An Open Letter: Please, Don’t Talk to Me About Plastic Bags

The Relative Importance of Plastic Bags: The tragedy is that we’ve already solved climate collapse, we know what we should do, but people, corporations and governments won’t do it.

New Zealand: The School Strike for Climate attracted over 40,000 people to Parliament. There is no doubt that this is the biggest issue we have ever faced.

The strength of my position has always been a single-minded proposition: Declare a Climate Change Emergency. At a national level, like they have done in so many other countries. This will not happen due to the immediate political situation here in NZ, but we are not giving up asking. It is a basic foundation for meaningful change in the climate crisis.

By being neutral I attracted a lot of support. It doesn’t matter what political flag you’re waving, what colour skin, age etc…this is something that can unite everyone. When people came up to me and said what should we do about the situation, I would always stay polite and neutral, saying this is not my political soapbox, it’s up to the people who are democratically elected to form urgent law and policy around this issue.

You see, as soon as I say “we’ve got to do this, this or that” then I lose my neutral position, and people including the media can get their knives into me with their own political agendas and beliefs. Many people are in various stages of denialism over the whole issue as it’s not convenient to their lifestyles, or doesn’t suit their world view. By the end of this letter, you might be one of them.

Why? If you want to know the shocking truth of the reality of the situation, then here it is. I have to warn you, you will likely not accept what I am writing but it’s the truth, based on research and scientific fact – once you’re aware of the urgency of the issue, you can’t ‘un-see’ it:

Firstly, we should stop being concerned with all this micro-consumerist bollocks like using metal straws or shopping with cotton bags. Yes, it’s worthy, but it should be instinctive anyway. As consumers there’s only two things we can do to create real change: go vegan, and don’t fly. But even if every person on the planet did this, it’s still not going to be enough.

We’ve got to get to the central issue, which is to stop predatory capitalism. Any system that demands endless growth on a finite planet is doomed to catastrophic failure as resources dry up – endless growth/finite resource is an impossibility, yet we are locked into that system and we’ve already hit all environmental and ecological boundaries. We cannot ‘grow’ anymore. Even a seemingly modest 3% growth means doubling in 25 years and we can’t do that. We have to stop measuring things by GDP.

Unless the system changes, it’s game over. However, the system won’t change in time to save ourselves, as vested interests are too dug in to relinquish their grip even in the face of a mass extinction. The emergence of right-wing politics in the form of Trump, Bolsonaro, Jonson, Morrison and others all indicate a swing towards fascism in a time of global uncertainty. Fascism champions the survival of the ‘strong’ over the fall of the ‘weak’. They are actively promoting anything that can accelerate climate collapse, as we’ve seen with the Amazon, coal, new areas opened up to oil, mining etc and many other things. It’s called Ecocide – intentionally destroying ecosystems and degrading the climate for short term gain no matter what the consequences. The consequence is genocide. They want climate collapse to do their dirty work, as it suits them very well. So we’re not in a sixth mass extinction, we’re in a deliberate first mass extermination.

Right now, latest thinking from science is we’re on course for around 4-6°C of global heating by 2050. At 4°C, the only habitable places are as per the below chart from The Guardian.

Credit: The Guardian

The population of NZ is likely be around 200 million by 2050, which is a conservative estimate, and it won’t be a democracy. The crash of the global financial system and the death of billions of people will happen well before that. Wars over dwindling resources will escalate and it is likely to go nuclear. Even if by some miracle it doesn’t, we’re in extreme danger from the 450 current operational nuclear reactors around the world as society collapses, as any system to maintain or de-commission them may very well not exist.

So without wholesale systemic change, which needs to be immediate, anything else is like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. This is the gravity of the situation, and Governments can’t admit that otherwise there would likely be a breakdown in law and order. Any changes that need to be made are already so severe and restrictive that no one would vote for the political party that suggests them.

Would you vote for a government that:

  • Allows you 1 national return flight per year only, if at all
  • Enforces veganism
  • Regulates how much power you can use, and when
  • Takes away your petrol car immediately, stopping you driving
  • Makes you take other people into your house as climate or economic refugees
  • Limits your food to local, seasonal produce
  • Caps your income
  • Limits the number of children you have
  • Etc.

I’d say that most people won’t vote for this. I would, but I don’t think too many will follow – you’d get called a nutter, an extremist, a revolutionary. And please remember, this kind of austerity needs to be applied to all countries and societies worldwide, as emissions don’t respect international boundaries. There’s no point one country doing it if others don’t follow and do the same.

So unless we immediately adopt what most people would call radical eco-socialism with zero growth, it’s most likely game over. The utter tragedy of the situation is that we’ve already solved climate collapse, we know exactly what we should do, but people, countries, corporations, vested interests and governments won’t do it.

Besides all this, we must live in Active Hope. Humanity has to be able to do it. An oyster, in response to trauma, grows a pearl. Where there is life, there is Hope. Not passive hope which is debilitating, but Active Hope that leads to Courage and Action. So please, don’t talk to me about plastic bags.

Kind regards and much love,


Plastic bags in ground
Plastic, a huge problem but far from our most pressing

Also: An Interview with the author, Ollie Langridge

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