Why are the west so self-obsessed?

EILIDH ROBB

Anyone who has been watching the news lately would be forgiven for thinking that the rest of the world has been taking a long nap. With breakfast news, family meals, dinner parties and trash TV all contributing to the never ending narrative on Brexit, it’s hard to imagine there’s anything else going on. 

And yet, if we turn our eyes to the rest of the planet there is lots going on and it’s (don’t @ me) much much worse than Brexit. 

In this particularly trying time for UK politics, one might understand why our global education is being put on hold, but the truth is that this is often the rule and not the exception. When it comes to the UK, and western countries in general, we put ourselves first and the rest of the world second. In a globalised world fighting collective issues such as climate change, war, cyber security and terrorism, this simply doesn’t make sense. Let’s take a look at Brazil 

In August this year, after three weeks of the Amazon rainforest literally burning to the ground, the news broke on the mainstream news in the UK

This planetary disaster was not only an indicator for how terrible a state Brazil is in with Bolsonaro as president (see his outrageous track record) but had huge environmental consequences as a result of destroying some of the world’s richest biodiversity and releasing a bunch of CO2 into the atmosphere - something we really cannot afford to be doing. 

Now you might argue that there was some deliberate hush hush coming from Brazil on this one, and that it’s not really a top news story for people in the UK. But when your government is complicit in promoting failed reforestation programmes (REDD+) and buying soya from the deforested forests, the relevance becomes hard to deny.  And, as ever, I’m not done yet. 

Image Credit: Igor Vieria

Brazilians in the North East have been rushing to the ocean now to clean up a massive toxic oil spill that has been polluting their beaches for over a month. And you guessed it, the news only broke today on mainstream UK media

A close friend of UKYCC, Igor Vieira who volunteers with Engajamundo, a youth group in Brazil, lives close to the beaches and wrote to us saying that: 

“This is a horror movie scenario. People are cleaning the toxic oil from the ocean with their own hands, and the government is doing nothing.”  

While Brazil is blaming Venezuela and environmental groups, what we know for sure is that the UK has oil on their hands, and we cannot continue to ignore the huge part we play in the plight of Brazil. In 2017 our Trade Minister at the time, Greg Hands lobbied Brazil on behalf of oil and gas majors for the benefit of, you guessed it, the UK. BP has over 25 fossil gas hubs in Brazil, alongside many other investments (and we all know how good they are at taking care of the environment). And, because this point cannot be stressed enough, the UK reportedly spent £680 million of UK foreign aid budget on oil and gas projects, many of which were in Brazil.  So what can we do?  Well, I’m not proposing we all become remote location journalists, or that we try to take down the British media for failing to give a hoot about our deep connections to, well frankly, almost any environmental disaster happening across the world these days. 

What I am proposing is that as young people we, again, step up and do the job that adults continually fail to. The youth strikes movement has united young people across the world - and it has been an inspiring show of solidarity. But for those of us with the privilege and fortune to be born in the Western world we need to step the hell up

Our privilege is literally built off the backs of the global south, and our governments are STILL pretending that the mistreatment and exploitation of people far, far away is ok.

It’s time we make it abundantly clear that it is not. 

In advance of COP26, being hosted in the UK, we absolutely need to bring frontline voices to the table and force the UK to own up to its fundamental racism and obsession with exploitation. 

I wish I could be more positive, but I can’t. It’s too late for mistakes and blustering apologies, the UK government owe the rest of the world some damn responsibility, and soon. 

We can no longer turn a blind eye to our complicit government’s actions abroad. See our twitter for more, and tag @foreignoffice on twitter and let them know that we will not tolerate the UK’s self congratulation while we wreck the planet elsewhere. 

For more on this story check out our exclusive from Igor on the ground!

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