Or: Is your future accessible?
Or: Eco-shame is not a sustainable fuel source
What does it mean to live ecologically?
If I make a list and share it on twitter can I prove to you I’m living ecologically?
Am I living ecologically if eat seasonally and locally or only if I eat plant-based food sourced globally?
I put on the heating whenever I need it, but our supplier is Green. Is that living ecologically?
Should we all live off grid, and break off connectivity?
Can I offset the eco-shame of car-use with childlessness?
Does it offset the offset that my childessness is not something I chose for the sake of the planet?
Dock 10 points for eating animal products.
Dock 5 points for living with a cat.
If I go to a protest to fight for the planet and clean up after myself using caustic chemicals, is that living ecologically?
If I stay home and save fuel, is that living ecologically?
What if I only stay home because of disability? Is that sustainable? Is this the Green Life?
To sit at home and grimace at the news is ecological.
To take the tv to recycling is ecological.
If I use environmentally-friendly cleaning products, on my own body and on the body of my dwelling place, is that living ecologically? Is it better to be dirty? To save water and electricity?
What if I use those products because I care about the planet, yes, but mostly because I care about my body? My body is a sensitive ecosystem. I am my own canary.
Dock 10 points for shedding scales of plastic medication packets. You can never be zero-waste.
Dock 5 points for not renouncing travel.
Dock 5 points for not believing in anthroporn.
Dock 20 points for not protesting enough.
Sometime way back in those heady days before we lived in a global pandemic, I got in an argument with a man I didn’t know on the socials. It started with a mutual friend sharing an article about car-free cities, and suggesting our own very mountainous, rural area adopt car-free policies.
Me: It’s worth considering that focusing on bikes as ideal travel excludes many disabled people, many people with illnesses causing pain & fatigue & people who simply cant ride a bike. It’s not a transport solution that can work for the masses especially in a landscape like ours.
Man On Internet: Bikes/cycling is the only long term solution that can work for the masses in the Lakes. Other forms of access could be provided for the tiny minority unable to use them however with e-bikes/trikes, recumbants, tag alongs, trailors, tandems etc. most are catered for.
Me: I don’t class disabled people or people who can’t cycle for medical or other reasons as a ‘tiny minority’ and I’d love to see a full work up of how you’d expect to move people like me around with any of those suggestions on a daily basis without further marginalising us. #ableism
Man On Internet: As I said others forms of transport can be made available or those unable to use any of the forms bike based transport I suggested. For example expanding the current [tourist minibus] Service & even specialising it further to provide for those who need it.
Me: I really don’t understand how that’s going to help me get to the shops, the doctors, work, to meet friends? I don’t think you’ve thought this one through or talked to any disabled people.
Man On Internet: If fact your access would be vastly improved as the roads would no longer be clogged with vast numbers of unneccasry tourist motor vehicles, only those that geniunly need to be there like yourself.
Me: Who would decide who genuinely needs it? Who would police it – because there’s nothing folk like more than policing who is ‘genuinely’ disabled or not. Yes, bike access is great, and encouraging cycling is super, but it’s not a mass transport solution.
Man On Internet: Cycling is the perfect mass transport solution. Low enviromental impact, affordable, uses least amount of space/per person, good for health. It isn’t going to be suitable for everyone & there needs to be options for those who need them but it is the future of personal transport.
Me: Cycling can’t be a mass solution in an area like ours where people have to travel large distances for daily purposes, where it is very hilly, and has a lot of adverse weather. It’s not practical for the majority. Why not focus on decent public transport instead?
Man On Internet: All of the previous with the caveat that alternative options/facilities remain for those who need them like yourself. I’m not proposing a system which would isolate individuals who cannot cycle.
Me: Thanks for not listening to any of my opinions about this.
This is one iteration of an argument I have had countless times.
It’s not always about banning cars versus improving public transport.
Sometimes it’s about banning plastic straws versus disabled lives.
Sometimes it’s about banning bottled water versus ensuring access to drinking water.
I’ve had it countless times, this argument, mostly with well-meaning, good-hearted people who care deeply for the earth. But who don’t care to muddle their priorities by really listening to disabled people about their lived experiences. It’s too contradictory, too complicated.
I thought about disclosing my disability at this point to help you understand my position, but then I remembered no one should have to disclose their disability to have their needs understood. The person who is telling you their needs understands their own needs. Believe them.
Disability activist Annie Segarra coined the phrase ‘The Future is Accessible’ as ‘a call for visibility and intersectionality […] a call to prioritize equity and accessibility’. Yet the futures imagined by many environmental justice movements are futures which are definitely not accessible.
Like the zombie apocalypse, they are worlds I know I would not survive.
I wrote this piece two and a half years ago, for an online journal that has not yet launched. These are things I’ve thought about a lot during the pandemic. Especially that last sentence; most especially that last sentence. Sometimes in our house we replace words alluding to the pandemic with the words ‘Zombie Apocalypse’, to check how sensible the statements are. For example, ‘what we’re doing is trying to take a balanced and proportionate approach to the particular risk that seems to be posed by The Zombie Apocalypse’. For example, ‘we now have to move into a different period where we learn to live with the Zombie Apocalypse; we take precautions and we as individuals take personal responsibility’.
Many of us hoped the pandemic would create more understanding of illness; what it is like to live with limitation; more empathy for disabled people. But instead we watched as we were characterised as expendable, over and over again, on every news bulletin. Our lives were presented as acceptable losses.
And I find myself back in that looping argument again, even as the pandemic still rages on in the background, ignored by those who think they can afford to. There are so many ways to protect the earth that don’t also harm disabled people. Can we start to focus on those?
If your green utopia does not include disabled people and meet their needs, it is not a utopia, it is a dystopia. And I, for one, have had enough of a taste of that.