Knowing Your Privilege Means Understanding How Much You Can Contribute to Sustainability by Lucy Stacklin


I made the decision of going vegan after reading ‘Eating Animals’ by Jonathan Safran Foer — a journalistic account about factory farming in the USA — although, my mother would tell relatives and friends that this self-awareness came to me after I saw a truckload of chickens being shipped to the market and felt sorry for these birds, my veganism did link to wanting to save animals from cruelty, but the drive and priority stemmed from understanding how eating them affects the environment.

A couple of times, but then I understood why she had to aid this narrative to intrusive questions as to why her teenage child refuses to consume meat and dairy; and the response ‘my daughter read books and watched documentaries that radicalized her to believe consuming animal products supports an industry that’s largely responsible of greenhouse gas emissions leading to pollution and global warming’ sounds absurd to our parents or any generation before Y and Z, or anyone who lack this information because they aren’t taught about it in their schools, nor from their parents, nor could they pick up a book or an article that are internationally published since English is not their first language, and their economic status hinders them to learn it.
Knowledge is a privilege, technology is a privilege, having a smartphone in your hands and being able to look up any word in 0.5 seconds, consuming infinite education is a privilege. Maybe our parents and grandparents are struggling to navigate a source of unlimited information, but there are people our age who are deprived of it. Who are these people? They usually are our public services, the nameless, faceless, economical backbone whom without, would result in a non-functioning capitalist world. They are the smallest contributors to carbon emissions, and the ones most affected and suffering from it. They are the lower class. When we speak about sustainability, we are able to articulate why it’s important to the environment, we cheer on our friends who made the switch from single-use plastic to reusable bottles, we encourage each other to ditch the dairy and start drinking plant
milk, we promote thrift shopping and how awful fast-fashion is to the climate, and we made significant progress from it, we created a movement, a post-pollution generation, but we fail to realize that not everyone–especially people who don’t have financial or time privilege–can contribute to the same ideology. I’m embarrassed to even admit that I was once an aggressive environmentalist whose approach was ‘Go vegan! No plastic! Use public transportation! Shop second-hand! Everything else is bad and you’re not trying hard enough!’ until I learned what my privilege meant.

You don’t need to have all of these, but; If you are not oppressed nor come from a marginalized group, is financially stable from your income or inherited wealth, received or is receiving higher education, isn’t physically disabled, and usually have no trouble fitting in the categories of social norms, you are privileged.

And if you are keep reading. 

A sustainable lifestyle comes easy to us who has the upper hand in society, for instance having financial privileges means you are able to buy clothes from high-fashion brands or local designers that doesn’t contribute to fast fashion, but for the middle-class mass manufactured wardrobe that lacks quality and are inexpensive are the ones they can usually afford, alternatively they’ll purchase thrifted clothes, but as I observed in the last couple of years, second-hand clothes has become a capitalist tool for individual businesses where they’d buy cheap preloved clothes in a large quantity and reselling them for profit*. This matter is hurting not only the lower-middle class, but as well as people below the poverty line, whose source of decent wardrobe comes from these cheap, ethical shops.
The lower class had already been sustaining an environmentally-friendly lifestyle for decades, they lack the funds, but this restrains them from purchasing items that in later years would contribute to global waste, while the middle class can’t refrain from contributing to it. It’s the same issue with our agricultural and livestock, and the way we consume our food. While people in poverty (In southeast asia) lives on scarcely enough food daily, and consisting of cheap food like rice, tofu, and tempe, they could not have consume animal products since they simply cannot afford it, meanwhile the middle class has a variety of food options, the most prominent example would be fast-food chains across the world that caters to this class system from their affordable range of dishes, but this isn’t sustainable since the fast-food industry relies the most and has an incredible demand for cheap animal products that drives the forces behind factory farming. While the working class might have some financial privileges when it comes to food consumption and can afford buying produce and cooking their own meals to suffice a plant-based lifestyle, they do not have as much time privilege as those in the higher class.
They work full-time jobs, sometimes take on more overtime or have side hustles because their wages don’t cover their expenses, most of these people have families to support and not enough income. Some aren’t able to afford their own living space and live with their family, if they are lucky they’d have home-cooked meals provided by them, which means less emissions, but at the end of the day it’s all the same. They have done their part in being ethical; they rely the most on public transportation, their collective carbon emissions isn’t the biggest contributor to climate change, and they shouldn’t have to suffer from it even more every day.

Who is?

Well, since the burning of fossil fuels produces the biggest carbon footprint, and the people who rely most on energy are the rich people whose leisure comes from the mindlessness of travelling significant times a year, most likely has personal means of transportation, probably purchases many products that are shipped from different countries…they’re the higher class.
Our ethical switches don’t magically eliminate the carbon emissions we produce from energy, but it’s so much easier for the higher class to overlook this. We all collectively live in a polluted world, but rich people need to understand that the contribution they have made and are making cannot be obtained by the lower class, and while it’s easy to cast the blame of carbon emissions on big corporations like fashion and agriculture and livestock, and in protest we take a stand of opposition against them, we must understand that this is still a privilege not all of us have. Realizing this is one thing, however the next step is dismantling this mindset and coming to terms to this; The lower class isn’t responsible and should not take responsibility for the emissions higher classes produced, they are disadvantaged yet we blame them for not being sustainable enough. This just so happens to be a global issue, countries who manufacture non-ethical products like China is ranked as the biggest polluter of greenhouse emissions, but China’s 25% contribution roots from International companies that outsource their product needs and low-wage services, and these products would be distributed all over the world, to ‘green’ countries who contribute less than 1% to carbon emissions. However, China is made responsible by statistics, and our global collective greed has made the air in this country so polluted that children across the nation aren’t even allowed to leave the house without masks. I’d like to argue how big industries and corporations hinders all of us from a more earth friendly lifestyle by charging us more when it comes to vegan or sustainable products, thus making them less accessible to people in the lower and middle class, but this is the harsh truth; there just isn’t
enough demand for ethical products, and you may say ‘Well, maybe everyone should save a little more to be sustainable!’, but it is microaggression. It proves a point on how privileged you could be to not understand why this isn’t an easy thing to do. And I’d hate to tell you all what to do; but start using your financial privilege to support ethical businesses. They are made for your consideration. Buying affordable things to minimize your expenses is your own preference, but you shouldn’t have to make things harder for the lower class that can only depend on inexpensive products. Your privilege allows you to live sustainably because it isn’t cheap, and it allows you to consume all these knowledge, to not limit yourself to only cancelling out your own emissions, but comprehend that with privilege comes responsibility. You were given the information and opportunity to contribute to fixing this issue because your position in the socioeconomic class had and will continue to have the biggest impact on our dying earth. Finally, your advantages to being eco-friendly and understanding how people in the lower class don’t have this privilege to live ethically must coexist, because being able to overlook issues in the world and not be affected are, on its own, still a privilege.

’This Changes Everything’ by Naomi Klein
’Eating Animals’ by Jonathan Safran Foer
’Sustainability Is a F*cking Privilege’ by @deardarlingdesignstudio on Instagram

*’Instagram thrift shops and thrifting culture aren’t ethical to all socioeconomic classes’ by @hallucynates

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