Environmentalism: Think today for tomorrow

Rizal Faisal

Amanina Shofry, a graduate of environmental studies at the University of California, Berkeley, said that she has been pegged the ‘green girl’ since high school.

She said that people always came up to her to apologise for not recycling and some even thought of her whenever they were about to recycle their trash. “These ‘environmental sins’ were constantly confessed to me,” she said in jest.

In an interview with the Bulletin, Amanina shared her views on ways to reduce one’s carbon footprint.

“When people tell me about their ‘green sins’, I always tell them ‘I don’t blame you, I blame the industries that put us here’. I tell them that over 70 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions since 1988 come from about 100 companies. I tell them that placing the weight of responsibility of climate change on the shoulders of individuals is not only silly, but dangerous,” she said.

She continued, “Over the years, environmentalism has made it onto every mainstream media channel. The media usually talks about global warming impacts at such a macro level, it seems unimaginable. Rising sea levels, deforestation, melting ice – these impacts are so far away that they are everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

“However, the second we talk about what we can do, suddenly, we get on a microscopic level. Use metal straws, turn off your lights, eat less meat. Often environmentalism gets pigeon-holed into personal consumerism. We aren’t challenged to think further than individual purchases. We are told that if we all just did a little bit more climate change would be over.”

Amanina said that this kind of thinking is very dangerous.

“If we place the responsibility onto individuals it is incredibly easy to fall into the ‘we’re all doomed’ mindset. We either get cynical or apathetic – neither are places we can be in the midst of a climate catastrophe.

“In the face of such a complicated issue, we do well to recognise the root causes. We have to realise that harmful emissions come from a handful of companies.

“As a society, we have to let go of that individual blame and work collectively to hold the right companies and institutions accountable.

“I’m not saying that having reusable bags or using a metal straw is a bad thing – these are often meaningful places to start conversations about environmentalism. However, they cannot be where these conversations end.

“Climate change is a complicated problem. We have to start thinking systematically if we are going to help those that are most the vulnerable to climate change.

“The reality is, those that have contributed the least to climate change are the ones that are going to be the most impacted. In our efforts towards a more climate just future, we have to ensure that our actions help the most vulnerable first.

“Climate change isn’t something that is far from us either, we already see the changes in Brunei’s weather – intense forest fires and floods at a higher frequency. We need to make sure that we are allocating the right amount of resources to the ones impacted by environmental degradation, locally and globally,” Amanina added.

She believes an intersectional and holistic approach to environmentalism is key to moving forward.

“Environmental justice is also social justice and economic justice. We can’t advocate one without advocating the others. These causes are intertwined and one shouldn’t be sacrificed for the sake of others,” she said.

Amanina sees more people jumping onto the environmental bandwagon as environmentalism grows in popularity. However, she questioned when environmental commitments are made, do we also ensure commitments to other causes such as equality?

“We can’t just have environmentalism that scratches the surface; we need to push for meaningful commitments to progress,” she asserted.

She noted that there are a lot of companies making serious commitments to environmentalism. In the United States (US), tax cuts were given to major companies. Patagonia, an outdoor wear company, donated its tax cut (around USD10 million) to environmental organisations.

“I’m not saying that our individual actions are not significant in the larger scheme of things. In Brunei, we use over 8,000 kilogrammes of oil per capita. In comparison to our neighbours, our carbon footprints are much larger. To ignore that wouldn’t be fair,” Amanina said.

She recommended that we start thinking about how we as a nation can be a better advocate for the environment by thinking on a national level: what industries we are investing in and what the country will look like in 20 or 50 years’ time.

She said, “The decisions we make today will impact us for generations So what can we do? I think that in my entire time as an ‘environmentalist’, this is the most frequently asked question. The truth is I don’t have the answer; there isn’t a step-by-step guide to fixing this problem. What I do know is that climate change is already here. Climate disasters are increasing all over the world and we are already seeing the impacts.

“It is daunting and overwhelming to think about the steps that we can take to fight against climate change but change always starts with people. It starts with reading, and learning, and having conversations.

“For a change, we have to show up, ask the right questions and act. It means attending policy forums and town halls, it means learning and unlearning, getting involved and organising community events, and advocating for institutional change at work, at school, and in the government. It means taking action beyond our own individual consumption.”