As an autistic person who is involved in both environmental and autistic activism (among other kinds), the intersection between disability activism and environmental is something that is often hard to navigate. Environmental activists and disability activists are often at odds, especially lately surrounding the whole straw ban debacle.
Some environmental activists do need to start listening to the voices of disabled people – but to say we don’t need more environmentally friendly policies is dangerous, because we desperately need to do something about climate change. Yet the actions we take to save the planet should not harm disabled people.
First of all, we need to consider that there is a difference between carbon emissions and issues such as plastic polluting the oceans. While ocean pollution and ecological collapse are major issues, they are not the exact same issue as climate change. Climate change is caused by greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, being released into the atmosphere. Not using plastic will not stop climate change.
Second, it is important that we recognise that individual changes – such as not using plastic straws – will not have nearly as much of an impact as changing the system. It is corporations that are responsible for the vast amount of emissions, and the vast amount of plastic (and other kinds of) waste. Individual change will mean nothing if we do not force the corporations to change.
So, adding these two points together one arrives at the very sensible conclusion that plastic straws are not the problem. It is quite natural that businesses have chosen to focus on straws, however, because if they tackled the real issues it might affect their profits – such is the nature of capitalism.
Going after things disabled people need to survive will not save the environment. Anyone calling themselves an environmental activist and is focusing on this is, at best, misguided, and at worst, is actively behaving maliciously towards disabled people. Disability rights are human rights, and environmental activism should be about building a better world for all humans (and animals), not just abled ones.
Tackling climate change and ecological collapse are major issues. Climate change is the single most important issue of our time, and if we do not do something about it, it will destroy human civilisation as we know it. We have to act, and we have to act now. But we need climate justice also – we must build a world in which everyone can survive, including disabled people.