The announcement of the Earthshot prize to ‘help find solutions’ for climate change was the latest in the long line of celebrities and other private actors (looking at you, Jeff Bezos) working to supposedly help solve climate change. In other words; it is the latest in a long line of hypocritical celebrities outsourcing the work on climate change they won’t do themselves.
The solutions already exist – they involve overhaul of the capitalist system, to start with. But we’re unlikely to see the Earthshot prize rewarding ideas around shorter working weeks, seriously reducing consumption, or economic redistribution involving a universal basic income. It is unlikely to even fall a step behind that and reward the complete stopping of burning fossil fuels, cutting down on flying or a tax on meat (accompanied by subsidies on alternatives, of course).
Instead, the prize will surely reward solutions which enable people to continue their lives as they are now, with the least disruption possible to the celebrities backing the initiative. If they can continue to sequester private jets to fly around the UK, yet instead champion expensive-to-the-consumer technology in a prize with sponsors including an emissions-intensive Dubai-based ‘leading enabler of global trade’, then they will.
The solutions are already out there, and this prize pretends otherwise. The answers exist in small communities outside of the West – in their sustainable agriculture practices; in the countries with emissions 160 times lower than in the USA, and they exist in the indigenous people who have been aware of and fighting for climate justice for far longer than these celebrities.
The problems are also already out there, and this prize still pretends otherwise. There is a lack of acknowledgement that this funding comes too late for many people worldwide, already devastated by climate change. It sets it as a future problem – one which can still be stopped, while ignoring that a disproportionate amount of responsibility lies on the shoulders of those promoting this prize; part of the 1%.
The prize does not set justice as a parameter for the solutions to be found – there is no requisite that they are accessible for those beyond the rich funding the prize. Nor is there an assurance that they will be picked up and distributed by states perhaps; that they will reduce the equity gap in who can access climate mitigation and adaptation measures. There is no guarantee they will involve systemic rather than individual change; putting the responsibility of solving the climate crisis once again onto the individual.
When its panel includes a royal who flies everywhere by private jet, a broadcaster who endorses the eugenics-derived overpopulation myth, and a singer who evaded taxes (think how many solar panels that money could have bought), the relatability of the endeavour is hard to see. Surely such celebrities could use their status and money to quietly invest in projects already existent? Or to speak to those who will be most affected to see what they actually need?
While Attenborough produces yet more surface level documentaries with pleas that ‘we need to change’, with no acknowledgement that by ‘we’ he in fact only means the 1%, and by change he means overhaul completely the way they live, it is hard to imagine the projects he helps to select will be any more revolutionary. As he relies on the racist myth of overpopulation with no apparent self-awareness of his own consumption, while choosing not to get into politics or even take aim at corporations; excuse me for being skeptical about his brand of ‘onus on the individual’ climate action.
Celebrity voices would once have been useful to open up the environmental movement to their fans who were not already aware. But frankly at this point, who isn’t aware of climate change?! Who doesn’t understand the basics of what we need to be doing about it?! Now, celebrities are only opening themselves up to scrutiny and accusations of hypocrisy by suggesting the public take on actions they have not themselves. More common now is fans suggesting how celebrities can be more environmentally-friendly, not vice versa.
Those that offer these prizes are not those that can ever truly understand the scale of the emergency facing us. When the 1% can spend money moving away from rising sea levels or wildfires, easily pay any carbon taxes brought in, and pay the higher prices for food when extreme weather causes famine for many; they are not the people who should be deciding what ‘solutions’ are needed for the 99%.
Funding for climate solutions will always be welcome, as will richer people using their privilege by putting their money where their mouth is. But this self-serving, hypocritical method of choosing deserving projects only excuses those privileged enough to be the last to feel the effects of climate change further from taking action themselves.
Until we stop skirting around the issue of justice in our climate solutions; endeavours such as Earthshot will remain useless for those who need them most.