No Choice: Environmental Sustainability and the UK’s Working Class

Earlier this year, I began to notice that the mainstream media was increasingly focussing on the ‘plastic-free’ narrative, frequently discussing the lives of both families and individuals who had decided to ditch disposables. Numerous articles emphasised that aspects of this change were easy – for instance, those rejecting plastic would replace their shop-bought milk with milk in glass bottles, delivered by a milkman, or use reusable beeswax wraps rather than single-use sandwich bags for packed lunches. They would then discuss the more challenging swaps, such as replacing plastic-wrapped supermarket vegetables with trips to the local greengrocer, or crafting items such as deodorant and hand soap at home. These are, of course, laudable achievements; any movement by individuals to live more sustainably, however small, is commendable.

However, the phrasing of these articles struck me. The same words reappeared: swap, make, switch. These are all words of action, and action requires choice. It occurred to me that by emphasising the ability to have such a choice, a section of our society was being ignored: the working class. Climate-crisis journalism consistently focuses on climate change’s unfairly distributed impacts: on the injustice of how the most marginalised, the world’s poorest, will be most adversely affected. Yet this is not merely a global inequality, but a local one too. Within the UK, the most marginalised members of our society — those who already lack a political voice — are most often the ones left behind and forgotten in climate discourse.

For many in the UK, making such visible and impressive sustainable choices is simply not possible, due to a lack of means and money, a lack of choice in local shops, and a lack of disposable time. By colouring sustainable living as a series of personal choices involving the investment of both time and money, we present it as something of a fashion choice, and, all too often, a competition for likes on Instagram. This attitude towards sustainability glamourises one form of personal climate action and ignores less-visible climate-friendly choices: choices which are not really choices at all, but are instead found in the very absence of choice.

Visit the Anthroposphere website to read the full article.

Share this


More blog entries