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2 Nov, 2021 13:25

We’ll never solve the problems COP26 is trying to address until those in power understand how real people actually live

Dr Lisa McKenzie
Dr Lisa McKenzie

Dr Lisa McKenzie is a working-class academic. She grew up in a coal-mining town in Nottinghamshire and became politicized through the 1984 miners’ strike with her family. At 31, she went to the University of Nottingham and did an undergraduate degree in sociology. Dr McKenzie is the author of ‘Getting By: Estates, Class and Culture in Austerity Britain.’ She’s a political activist, writer and thinker. Follow her on Twitter @redrumlisa.

Dr Lisa McKenzie is a working-class academic. She grew up in a coal-mining town in Nottinghamshire and became politicized through the 1984 miners’ strike with her family. At 31, she went to the University of Nottingham and did an undergraduate degree in sociology. Dr McKenzie is the author of ‘Getting By: Estates, Class and Culture in Austerity Britain.’ She’s a political activist, writer and thinker. Follow her on Twitter @redrumlisa.

We’ll never solve the problems COP26 is trying to address until those in power understand how real people actually live

Live better. Be greener. Eat more sustainably. All worthy messages, but wholly impractical for the many working-class people who are struggling simply to survive. This lack of understanding makes COP26’s excesses hard to stomach.

Hundreds of private jets. Helicopters. A 20-car US motorcade. Thousands of people have descended on Glasgow to ensure that world leaders, billionaires and the elite are comfortable and safe. And every one of their expensive needs is being met while they discuss climate change, greenhouse gases and the catastrophe that is happening to our planet – because of people like them. 

Of course, the green activists are there, too, reducing their carbon emissions by not eating meat. Instead, they’re having plant food that meets their vegan tastes flown into Scotland from Malaysia, having been packed in Thailand by people earning a dollar a day.

Also on rt.com COP26 will be a heady mix of climate hysteria, fear-mongering, and quasi-religious worshiping at the altar of ‘The Science’

By the end of the summit, everyone will probably agree that the planet is on the edge of collapse and we all need to take equal responsibility for what we have done. 

But I’m not having it. Any of it. I know what being on the edge really means, and that is where billions of people are all over the world – on the edge of starvation, on the edge of the land as the sea rises, on the edge with their mental health with the reality of homelessness always on the horizon, on the edge of surviving, only thanks to food banks, clothes banks, charities and the very bloody do-gooders who want to change the poor and not themselves.   

Yes, I’m angry. In fact, I’m enraged every time one of these major conferences on climate change and the environment takes place with the ‘big people’ relaying their ‘expertise’ about how we should all live better and ‘smaller’, but practising none of it themselves. 

I’m no climate-change denier – absolutely the opposite. I believe fully in the carnage and devastation that is coming, that is already here. But, as ever, it’s the poorest, and those with the least power, who are bearing the brunt, who are dying for other people’s life privileges. Eat less meat is one message that is constantly relayed – but how many of those issuing this ‘advice’ have completely unnecessary, meat-eating pets, for example? I’d bet Boris Johnson’s dog is living a better life than most of the working class in the UK.    

Where we are is completely unsustainable. We all know this. But we cannot have billionaires and trillionaires, politicians and blue bloods such as Prince Charles telling us we’re in the “last-chance saloon.” These people live in parallel worlds to the rest of us. The political class and the elite telling us it’s all our fault – and to take responsibility for things over which we have absolutely no control – is simply not working.

Even the middle-class activists who genuinely care and are fully aware of the dire situation are making matters worse by gluing themselves to roads and demanding we insulate our homes. The problem is that working-class people are aware we can’t go on like this, but have no power at all to do the things that are demanded of us. 

As more and more of us are renting, we have no control over our heating systems – many can’t even change energy suppliers because they’re locked into rental contracts with landlords and estate agents. 

Campaign groups such as Insulate Britain and Extinction Rebellion (XR) are arrogant, and clearly have no idea how working-class people live in the UK. This was perfectly demonstrated two years ago, when XR prevented people at Canning Town Tube station in East London from getting to work. During the morning rush hour, activists climbed on top of trains, stopping them from moving, and an angry crowd was forced to drag them off. 

XR simply didn’t understand how on the edge working-class people’s lives really are – missing work for one day can lead to rent not being paid, and, in that precarious situation, homelessness is a constant threat. Not getting into work on time for people who have jobs with no flexibility and no freedom, but, instead, a long line of supervisors and managers, can lead to extreme anxiety over the threat of potential discipline.

That simple act of getting to work in itself is full of stress, which is why the middle-class do-gooders’ eco message is lost and they come in for such criticism when they make working-class people’s lives harder.

Imagine a world, for example, with little or no public transport, in which buses randomly turn up, if at all, meaning they can’t be relied on and might lead you to be sanctioned for lateness, to lose an hour’s pay because you missed 15 minutes of work. These are the scenarios that people with space and resources to keep them away from the edge don’t understand. 

And they don’t understand, either, that, for many working-class people, a cheap car is not a luxury – it’s a necessity to get kids to school and themselves to work. What with the dire straits our public services and infrastructure are in, many families simply couldn’t function without their own car.

Making people feel bad about the ‘choices’ they make out of necessity never wins an ally – it always makes an enemy. And the global working classes need a voice in this debate, because they’re the ones who are suffering now, due to the unsustainable systems created and maintained to keep power and wealth within the same hands – and it is they, too, who will be eliminated from the planet through disease, starvation and poverty. I imagine the elites and the middle class will turn a blind eye to even that reality, however – after all, there are already too many of us on the planet, aren’t there?

Global working-class movements are our only chance to counterbalance both elitism and the middle-class charity narrative – after all, working-class people around the world place real value in the family and the local community. We know that the narrative of the individual and individual responsibility has been used as a stick to beat us with, to make us more institutionally productive and less self-sustainable. 

Also on rt.com ‘Chasing net zero to halt ‘climate change’ is an expensive folly… and COP26 is little more than a photo op for the elite’

If you want evidence of this, look at how the UK’s mining communities, in which I grew up, have been treated. Our livelihoods were taken away and we were left to rot, with no infrastructure, no jobs and no respect, eventually despised by both the elite and middle class for being old-fashioned and of no value – a residuum attached to narratives of the past, like community, family and solidarity.  

Those attending COP26, such as Joe Biden et al, will look after themselves. And those protesting, including Greta Thunberg and her ilk, know nothing about working-class lives. They are not our leaders and not our betters, and they offer no hope for a brighter, more sustainable future.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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