Reducing harm

Recently I have been re-reading some of the notes I’ve made over the last few years about the climate and ecological emergency. Having devoured various books, articles, courses and documentaries I am much better informed than I was in 2018 when I had a wake-up call to the true severity of our predicament.

This is not a drill” is a short, pink book compiled by Extinction Rebellion. It is comprised of various essays exploring the climate and ecological emergency through a range of lenses, both professional and personal.

When grappling with the climate dilemmas, I am drawn to the chapter which makes comparisons between the war on drugs and the discussions we are having about the climate (Fighting the Wrong War – JS Rafaeli with Neil Woods). The following point is made:

The outsourcing of the individual to solve systemic problems, the familiar clichés that this will all be solved by individuals recycling, buying reusable coffee cups and possibly downloading an app.

Personal ethical choice is undeniably important, both for the drugs trade and the environment. But as thinkers and campaigners, we cannot let these discussions be weaponised to derail the push for systemic change.

This is not a Drill – page 42

The chapter goes on to identify four harm-reduction principles that are used in the drugs trade/addiction, and can be equally applied to how we respond to the dilemmas presented by the climate and ecological emergency:

  1. Pragmatism – not everyone can achieve abstinence. We need to meet people where they are, not where you wish them to be.
  2. Non-judgemental – people behave badly sometimes, but we are all still human. It is important to avoid the cultivation of stigmatising attitudes.
  3. User-friendly – need to be relevant, accessible, and give people what they need.
  4. Looking truthfully at where we are as a starting point.

These principles are useful reminders when engaging with individuals and communities on the climate emergency. We are all different – in different places, with different priorities, different lived experiences and expectations. There is already more than enough harm in the world, without our frustration adding to this and turning away the very people we need to engage and galvanise to rise to the problems which lie in our path.

I will return to these principles regularly to keep myself in check!

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