The recent protests in France created a lot of debate around the connection between social, economic and environmental issues. Most of the mainstream media in Europe and the US spun the current protest of the Yellow vests (Gillets Jaunes) in a way which creates a false dichotomy between economic equality and social justice on one side and environmental progress on the other. Since the Yellow vests protests were sparked because of outrage surrounding the fuel taxes many media outlets tried to portray that the protestors are against regulations that would reduce our greenhouse gas emissions or even against taxes in general. In reality, social and environmental issues are not contradictory and most of the protests are aware of this fact.
Austerity won’t solve climate change
Environmental issues can’t be solved by austerity policies and cutting a bit of emissions here and there wont help either. Climate change requires us to restructure our economies and this could be very beneficial for most workers. In the US, in 2016, ”there were over three million jobs” in non-fossil energy and energy efficiency, compared to only about one million in fossil energy. This is one of the reasons why the fossil fuel industry doesn’t want to see a renewable energy revolution, it costs far less to employ drilling machines than humans. If you have to employ more people to generate the same amount of cleaner energy you are likely to gain much less profits. While this is bad news for shareholders, its great news for the unemployed, underpaid people and the economy in general.
Consumption taxes on products like oil and meat can be a very useful tool in the fight against environmental destruction, but they will never be able to solve the problems. We need to create the infrastructure for a renewable economy, and the market forces are completely incapable of creating this shift by themselves. We need tight and innovative regulations and we need serious investments in the new green economy. And all of this needs to happen in a very narrow window of time.
We need green infrastructure
I can’t speak for other people, but I don’t have the feeling that the Yellow vests were protesting the carbon tax, because they want more oil to drive their cars all around France. Many of the protestors need to go to work with a car on a big distance and they don’t have other options available. It’s not enough to put a tax on the oil you have to build an infrastructure for transportation services that would bring them to work in a cheaper and more ecological way. Or you need to provide them with good working opportunities in the places where these people live. Sustainable technology can do both and we already have it.
Taxes aren’t the problem
France is a country that had a strong social state during a very long period of time which is one of the most defining features of the French democracy. Most people don’t have a problem with paying taxes, they just don’t feel like the tax money is being spent in a way that helps them. Since the economic crash of 2008 the tax policy of Europe is essentially focused around dismantling the social state and the healthcare system combined with the privatization of whatever public utilities are left in the hands of the states.
“We can’t afford sustainability”
The ecological transition will cost us money, since it will force us to restructure many major sectors of our economy. We often hear that we can’t afford to have a green economy, but its cost is dwarfed by the costs associated with our inaction against climate change. Besides, these shifts in our economy could be very beneficial for most people. They will not only redistribute resources, but will also democratize power, like in the case of the renewable energy production. We are going to have to adjust our consumption patterns and taxes can definitely help us do that, but they can’t do it alone. I’m not an economist, but I do believe that austerity is not addressing the problems, it’s just exacerbating them. Austerity doesn’t build infrastructure, and it certainly can’t create the green economy that we need. Pollution and environmental deregulation are always more profitable than responsible production patterns…
United we stand
Don’t fall for the narrative of the media and the politicians who would like to divide us into two camps. We can have economic and social and environmental justice at the same time, in fact we can’t have social justice without environmental justice. Poorer people are the most affected by the pollution and climate change. The solutions to these problem should go hand in hand, poverty creates environmental destruction and environmental destruction worsens the living conditions and economic opportunities of poor people.
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