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protection of the environment for all
Of social classes, the environment and the shoulders of giants

How to solicit mor economic responsability
© Goethe-Institut Italy | Illustration: Caterina Laneri

Ciao. This article is about environmental protection and class (as in ‘social class’, not like the one in your middle school with whom you once reunited in 2014 to eat pizza together, and hey, did you see how huge so and so got? Unbelievable. It seems like just yesterday we were calling him Gimli, like the dwarf from Lord of the Rings… my, how time flies). The whole thing works a bit like a box full of sources (the article, that is, not the bit about Gimli, your middle school chum). We look at three problematic statements and then take stock. 

By Gabriele Magro

I believe that the working class is not committed enough to environmental protection

This is partly true, and partly a cultural discourse that has less to do with the class question than one might think. The issue is perhaps best explained by the sociological concepts of centre and periphery. It is all explained here

There are also environmental movements that are grassroots initiatives, but they often lack the media coverage to make themselves heard. Marco Armiero explains this very well in an article published in the daily Il Manifesto: 

A few weeks ago, Berta Cacereres was murdered in Honduras. The biographies of activists like Berta prove that environmental protection is far from being a hobby for wealthy ladies and excursionists."


Many so-called green jobs are not available to unskilled and working-class people. (...) Market-based and individual responses, from changing light bulbs, to carbon trading and patentable 'techno fixes', have dominated the public discourses on solutions to environmental problems. These strategies have had minimal impact and little, if any, meaning for working-class people.

Federica Tessari

I believe that the environmental movement has a problem with classism

If it didn't, I wouldn't have written an article about it, would I? Yes, the environmental movement has a problem when it comes to including the so-called low-skilled workers (try serving thirty tables in a restaurant and we'll see who is low-skilled here). Karen Bell explains ever so vividly why in an article for the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development:

When we talk about environmental activists, we think of people like Greta Thunberg, who became famous through the internet. We don't think of activists like Isra Hirsi, who fought for Flint, Michigan, to get access to clean water.

Federica Tessari

The full article is available here.

I'm not sure whether the climate justice movement is inclusive enough 

I'm not sure about that, and neither is Asuka Kähler; see the last article in this blog on this very topic. You can find here. I also don't know whether the problem has to do with the internal dynamics of activist groups or if it is more a media issue: It may also be that the media focus  their narrative on educated white youth because they are more reassuring to everyone. As Mahlet Sugebo writes in  this article:

These local struggles can remain hidden because the working-class people involved usually don't have friends with appropriate professional backgrounds - in the media, in government and in academia - who could help draw attention to their work. This contributes to the illusion that environmentalism is the domain of the middle class.

Karen Bell

Again, Karen Bell sums it up perfectly in an article for the Guardian:

Citizens of poorer countries, where there is a threat of loss of resources through environmental degradation, often have a particularly strong environmental awareness.

Stefano Liberti

The bottom line, which we broached at the beginning

To be very brief: It is necessary for those in the centre to create a stage and then leave it to those in the periphery. We all benefit from this, particularly for the following reason: Von sozialen Klassen, der Umwelt und den Schultern von Riesen © Goethe-Institut Italien | Illustration: Jacopo De Santis The corresponding article in the New York Times is available here.

Conclusion: It is undoubtedly somewhat disheartening at times that when it comes to mobilizing society, we are dwarfs on the shoulders of giants. A glimmer of hope comes when we realise that the giants, the historical changes and the agents of these changes, are themselves dwarfs, each sitting on the shoulders of their predecessors. And with that, I'll cease and desist from body-shaming Gimli.

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