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Consumerism Vs. The Polar Ice

Trinity | Claire Cullen

I am on Erasmus. I flew to Stuttgart with three suitcases full of fast fashion, and when I arrived I bought new kitchen utensils, all made in China, designed in Europe. I bought a new phone charger because mine doesn’t work with the plugs here. I buy vegetables every week and put them into plastic bags, one bag per type of food. They are all aesthetically perfect; every carrot is orange and conical; every aubergine the definition of lustrous, dark, purple. The tomatoes come in tins for 79c. The bread comes in plastic-paper bags. The soap is pink and the sponges are soft and heart-shaped, the Starbucks brand iced-coffee in pre-packaged cups is sweet and milky, an approximation of coffee, a coffee ice-cream, melted. The strip lights shine down on a vast array of cheeses, bright white packaging, rows and rows of yoghurts, rows and rows of oats, beans, peas, spinach, canned, green, glorious. The wine, almost the same colour as the aubergine, is dry, or sweet, or rich, or round. Tannins. Are they the things that stop cancer, or cause it?

If my friend goes out with the Australian, his ex will find out and then it’ll be a whole thing. But she likes him very much. They’ve been going to McDonald’s together, which is different to at home McDonald’s. They have these potato croquette things, which I don’t recommend looking at too closely; the oil seeps up through the batter if you apply pressure. They taste delicious though. And they do this thing called a Daim Cappuccino, which is just a cappuccino with the McFlurry bits in it, and it comes with chocolate powder on top, and sugar, if you want it, and a mini cookie, in a powder blue cup, with cartoon animals, cartoon trees. I like those cups and I like those cookies, but their wrappers end up stuck, always, in your pocket, next to the receipts from contactless payments and bits of fluff. There aren’t any curly fries, though, or apple pies, or frappés as big as the ones we can get at home. It’s delicious, but it doesn’t fill you up so much. I always end up snacking before bed.

The radio says that men are becoming more infertile and it’s due to rising body weights and pollutants. The radio says that the methane shelf is closer to melting than we thought. The radio says we have twelve years. The radio says that radical environmentalist Nicolas Hulot has left the French cabinet without warning, citing apathy, citing lack of foresight. The radio says that emissions are up. The radio says that if we go past a certain point, we will not be able to go back ever again.

I google Cardi B’s latest scandal and roll cigarettes, send the smoke spiralling up into the purple evening. It’s been unseasonably warm in Strasbourg this Autumn, which has turned the leaves bright and beautiful, trees with red stones hanging weightlessly above our heads. The Alsatian farmers

are not so happy with the heat waves and cold snaps of the year, though; like in other countries, it’s badly affected their livelihoods. There are other problems here too. Despite protests, the government has decided to go ahead with a controversial new motorway ring-road around Strasbourg. The protests were anaemic, by French standards- if they really want to stop something, they generally manage it- but even still, it was well attended.

“Sorry I’m late,” the woman teaching the French as a foreign language course said. “I’m very tired. I’ve been up since five. They’re cutting down the trees on my road to make way for the beginning of the motorway.” On one of the two massive screens in the campus café, they are showing a 24 hour news channel. Usually they show old music videos on this screen but the breakfast rush has passed. Maybe the staff want to look at the news. It’s funny- the article I am reading on my phone is about the same topic as on the telly. It’s a beautiful television, wide, clear, flat, bright. The people on the screen are also beautiful, in a subdued kind of way. They’re professionals first, beautiful second, journalists third. The phone- cracked- is less beautiful. The story is also not beautiful. We’re closer to panic than we thought. We are going to boil ourselves alive and it’s going to hurt like hell while it’s happening.

I cannot do my groceries on Sunday, like I usually do, because in France everything closes down at 12 PM. It was difficult to get used to, at first, every shop being closed in broad daylight. “One day a week,” the French teacher said when we, étudiant-e-s visitant-e-s, brought it up. “You can go one day a week without consuming anything, can’t you?” We are going to have to. If, in fifty years, we want to look at a map and see that most of India and all of Bangladesh is still there, if we want Andalucía to be inhabitable, if we want polar bears- well. Too bad. It’s too late for the polar bears. Soon the last rhinos will die. The rainforests will be leached, and the oceans will be acidic and deoxygenated, and the coral reefs will be bleak, dead, colourless; like an empty battlefield, the earth will be still.

This is what we have already sacrificed. 100 companies- mostly energy companies- contribute 70% of global emissions. Capitalism will kill us unless we can sacrifice our own man-made biodiversity- no more iced-coffee cups, no more deep-fried potatoes, no more piles and piles of perfect vegetables. No more apples in Spring. This consumerism is killing us. Recycling by yourself is not going to cut it. The UN said it themselves: Unless we change the way we function, fundamentally, we will destroy ourselves. We have to get off the fence and pull ourselves together. We have twelve years.

It’s time for both the SU and student activists to start treating climate change with the same energy and dedication they showed in the Repeal campaign. As students in 2018, Climate Change is the issue that will define our lives, professionally and personally. Recycling bins are not enough- as a community, we need to become much louder.


Originally published 22.11.18 in Vol. 2 No. 1.


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