About that viral climate strike hoax photo…

Illustration by Sarah DeMercurio

A viral hoax photo of the climate strike aftermath has been circulating like wildfire. The photo claims to show a park in Australia riddled with garbage and accusing the climate strikers of the mess. It didn’t take long for this photo to be debunked. Within a few hours of it’s first share, the Guardian released an article calling out the false image. This image was actually taken after a 420 festival in Hyde Park London, UK back in April.

The real photo and explanation back in April of 2019.

I found out about the photo the Sunday following the climate strike when a woman posted it in a group dedicated to cleaning up Macomb County Michigan. “They claim to care about the environment,” she angrily wrote in her post. I immediately took to the, more times than not, helpful internet only to find the Guardian article almost immediately. Before I could call her out for passing along a fake image, several other members of the group had done just that, but not before the original post shared by a man named Joe Storkson — who may or may not have plans to run for office — was shared close to 200,000 times. By the end of the day, it had been shared close to 300,000 times and I predict it will hit 1 million in no time unless Facebook takes it down.

What if that photo was accurate after all? I’m sure when you have over 3 million people gathering around the world, you will most likely encounter a certain amount of litter. After all, it is an unfortunate characteristic of humans. Is that enough to discredit the entire climate movement? I would argue it is not.

Is the act of littering ever acceptable? Absolutely not. It drives me crazy and infuriates me when I’m on a walk or a run and pass a bunch of garbage on the side of the road. I once saw a man toss his coffee cup out the window of his car and wanted to speed up and tell him what a garbage human he was for doing that. Why would you ever feel so entitled to throw your trash on the ground at this point in our history? Who failed you in life to think that was an acceptable act? But it happens and will continue to happen because we have been living in a wasteful and very self-centered society.

While I would never condone the act of littering under any circumstance, even if you accidentally drop something, to call an entire movement hypocritical because of the actions of a few is what you call a hasty generalization and is one of the most popular fallacies as of late. If litter was left behind at a climate strike where nearly 3.5 million people were estimated in attendance throughout the world, and there is a good chance that did happen, do you really think it is logical to call that entire group of people hypocrites for the actions of only a portion of those strikers? I don’t, but I would have to say it is up to the leaders of the movement to address any form of littering that may have taken place. And we really don’t know the extent of these actions unless we were there, do we?

What is most irritating to me about this fake photo being used to discredit a very important movement is the fact that the same people attempting to use that photo as fuel, refuse to blame the real culprits of pollution or admit that we are in fact facing a very serious problem. While we sit here trying to point the finger at individual action, we allow those major corporations who contribute to the majority of carbon emissions and production of the very items used to litter to just skip by without any accountability. These companies pollute our environment 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and have been for decades. If you are privileged enough to not have to see it for yourself every day, I implore you to go hang out in the Delray neighborhood of Detroit’s Southwest side and tell me it isn’t a problem. So even if that viral photo was true, the amount of damage to the environment on that one day by that one movement, during that one event pales in comparison to the damage done by these companies on a daily basis.

I understand we are an angry society. We are always trying to “own” the other side in some way to try and prove our side is the right side, but we are really doing a lot of damage when we constantly take what we see on Facebook or our favorite news network at face value. It takes minutes if not seconds to find out if something is true and that’s all thanks to the people who take truth seriously and are tired of people hitting that ‘share’ button without thinking twice about it. Do the research and stop being part of the problem. You hate how people talk to each other these days? Then stop causing that disrespect. Over 200,000 people shared that false photo within 2 days of it being posted and not one of those 200,000 people attempted to verify it was accurate. Don’t be that person. I have reported that photo to Facebook as being fake and encourage anyone who comes across it to do the same until they do something about it. And to the people who willfully take these images knowing they aren’t accurate but so desperately want to stick it to those they disagree with, go do something productive for society.

Yes, Plastics Contribute To Climate Change. No, Straws Are Not The Only Problem.

I am aware of the many issues facing the planet. Over population, climate change, depletion of natural resources, endangered species, etc. Can I wave a magic wizard wand and make it better? No, I cannot. And sorry to say but praying aint gonna do it either. We need to act. So how do you get the government to put their foot down on these gigantic polluters and say, “No more. You’re done.” It seems damn near impossible. This is where I think change from the bottom on up comes into play. A wise man mentioned change happens from the bottom on up but his name conveniently slips my mind. Ok, so what kind of change? Well, why not start with consumerism? We all need to reduce our waste and you can do that by reducing your consumption. After all, it is reduce, reuse, THEN (when all else fails) recycle. We just sort of skip those first two and go straight to that third and least helpful step. And what seems to have many environmental enthusiasts freaking out about? Plastics. That sounds like a great place to start, or so I thought.

DON’T GET DISTRACTED WITH THE BIGGER FIGHT

I was feeling confident in my push to educate others and try to convince them to reconsider their plastic consumption. My husband and I have already been making an effort and it is much easier than one might think. I could tell people were becoming annoyed with my social media posts, however, which I found disheartening. If I couldn’t get those closest to me to reconsider their choices, especially after sharing my fears I have for my child, how was I going to convince an entire country? Nevertheless, I persisted. Then one day I saw “the tweet”.

“not to say plastic pollution isn’t a problem, rather there are much bigger problems facing the world we live in – specifically climate change.”                                                                                 

“Um. What?” I thought. Isn’t this part of the climate crisis? I mean we do know where plastics come from right? How would plastic production and manufacturing not play a role? And to have all those items just sitting there for all eternity. How is this not a problem? To help explain why this is so concerning to me, let’s consider how plastics are made. I am going to focus strictly on the biggest culprits and easiest to ditch such as cutlery, bags, to-go containers, straws, packaging for food and toiletries, etc, since they are responsible for 30% of plastic production. The plastic used for these particular items is mainly derived from polypropylene which begins as fossil fuel, the same fossil fuel your car runs on, and is then distilled and mixed with catalysts to eventually form plastic pellets. These pellets are then shipped to various manufacturers to make all kinds of wonderfully, non-biodegradable items that will be with us forever. For a more scientific explanation, check out this pdf.

FOSSIL FUELS. NOT JUST FOR YOUR AUTOMOBILE

When we consider the ways fossil fuels are extracted — drilling and mining — then transporting them and manufacturing them, one can see how dirty, damaging, and wasteful plastics are. You’re drinking water out of a vessel made from the same material your car runs on. This is the same material that helps poison your water, making you rely on water sold in a vessel made from that material that poisoned your water in the first place. It’s a horrible cycle beginning with an incredibly dirty process. Take fracking for instance, which requires an absurd amount of water and chemicals. One well takes 3 to 6 million gallons of water per well, and an additional 15,000-60,000 gallons of chemicals to extract the material. Much of the chemicals used in fracking are unregulated so the exact amount or type of chemical used is a mystery. That should piss you off. Of the known chemicals, 25% were found to be cancerous. Again, Why aren’t you pushing for change? Why are we accepting this?

It appears climate activists (not all) feel you need to push hard for clean energy now, no excuses, and forget the plastic problem. But you aren’t going to make that happen. There is still much to consider and unfortunately, politicians know that could hurt their careers if they push too hard to change industries which not only contribute to their campaigns, but also employ American citizens who could be left without jobs if a proper transition is not implemented. Why are democrats so afraid to even touch climate change? Sure they might mention it to look good, but has any one other than Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez really pushed for true change with an actual plan? Even still you have a population of Americans working for these industries who don’t feel confident they will have job training waiting for them once their coal mine is shut down. I really hope some of these politicians go speak with some of these folks. The coal miners in Kentucky, for instance, have been blocking coal from being delivered until they get their back pay. Those guys are interested in a transition to cleaner energy but they aren’t sure it will actually happen. I sympathize with people in these positions because it is their livelihood and they don’t know what else to do.

SO WHAT DO WE DO?

I don’t have all the answers and would never claim to. What I do have though, is the power of observation and a mind that won’t shut off. I see people talking about the climate crisis, but no one really doing anything. As someone who lives in the Metro Detroit area, I can tell you I don’t expect anyone in my life to ditch their cars anytime soon, or choose a job closer to home, or install solar panels on their over-sized house. What I can see is someone thinking twice about the products they purchase if they know how detrimental plastics are to the planet. I can see someone realizing recycling is becoming less helpful and is no longer a reason to feel good about your consumption, that reducing first is the more beneficial action. You can’t force people into major change. Unfortunately, you need to ease them in. Start from the bottom and work your way up. Educate. Enlighten. We may be running out of time, but we are too focused on what the Real Housewives are up to to care. Or we are convinced we are too busy or just can’t be burdened with all this devastating news while we are preoccupied with keeping up with Joneses. How do you get the government to act when the majority of their constituents don’t care? I’m sorry but I think it’s baby steps. So yes, push for major change, but offer everyday solutions to a much bigger problem. We need major energy overhaul in this world but until we get that, let’s focus on the things we can change right now.

By the way, after reading about the water wasted on fracking fuel for your disposable partyware, I don’t want hear anything about the water used to launder my infants bamboo reusable diapers.