Do Climate Activists Need to Be Perfect?

Liner Notes / Isabelle Axelsson

I often see people on social media who question the right of climate activists to be advocating for the climate. They ask how sustainable our lifestyles are, and how we dare tell others to change when we still emit carbon footprints (a phrase that was coined by the fossil fuel industry to shift the blame from industry to individuals). There is an asymmetry to the world’s carbon emissions and the results of them. Those who contribute the most to the climate crisis are seldom those who will experience the consequences. We cannot expect the people contributing the least to change before those emitting the most. Nonetheless, there is still pressure, practically an expectation, that climate activists should live perfectly sustainable lives. Is this reasonable?

I'm a 19-year-old climate activist and I admit I’m not perfect. I travel by car sometimes; I don’t exclusively buy food locally; and I know I use too much electricity for my fare share. I contribute to this asymmetry, even though I will live to see the consequences of the climate crisis because of my age. However, this does not mean that my interest in the climate and my desire to stop the climate crisis are worth less than if I lived a completely climate-neutral and self-sufficient lifestyle on a farm in the middle of a forest. I have been born into a society where the norm is to consume products and services that are bad for the climate. A society where it is incredibly difficult to live with nature. A world where it is not accessible for most people to live sustainably, perhaps because it is too expensive, or too time-consuming to be able to afford to make these choices. I am a person doing my best. I am a person often driving myself close to burnout trying to be as sustainable as possible, and feeling guilty when I slip up. I am not asking anyone to change all their habits, but I am asking them to become activists.

No one knows what the future looks like, but we know that we cannot continue as we do now. Therefore, through my activism, I don’t ask that individuals make small changes in their lives, but that governments change structures and through that, the destructive norms and systems that lead to climate change. What I want my activism to achieve is governments making crucial decisions that make sure no one can recklessly exploit our planet. Yes, in the long run, it means that many of the world's people will have to change their lifestyles, and that includes me. I will need to adapt. I can't say that I know everything about the climate, but I know that if we don’t act quickly, my future, and the future of all other young people, will be even harder than what is already predicted. Furthermore, there are already so many people suffering from consequences of the climate crisis today. Governments in countries like mine need to take responsibility for our historic emissions, and not let the discussions and solutions be reduced to individuals having the responsibility to change everything in their lives in a world telling them to do the opposite.

To answer the question; is it reasonable to expect climate activists to be perfect? No, it isn’t. What’s important is that we do what we can. That we first and foremost try to influence and pressure those who have the actual power to make changes, and then individually try our best to do what we can without shaming those who can’t.

About the Author

photo by Angie Gray

Isabelle is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Human Geography at Stockholm University.  She has been active in Fridays For Future in Stockholm for several years.