Eccentric orbits

Russell Brand’s political activism is a recipe for environmental disaster

Don’t not vote - it will only encourage them. EPA

They are all as bad as each other.

You can’t believe anything they say.

It doesn’t make any difference.

There are perhaps as many reasons for not voting as numbers of non-voters (35% of the electorate or 16m people in the last UK general election). As well as a general sense of disengagement with politics, there is a more radical reason to not vote. Rather than one candidate being replaced by another, you may want to see an entirely new system established. That is, you may seek a revolution. Until then, you aren’t going to give your tacit consent to a broken system.

Russell Brand continues to create headlines with his calls for revolution. Since his infamous interview with Jeremy Paxman, he has become an increasingly influential figure in a loosely organised community that expresses deep seated dissatisfaction with the way we are governed. While I share many of Russell’s concerns, I strongly disagree with his argument that there is no point in people voting. It’s vital that they do.

For example:

The claim that global warming is caused by man-made emissions is simply untrue and not based on sound science.

While you still come across comments like this on the internet, typically even the most radical climate sceptic takes a more nuanced approach. Not so for this person. He also quotes from the Bible to claim: “The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.”

Some people you will never convince, so best to effectively ignore them and try to convince others. I’ve argued that much myself. Unfortunately you would ignore this person at your peril because these quotes and contributions come from US Senator James Inhofe who will shortly become the Chairman of the US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Among other things, this committee determines funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The new face of US environment policy. Mohammed Jalil/Reuters

President Obama is currently using the EPA to improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions. Inhofe has in the past compared the EPA to the Gestapo and this week released a statement saying: “As we enter a new Congress, I will do everything in my power to reign in and shed light on the EPA’s unchecked regulations.”

If you wanted to learn more about his views, you could read his book The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.

Inhofe’s chairmanship will come as a result of last week’s midterm elections which saw Republicans form a new majority within the Senate. Consequently, a religiously motivated, anti-science climate sceptic is to become one of the most influential figures in determining America’s future carbon emissions.

Consider that in the light of the US-China bilateral agreement that would see significant reductions in carbon emissions in both countries. You may want to argue that this does not go far enough. I would agree with you. But having Inhofe and other climate sceptics as members of US Congress can only decrease the probability that any agreement limiting emissions will become binding law.

As the IPCC recently reported, we have an increasingly small window of opportunity to avoid environmental catastrophe. What we do over the next few decades, or even the next few years, really matters. Whether or not the US-China agreement becomes law matters. These laws are not sufficient but I would argue they are necessary because they can lead onto the required changes.

‘I’m James Inhofe and I approve this message.’ grahamc99, CC BY

You may have concluded that the sort of fundamental change we need to put the world on a trajectory of sustainable and equitable development are impossible with the current systems of governance in place. But if you are holding out for a revolution, if you want to insist that actions are performed “not in your name” then you risk looking on as others fill the political vacuum with policies that would lead us closer to disaster.

If all we do is vote, if our only contribution is to mark a cross on a ballot paper every couple of years or so, then I would agree with Russell Brand. We are doomed. But voting does not then mean you have no basis for undertaking other action or seeking fundamental change. You can petition, campaign, divest, march, occupy, and vote. The battle for climate change is occurring on many fronts and we all have different roles to perform.

The sort of flack that Brand receives should tell us that in some sense what he is doing is working. People are talking about these issues. But in arguing that there is nothing to vote for, he only offers the quick fix of being ignored by the people and processes that have real power.

One of the great revolutionaries of the 20th century, Martin Luther King, once said:

History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamour of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.

To not vote is to make ourselves mute at a time when we should be shouting as loudly as we can for the changes that are so desperately needed.