By Imogen Reed
Revolution is now a topic of debate in popular culture after outspoken British comedian Russell Brand told the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman in an interview, that later went viral, that it was “time for a revolution.” After attacking leading British ministers and their policies, Brand then turned his attention to the United States of America, pouring scorn on the disparity that exists in that nation between rich and poor, where, according to Brand, “three hundred of the richest Americans have the same wealth as eighty five million of the poorest Americans.”
While there is no denying that Brand has made a career out of controversial and often completely inappropriate comments, there can be no denying that his point to Paxman is valid. Although Paxman attempted to refute Brand by pointing out that Brand himself doesn’t even vote, Brand replied that he refused to vote, not out of apathy but because there was no political party worth voting for, ostensibly reiterating that revolution is the best way to usher in a more equal society.
Whether or not Brand was being ironic – his usual justification when challenged over some of his more unsavory stunts – his comments have struck a chord with many progressives, prompting even actor Donald Sutherland to give an interview in the Guardian in which he called for the younger generation to “organize and stand up” in order to make necessary changes to American society. Sutherland used his role in the forthcoming Hunger Games sequel Catching Fire to illustrate his point. In the Hunger Games trilogy, a revolution, led by teen Katniss Everdean, overthrows the corrupt and oppressive government of Sutherland’s character, President Snow. But, really, can America be compared to the dystopian future Katniss and her peers inhabit? Sutherland thinks it can, citing drone strikes, tax dodging by wealthy corporations, racism and the Keystone oil pipeline as justification for revolution, as well as the denial of food stamps to starving Americans, eerily reminiscent of Katniss’ plight.
A Green Revolution?
Perhaps the dystopia of the Hunger Games is not so far away from the America Brand describes, with the wealthy three hundred, represented by Snow and his cronies, and the poor, represented by Katniss and those in the Districts. It’s worth remembering that the dystopian future of the trilogy comes about because of a global environmental disaster, most likely human-made. Is perhaps a revolution of the kind Brand and Sutherland seem to be calling for needed on the environmental front? After all, governmental intervention appears to be going nowhere fast in spite of the many summits that world leaders attend on a regular basis (increasing their carbon footprint as they do so). Ever since the hopes of Copenhagen in 2009, subsequent summits in Cancun, Durban, Doha and Warsaw have added to the frustration. As the need for drastic action to be taken on the matters of global warming and climate change increases, could a call to arms inspire the younger generation – typically those who power revolutions – out of electoral apathy and into active revolt? Or, at the very least, to make their voices heard? Yeb Saño, the Philippine delegate to IPCC in Doha last year, certainly thinks so. He is on record as stating that “The climate change battle will not be won or lost at the international level; it will be won or lost at the grassroots level.” This November in Warsaw saw Yeb Saño committing to a 12-day fast during the Warsaw talks in the aftermath of the devastating typhoon which hit his own country. The appeal was “it’s time to stop this madness.”
A Rallying Call from Europe
Americans who have grown apathetic about climate change could learn from taking a look at some of the European youth movements that have sprung up in the wake of the failure of world leaders to effectively address the issue. If Brand’s and Sutherland’s hypothetical revolution is going to start anywhere, perhaps it will be here. The younger generation is right to be concerned with environmental policy – after all, they are the ones who will inherit the world we leave behind, and in Europe in particular more and more groups are springing up, beginning at a grassroots level, determined to hold world leaders to account and to push for change. For the young, seeing the mistakes their elders are making with regard to global concerns, perhaps the dystopia of President Snow does not seem all that far away, and so they need their voices heard. For example, Tine Radinja, President of the European Youth Forum, has called on the governments of the world to include more youth representatives in forthcoming climate change conventions. Moreover, in 2012 young people across Europe took to the streets in outrage over the EU’s “embarrassingly weak”CO2 reduction targets. Hundreds of young people gathered in Warsaw, Poland before COP 19 to urge the United Nations to actually take action rather than sit around and merely talk about taking action. The EU has often been looked to by the UN to take the lead on environmental matters, but young people across Europe are fighting to take matters into their own hands as they feel the European Union is simply not doing enough, and not aiming high enough. In America, often criticized for not doing enough on environmental policy, this may be even more true.
Corporations, Consumers and Culture
Some American corporations have indeed taken environmental issues very seriously, such as initiatives within the cruise ship industry to transform both their entire ethos as well as their practices. As Iglu Cruise reveals, Disney Cruise recycles its cooking oil waste to power machinery, saving up to eight thousand gallons of fossil-based fuel a year. Such decisions on the part of major companies are often influenced by the voices of the up and coming generation – for these are the consumers of the future. The power of the consumer, particularly in a capitalist economy such as America, should never be underestimated, and this may be one way in which Americans who want to influence corporate and government policy on the environment can flex their muscles. Sutherland in his Guardian article also stresses the power of film and popular culture to rouse emotions and increase awareness, and this is another way that American youth can both influence and be influenced, and that well-known bands like the Backstreet Boys and 30 Seconds to Mars have demonstrated. Perhaps the younger generation of American youth is not as apathetic as some would have us believe.
Will the Real American Youth Please Stand Up?
Sutherland also describes the burning desire for change that he believes lies under the hopelessness many of our young experience when they contemplate the future. Dissatisfaction with environmental concerns, growing poverty and feelings of injustice – show us we are indeed ripe for a revolution. According to public opinion pollster David Metz, more and more American teens are aware of the need to prioritize climate change and environmental concerns, and at the same time are increasingly of the opinion that government leaders are not doing enough. It seems some of them at least may be starting to listen. When President Obama finally unveiled his Climate Action Plan earlier this year, he too recognized the importance of youth and future generations in bringing about sustainable change. It may be that it is indeed the younger generation that will need to step forward to rectify the mistakes the current generation have made. Unfair perhaps, but the sense of injustice is often what spurs on any revolution or reform.
Imogen is a finance and economics writer based in London and also writes for a number of finance journals and price comparison sites as well as supporting a number of greener living blogs showing how financial success and economic growth can be achieved whilst reigning in the damage humanity does to the environment.