Environmentalism or Tokenism?

Understanding whether policies are truly green is a tricky concept to navigate with the swathes of green washing and popular policies implemented to hide from the truly hard work that needs to be done. Isla Stubbs dissects the notion of environmental tokenism, to offer another perspective on how government policies should be taken with a pinch of salt when it comes to true environmental benefits.

Whether it’s through David Attenborough documentaries or Greta Thunberg and her school strikes for climate, increased need for improving environmental issues is coming into the light for governments and companies across the world. However, are recent changes merely being used as a marketing ploy, or to make governments seem like they’re helping?

Image Credits: silviarita

The term “tokenism” is mainly used in workplaces for terms of the appearance of sexual or racial equality and is defined as “the practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to do a particular thing.” This can also be seen in environmentalism, as many companies have recently made small changes to their products in attempts to make their customers feel like they’re helping. This one minor change is only helping a small proportion of a much larger problem.

An astonishing 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean every year, with straws making up only 0.025% of it. Banning plastic straws will not save the planet. It is as simple as that. Yes, it should still be done, and the environment shouldn’t use them, but we can’t keep focusing on it if we want to see real change. Over the past year or two, companies have been moving to paper or starch-based biodegradable straws, but is this really what they need to change?

Governments are also part of this problem, not only within the plastic problem. Town councils across the country plant up flower beds across areas around villages, towns and cities. This makes them aesthetically appealing and appear to be a benefit to the environment. I mean, they are planting flowers, right? What’s wrong with that?

Flowers don’t appear naturally in neat rows with perfect borders, so why should they be planted like this? Instead, areas like this could simply be scattered with native wildflower seeds, such as buttercups, cowslip, and yarrow. Creating the perfect flowerbed is high-maintenance, so the change to wildflower areas would cost less money and require little-to-no maintenance as these plants thrive off neglect. As insect populations are drastically diminishing, this change to wildflowers could provide help to bees, butterflies, hoverflies and other pollinating insects that we rely on for food production. The problem is that most see this as overgrown, like the council don’t care, when instead it helps to maintain a healthy ecosystem.

Image Credits: MabelAmber

Rather than government bans on problems like plastic bags and straws, money needs to be invested in fixing systematic issues and the sources of the problems. Redesigning plastics so they can be biodegradable, improving recycling technology and only making plastic that is available for recycling are just some of the steps we need to take to truly see improvements. Educating the public is also an important step we need to take for us to truly appreciate the natural beauty of wildflowers and the wildlife that they bring.

We need more than aesthetic water bottles and pretty flowers to truly help the environment. True change comes from education, and companies and governments doing everything they can to help, not just the bare minimum.

About the Author: Isla Stubbs is an Environmental Science student at the University of York and is passionate about conservation and environmental issues.

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