Count Sheep—
Save Species!

What if the most effective way to combat climate change was to do nothing at all?

We are seeing this play out during the Covid-19 crisis where a significant percentage of the global population is locked down under shelter-in-place orders. (Thirty percent as of April 3, 2020.1) The combined impact of non-essential factories being shut down, a steep decline in air travel, and a reduction of commuter miles due to the shuttering of schools and workplaces has resulted a decrease in CO2 emissions.2

While the drop is likely to be shortlived, the global response to Covid-19 has implicit parallels to climate change.

We can ask ourselves:

• What scale and scope of response is possible once a crisis is declared life-threatening?

• Can one generation sacrifice freedom of movement and financial wellbeing in order to protect the health of another generation? Who should bear the brunt of responsibility, of sacrifice, and of change?

• What travel is essential? What industries are essential? What can be comfortably given up?

• What would it mean for fewer people to work?

• Is it okay to do nothing?

We’re witnessing the undermining of Capitalism—which is proving to be as incompatible to pandemic as it is to environmentalism. With much of the country on lock-down, unable or forbidden from working, the American government has been forced to redistribute money to its citizens no strings attached. While these circumstances are extreme (to say the least) they force us to acknowledge that we all are dependent on eachothers well-being. But also that it’s possible to imagine a functioning society where less is made, less is done, and less is consumed.

When humans make and do less, we take up less space. We can start to make room for other beings, room in the skies freed of planes, room in the oceans freed of plastics, and even room in the streets which are being reclaimed by other species in our absence.3

1. A third of the global population is on coronavirus lockdown — here's our constantly updated list of countries and restrictions.” Business Insider

2. The drop from 2019 to 2020 is stimated to be 5%, not much—but the first downward turn since WWII. RFI

3. When Humans Are Sheltered in Place, Wild Animals Will Play. New York Times
Stay in Bed!

Greta Thunberg became the most famous climate activist by refusing to go to school. She was also experiencing depression, which makes any activity impossibly arduous. The very injustices that demand us to get up and protest often cause depression and
anxiety in those experiencing the worst repercussions.

Could the symptoms of injustice (like depression) align with the resistance against it?

Many popular and effective modes of protest are, in fact, forms of refusal: hunger strikes (refusal to eat), boycotts (refusal to buy), tax resistance (refusal to fund the government), sit-ins (refusal to stand), and bed-ins.

There is something satisfyingly appropriate about protesting climate change, consumerism,
or Capitalism more broadly with acts of refusal. If Capitalism is all about doing and making, then nothingness is it’s undoing.
IN until you

In his book on Late Capitalism’s assault on sleep, Jonathan Crary writes, “The huge portion of our lives that we spend asleep, freed from a morass of simulated needs, subsists as one of the great human affronts to the voraciousness of contemporary capitalism.”4 Sleep is immune to the ubiquitous pressure to be constantly active, engaged and productive. It is noncommodifiable and entirely without monetary value.

Crary sites the work of Hannah Arendt who believed that a private, domestic life—and its opportunities for privacy, reflection and rest—was key to the formation of the political selfhood.5 Rest becomes the antidote to the sci-fi or dystopian vision of society in which we are analogous to sleepwalkers, disengaged and without agency or autonomy. We feel like the sleepwalker (or zombie, sheep or robot) when we are pushed past exhaustion, or are kept too busy and anxious to take care of ourselves and others.

What if staying in bed was not just an effective way to reduce ones own consumption, but also a form of protest and good citizenship?

4. Jonathan Crary, 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep. London: Verso, 2013. 10.

5. Crary, 23.
ProRest ProTest!

I’ve always had an aversion to more vigorous forms of activism—marches, organizing, and the like. They require a kind of joinerism that I’m allergic to. Perhaps I’m needlessly oppositional, or just lazy. The few I have attended have admittedly been more for the spectacle or some sort of FOMO-driven sense of self-importance.

So many of the tools of activism—spectacle, unpaid labor, and advertising—are also the instruments of Capitalism. Likewise, many of the proposed solutions to Climate change, rely on invention and innovation, feigning a compatibility with Capitalism’s main drivers. Even the Green New Deal comes with the promise of job creation.

Maybe we need to start celebrating laziness. Reclassify “sloth” from sin to virtue.