Eat the rich on Earth Day.
Or consider mutual aid.

April 20, 2023 Issue No. 47

5/20 8:53:27 UTC
NightDay
Eat the Rich on Earth Day

Since Earth Day has become the greenwashiest day of the year, we’re providing some alternative food for thought. Let’s start with the simple, clarifying realization that we only have two problems to solve: climate change AND economic inequality. 

In Paris, where we’re based, these two problems have been inextricably intertwined at least since the Gilets Jaunes movement — a rebellion against Macron’s ham-fisted efforts to curb emissions with a fuel tax, which would have harmed the working poor far more than it would have helped the environment. The movement took its name from the high-visibility yellow work vests worn by protestors.

However, lately, a broader coalition than the Gilets Jaunes has formed and explicitly targeted the wealthy in the wake of Macron's pension reforms. It’s no coincidence that fashion mags were waxing lyrical about the boom in “quiet luxury” just a week before protesters invaded LVMH headquarters. Usually thronged by hordes of dumbstruck tourists ogling a gigantic and animatronic Yayoi Kusama, last week they were pushed aside by angry protesters stampeding the building instead. Just days after Bernard Arnault became the world’s richest man, Fabien Villedieu, a union leader, told CNN affiliate BFMTV outside the LVMH building, “If Macron wants to find money to finance the pension system, he should come here to find it.”

No wonder luxury wants to be more understated!

Indeed the anger toward income inequality has turned “eat the rich” into a dominant cultural narrative manifesting in everything from movies (Parasite, Triangle of Sadness and the Menu), to memes (nepo babies), to music (i.e. Slowthai’s Selfish). However, it’s the explicit link to climate change (for example, in movies like Don’t Look Up) that interests us here.

Turns out that high-income countries are the biggest drivers of ecological breakdown, the consequences of which are felt more severely in the global South. “High-income nations depend in large part on extraction from the global South. In fact, fully half of the total materials they consume are extracted from poorer countries and generally under unequal and exploitative conditions.” [1]  

This inequality between nations is mirrored within nations. People living in highly unequal societies are likelier to shop for luxury brands than those in more equal societies. Based on this data, we should see the boom in luxury as a direct reflection of growing inequality. We should be worried because the more unequal we feel, the more we buy to feel better about ourselves. [2] As we heard from you in our Community Understanding Project, we’re spinning on the hedonic treadmill and want to get off!

What’s the alternative? We’ve written extensively about and designed our products to facilitate changes in consumption: buy less, buy better, use it longer. But there are other solutions right under our noses that can make a dramatic difference right now, and which we believe will be even more important in the future.

In 2014, the political scientist Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn conducted a review of existing data on this question. He found something remarkable: countries with robust welfare systems have the highest levels of human happiness when controlling for other factors.[3] And the more generous and universal the welfare system, the happier everyone becomes.[4]  When people live in a fair, caring society, where everyone has equal access to social goods, they don’t have to worry as much about basic needs and can instead enjoy the art of living. Rather than constantly comparing ourselves to others, we can build bonds of social solidarity.

We don’t have to wait for the right political party to take power for this to happen, we can start to build those bonds of social solidarity right now. We can also reduce income inequality by creating safety nets of our own via the practice of mutual aid. 

Mutual aid has been at the heart of our enterprise since the very beginning, so to get you started, we’ve made a list of all the organizations we’ve supported with our badge program and via our newsletters. Please consider donating to them to kick-start your practice. There’s no better time to do it than Earth Day.

Sources

[1] Hickel, Jason. Less is More (p. 308). Random House. Kindle Edition.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Lukasz Walasek and Gordon Brown, ‘Income inequality and status seeking: Searching for positional goods in unequal US states,’ Psychological Science, 2015.

[4] Hickel, Jason. Less is More (p. 308). Random House. Kindle Edition.