Like many of you, I moved through Wednesday and indeed most days which have succeeded it in a state of near-constant despair and fear following the news that Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States. Again, like many of you, I had naively thought surely not, relegating the nightmare scenario to the back of my mind; surely attitudes in the nation had not reached this point. Surely an openly bigoted, hateful, misogynist rapist would not be elected to run the most powerful country in the world. Surely not, I thought, but then.
As a privileged Western woman – straight- and white-passing, able-bodied, with the economic means to support herself – the sadness I’ve felt in the wake of the election result has felt complicated, and at times almost self-indulgent. I ache for the women whose reproductive rights are now jeopardised, for LGBTQ+ people who’ll face a renewed wave of hatred against them, for people of colour who’ll continue to fear for their lives on a daily basis, now with the confirmation that swathes of the white American electorate don’t care.
It has been hard to express my feelings (on Twitter, for example, where I feel there is a certain pressure to show that you have an opinion in 140 characters) without centering the plight on myself; even now, I fear I’m doing a poor job of articulating it. I am trying, instead, to amplify the voices of others, of speakers within marginalised groups, who need the support of the privileged now more than ever before.
Planet and privilege
Another terrifying aspect of this upcoming presidency is the impact it will have on the planet. Trump is a known denier of the effect that greenhouse gases and fossil fuels have on the environment; his VP, human trash mountain Mike Pence, has been campaigning against funding environmental initiatives for years. They have a nice set-up waiting for them within Congress, which is made up of a third of climate change deniers, whose pockets are lined by some of the world’s biggest energy companies. With Trump already looking for ways to back out of the monumental Paris Agreement, Earth’s future has never seemed so bleak.
In the weeks leading up to the election, I’d begun thinking a lot about veganism, and whether or not it is a lifestyle which requires a certain level of privilege*. I’ve often preached the ideal that “everyone can be vegan” in my attempts to show just how easy and fun it can be. However, I have been learning more and more that this is not strictly true; while everyone can have the will to try to adopt a vegan diet, it is not necessarily going to be as easy for some as it is for others. If, for example, you have severe food allergies or an eating disorder (or are in recovery from one) you might struggle. Likewise, if you live in a food desert where it is difficult and costly to procure specific foods, you are not going to find veganism as easy and fun as I might.
*I am wary of veganism being used as a tool by people with a “white saviour” complex, as this erases and invalidates the efforts of non-white vegans. Instead I am focusing on climate change as an inherently racial issue which those with a certain level of privilege (not just rich, white Westerners) should not turn away from.
Climate change is a humanitarian crisis
It’s easy to view climate change as an abstract concept, particularly here in the UK where we have not yet felt the full ramifications of environmental damage. It seems like a distant danger; something which won’t affect our generation, a lesser evil which might eventually be figured out and reversed by scientists. The fact is that climate change will absolutely leave its mark during our lifetime, and has already started revealing itself in several places around the world. And guess who are most severely impacted? Privileged Westerners it ain’t.
In his brilliant documentary, Before the Flood, Leonardo DiCaprio sheds light on the effect that climate change will have, and is already having, on the lives of people around the world. He visits the islands of Kiribati, parts of which are already inhabitable due to rising water levels, and witnesses the plight of farmers in India after their entire crop has been decimated by an unseasonably large amount of rainfall. Climate change is undoubtedly an issue which disproportionately affects poorer minorities, and as a person of relative privilege I recognise it as my duty to care about that, and to do something about it.
It is indisputable that climate change is a humanitarian issue; if things continue to worsen as they are, we will be in a position where droves more climate change refugees will be uprooted and displaced as their homes will no longer be safe to inhabit. Although the U.S. withdrawing from the Paris Agreement might not be so catastrophic, as the second biggest contributor to global pollution, the direction in which Trump wants to lead America is gravely concerning, and shows complete disregard for the plight of these affected groups worldwide. Never before have I felt more certain that making positive changes in the world is down to the common people, rather than those at the top.
What we can do
I am not here to make anyone feel bad about not being vegan; like I mentioned, this lifestyle is not viable for everyone. If you are a vegetarian with no intention currently of making the transition, don’t sweat it. If you’re an omnivore whose family life revolves around eating meat to the point where you wouldn’t feel safe giving it up, then I get that. In Before the Flood, it is mentioned that even reducing your intake of red meat would help; even if you continued eating chicken but skipped on beef, you’d be doing something to lessen the impact of animal agriculture on the planet.
Meat consumption in the UK, I feel, is something of a cultural symbol. Red meat is lauded as a luxury, a hip must-eat. How about next time you go to a cool new eatery you order the veggie option? Or why not research vegan restaurants in your area? You could even start by joining popular initiatives such as Meat Free Mondays or by taking the Vegan Society’s 30-day challenge. Not only will you learn more than ever before about food, you’ll be helping to make the world a better place for the people most affected by climate change. Animal agriculture is the biggest contributor to climate change (greater than the exhaust fumes of all transport) and those of us who are able to need to do something to help slow down and even reverse the destruction caused by it.
How are you planning to make a difference post-election? Let me know in the comments below.