Hello folks! First off I have a bit of housekeeping. For the next 3-4 weeks, I will be taking a hiatus from the “Sustainability Challenge” posts. I will be going out of town for the next two weekends, and if I’m very, VERY lucky, I will be at Otakon the weekend following. I still want to put out content, but I want to make sure I’m giving you guys all the facts for the weekly challenge posts. So for the next few weeks, you’ll be seeing more opinion/ lifestyle pieces from me.
Now, without further ado, I pose you with the following question: Is “whataboutism” stalling the green movement?
What is “Whataboutism”?
According to the Oxford dictionary, whataboutism can be defined as:
The technique or practice of responding to an accusation or difficult question by making a counter-accusation or raising a different issue.
I see this a lot in politics, especially at home in the United States. Republicans and Democrats will butt heads over everything from healthcare access to the weather outside. One of the methods they seem to use a lot when combatting each other is whataboutism. In fact, this is one of Trump’s favorite tactics for derailing conversation. Instead of accepting blame or actually answering a question, attention is diverted to a completely different subject. It is surprisingly effective…and extremely frustrating.
Whataboutism in the Green Movement
I see whataboutism coming up a lot in the green movement lately. The most relevant example I have seen is related to the growing number of proposed bans on plastic straws. When people see this ban, I have seen a lot about people asking, “what about people with disabilities?” I have also seen people asking, “but what about the larger pieces of plastic? Are plastic straws really going to make a difference?” In fact, a friend of mine recently posted about his own frustration with whataboutism (in relation the the straw issue) on his Facebook wall. Most of the responses to this post were even more comments falling into the category of whataboutism! This line of thinking is pervasive, especially on social media. And it’s a problem.
Why is Whataboutism Harmful?
Whataboutism essentially allows people to feel justified in doing nothing. That may sound harsh, but that’s how I see it. People don’t want to ban plastic straws because people with disabilities need them. This a completely valid point! We still need to make sure that people have access to the things they truly need! However, this does not mean that we should drop the straw issue entirely. Instead of automatically giving out straws to every customer, restaurants could offer to give out straws by request only. Not only does this vastly reduce the usage of plastic straws, but it still ensures these items are available to the people that need them.
Continuing with the straw example, people often point out larger sources of pollution that are causing more damage than straws and wonder if removing straws will really make a difference. My response to that is that every little bit helps. No, eliminating straws alone is not going to fix the planet. But it’s a start. Imagine if all 7 billion people on the planet did something small to reduce their impact. That would be HUGE! Additionally, talking about straws makes people think about other sources of pollution in their lives. If people realize that straws are a problem, they are more likely to start tackling larger issues over time. It’s all about awareness and education.
We Need Compromise as Well as Action
In someways, whataboutism in the green movement has been a good thing, because it makes us self-aware. However, too often people use whataboutism to develop a nihilistic point of view and give up the fight. Instead we need to find compromises and work together to perfect the green movement. Straws still need to be available to people with disabilities. However, we can still reduce our straw waste by partially banning them. And no, straws don’t make a huge dent in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch floating in the ocean. So let’s reduce straws and other pollution. It doesn’t have to be one or the other! We need to self-aware to be a successful movement, but we need to use that self-awareness for positive change. I hope the next time you hear whataboutism in the discourse surrounding the green movement you will find opportunities for compromise and action so we can all keep fighting the good fight.
Thanks for reading! Yes…I did use this post to plug in more photos from my New Zealand trip. But I hope you enjoyed them! Have some of your own experiences with whataboutism in the green movement? Leave a comment below!