Yes, the planet got destroyed. But for a beautiful moment in time we created a lot of value for shareholders.
– Anon.

No, this commentary is not about the circus we used to go to as kids, fascinated by all the magic and fun – but the similarities will become obvious.

Ever heard of Meatless Mondays? That's a campaign coaxing people into eating less meat in the name of the environment. Of course this is a good idea – there's nothing wrong with our overfed society eating less meat. Except this may be just a side to the story.

Many examples could be named but let's just look at one more: the No Wash movement. Yes, we can all save a lot of water and detergent and it definitely reminds us to gently reduce our personal ecological footprint. Washing clothes less often also frees up our time, which might be the ultimate resource. And yet...

What if all these efforts and trends end up being just a distraction? Intentionally or not, what if they work as an anesthetic and blind us to the real source of the Earth's problems? What if we need a red pill? What could be the evidence if we were in fact living in a blue-pilled society?

For one, the actual reasons for the dire straits humankind finds itself in would be obfuscated. And when we focus our efforts on cutting our own individual water consumption, we turn our focus to the individual's dimension and away from the other ones. We essentially (albeit unconsciously) assume that the individual dimension is where everyone’s attention is better spent and can have the best impact. Or at least make a sizeable dent in the problem. But that's so far from the truth that it can only mean it's a lie. 

So what's wrong with saving on water usage? Nothing. But of all water withdrawals worldwide, a whopping 70% is going to agricultural irrigation. Household consumption is responsible for a mere 10% and industry degrades only 20%. So, should we be investing our time focusing on the least impactful element in the equation? Are all other water uses perfectly optimized already? Of course not.

Let's look into the most clear and present danger facing the environment we all depend on for survival: climate change. What would blue pill shills be telling us? Likely that there's a technofix such as carbon capture & storage (or carbon offset credits) so we needn't really worry about anything irreversible and oh by the way please let's not question the status quo (fossil fuel industry dixit). Or, better yet, that climate change is a hoax, a fraud engendered to take away our hard-earned rights and freedoms. This, by the way, is exactly what the far right has been telling us in Europe for quite some time. But these are lunatic fringe groups that nobody listens to, maybe? Except this fringe is now taking up seats in parliaments and national governments, winning local elections and sporting a following that grows with each passing day. And in the United States it's definitely not a fringe – it's the Republican Party and fearmongering has become their middle name. Works like a charm on all those less susceptible to the green trailblazing hitch.

How are these people bankrolled? By the very economic interests that stand to lose with even the smallest green new deal. No mystery there! Either by distracting us into thinking we need to get out the carbon footprint calculator and reduce our personal travel or food numbers, or by coercing the collective conversation into a "jobs vs. climate" debate with a foregone "the economy cannot afford it" conclusion (which in itself is also a distraction), we the people are being scammed out of our future by those with highly overstuffed pockets: the 1% and their moles in governments and international bodies. 

It is worth noting that of all anthropogenic carbon emissions an astounding 85% come from fossil fuels. And this is the biggest magic trick of all: faced with such a massive level of blame still the industry's lobbyists were able to keep the Paris Agreement text from even mentioning fossil fuels and the COP27 outcome from referring to oil or gas. What a disappearing act.

So, what should I focus on: my 7 tons of yearly CO2 or the industry's 34 billion tons? Does anyone still feel the need to channel their energies into biking to work every day? Gaslighting is the right word for what's happening to our collective minds – all expenses paid by our friends at the top.

Have a great and impactful week!

Margarida Silva
Environmental Sciences Professor, Faculty of Biotechnology, Catholic University

Subscribe here to receive our weekly newsletter.