my consumption than I ever have from my Government.
On some level, this does not feel right.
Governments around the world are coming slowly round to the conclusion that they need to start addressing the climate crisis, but there is a distinct reluctance to take huge strides towards tackling this problem. Most countries seem to be more engrossed by their internal domestic political squabbles to be able to give this issue the attention it requires.
The UK is a prime example of this. Brexit has provided the government with the perfect distraction from the fact it is not on track for its long term goal to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2050, as well as the fact that it has made few significant legislative changes in reference to the climate crisis. Further, there was a lot of concern about the cost of this zero-emissions government plan when it was announced, but there has been no level of similar concern surrounding Johnson’s extensive spending plans since becoming Prime Minister. Money can always be found when it is deemed politically important; why isn’t the environment deemed politically important to the UK government?
The UK is not the only country in this position. Many are distracted, or do not seem to realise the dire situation that we are in. Germany for example, has been praised for agreeing to end its coal-powered energy generation by 2038. This may appear to be a significant achievement, as Germany produces the majority of its energy through coal, but when it is considered that organisations such as Greenpeace have been stating for years that we only have until 2020 to put a stop to a climate change landslide, it is not enough.
Politics plays too heavily in politicians decisions over climate change and the climate crisis. In the US, there are still debates in Congress over whether climate change even exists, with the sitting President still refusing to accept the existence of global warming. As approximately one third of the US population denies that global warming is a problem, denying climate change wins both money and votes in key states, and this takes precedent over addressing the climate crisis. Trump did not even attend the G7 Summit meeting concerning climate change, meaning that one of the world’s largest producers of Greenhouse Gasses and emissions is not even taking part in a global discussion of a climate change solution.
The Brazilian government has further demonstrated how easy it is to prioritise politics over the environment, with Bolsonaro rejecting the $22M in funds for the Amazon provided by the G7, unless he can have full control over the funding. Prioritising national pride over saving arguably the most important rainforest in the world just further shows how governments are playing politics with the future of the planet. As Greenpeace has stated repeatedly, it is well within the power of governments around the globe to address this issue. They are simply not doing enough.
But all is not lost. There are many grassroots campaigns currently active, each showing governments how easy it is to tackle the climate crisis. Greenpeace, alongside their activism and extreme protests, have recently published a manifesto for the British government, outlining exactly how it can reduce emissions, and how it is economically feasible to increase sustainable energy production. Greta Thunberg is putting us all to shame; crossing the Atlantic on a zero-carbon journey to the UN Climate Summits, as well as constantly sharing her message and thoughts online. Even smaller organisations, such as Ecosia (who use the advertising revenue from Google searches to plant trees worldwide), have come up with innovative ways to address the crisis. Now, every time I use the internet, I am both reminded of the need to be environmentally conscious, and the advertising revenue from my searches is being used in conservation efforts around the globe. The conversation that these organisations are sparking, both within politics and online, is making a huge difference in changing public attitudes towards climate change.
Governments around the world have a wealth of ideas and solutions, both for legislation that can be put in place and products and schemes that can be funded, all with the view of saving the planet. A lot of the heavy lifting is being done by NGOs, grassroots campaigns and researchers. The question that remains, is why governments are still holding back.
There seems to be a lack of understanding that this is an issue for now, not for the next government or next generation. Our current politicians do not seem to grasp the fact that the environment is more important than politics. Re-election does not matter if the population cannot drink due to drought, or cannot eat due to crop failures. The state of government action is not enough in the light of the seriousness of the situation.
This brings about questions as to whether our world leaders can actually address this problem. Extinction Rebellion has already made this clear; the climate change crisis is a problem too large for the government to solve alone, meaning one of their demands is for a citizens assembly for climate change. But governments are actively turning away from the problem, pretending as though the actions they have already taken are enough.
Grassroots organisations are driving public discussion, action, and decision making concerning climate change. The attention they draw to climate change is bringing about what feels like a more significant shift in social attitude than anything the British government has done in my lifetime. If events such as Leeds Festival can pledge to and actively reduce their impact on the environment, why isn’t the government doing this for the UK? Why do our leaders appear out of touch with this issue, one which will determine the future of human existence on this planet?
We need governments to tackle climate change, this cannot be done through individual action alone. But they need to learn from the multitude of grassroots organisations out there, who are currently the ones actually addressing this crisis.