Climate Policy and the Laborer’s Back

via Giphy

Years ago, when I was a community college student starting to populate my parents’ yard with native plant species, my mother and I drove out to the boonies (or, at any rate, it felt that way to me) to pick up a blazing star. The guy who ran the place was a total old-school hippie. I wasn’t impressed. Hippies were the partiers; they lacked the activists’ honor (and their scars), and, as the daughter of an activist, I had grown up looking down on them. The blazing star, and everything else there, was really expensive, putting native plants out of reach for most of our area. Hippie dude thought it was great that gas prices were skyrocketing, because, he said, it would make all those losers stop driving and therefore the earth would be saved. I think my mother made some comment about how he was way out in the boondocks, which made it impossible to access his place without a car. I don’t remember. I just thought he was a clueless, privileged asshole, his foot on the worker’s back. Carl the Commie would probably have been proud.

I’ve thought about Hippie Dude (and his exorbitantly expensive blazing star) a lot as I’ve been watching the yellow vest protests in Paris. France—in particular Paris—has an incredible history of protest, a heritage of strikes and unionism that would be hard to beat anywhere in the world. (Macron probably forgot about that history, which was not the best move on his part.) I mean, my God, modern Paris exists because von Haussmann tore it all down and rebuilt it to prevent uprisings! (Spoiler alert: it didn’t really work. There may never have been a Commune II, but there will always be protests in Paris.)  A lot of the headlines I’ve seen have been incredibly frustrating, piling blame and condemnation at the feet of the workers behind the Yellow Vest protests. They must not love the environment if they’re protesting gas price hikes, headlines scream at me. (They’re also getting blamed for messing up France’s economy, which seems quite unfair.) None of them mention the ways in which hikes can affect the worker, whose budget is—no matter where he or she may live and work—always stretched thin anyway. It’s way more fun to lambaste labor than to admit they’re onto something, after all.

The French pay a hell of a lot for gas. Right now, a gallon is, in US dollars (for whatever they’re worth at this point), nearly $6. And, I mean, the French have health care, and pensions, and education, and that is all very rad—but, like workers everywhere, their budgets are stretched thin, and jacking up fuel will make it harder to pay bills. Perhaps most damning of all, hitting the average Anne or Pierre up for even more money—$10 gas, maybe?—won’t actually dent the people who are happily destroying the environment—because that honor goes to something like 100 giant companies, and, one would assume, a bunch of rich people who love private jets. Anne or Pierre will have a lot more trouble paying the bills; maybe they won’t get food on the table by the end of the month, or will struggle to make rent, or forgo saving this year. Blowhard the Jet Owner, on the other hand, probably won’t be affected at all.

There’s this idea that everyone can chuck the car and get along just fine. It is, much like a lot of the ideas I’ve seen for healthful and local eating, untenable for a whole lot of people—see, you’ve got to get to work somehow, and not everyone lives in an area with adequate public transit. (I’ll be honest: I’m not going to take public transit alone late at night.) An op-ed writer for The New York Times argues that the taxes must be reworked so as not to place an undue burden on those middle-class French we’ll call Anne and Pierre—but we need more than acknowledgements. We need our governments to stop dropping all responsibility into the laps of the workers, but to shove it where it belongs: into the hands of the wealthy corporations who got us here in the first place. The Nation covers the Yellow Vest movement pretty well, I think, from its inception to its financial implications for the people behind the movement; similarly, The Atlantic notes that France’s “green agenda” “‘must be inclusive.'” Thus far, at least, we westerners have done a piss-poor job of inclusivity, dropping everything into the labs of the workers rather than taking them home to the corporations. 

And, for what it’s worth, I think private jets should be banned already. 

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