On Friday, November 29, two major events took place: “Black Friday” as a celebration of consumerism; and, “Fridays for Future” for environmental concern and a future for younger generations. Despite their antithetical views of our global society, they both took place on the same day, and both drew millions of people around the globe.
“Black Friday” is a shopping spree, encouraging people to flock to malls and the Internet, to shop. Whether you really need what you buy and regardless the environmental impact of shipping goods thousands of miles across the globe, this day celebrates our ability and freedom to shop. Shopping as a form of entertainment, disregarding any environmental repercussions it may have.
According to scientific reports – including the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - human activity – including consumerism – has brought the world to the brink of an environmental crisis. At its center, fossil-fuel based economies, air, water and soil pollution, fast depletion of natural resources, creation of massive quantities of waste, and the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that raises global temperatures so high, that they threaten the future of the planet and living species – including humans.
The climate crisis requires leadership, which, unfortunately, seems to be in short supply these days. The United States, a global leader and major polluter, pulled out of the Paris Accord for climate change. Israel, too, after two elections and failed attempts to form a new government, is in a “transitional” mode with no leadership to lead the economy from non-renewable coal, oil and natural gas dependence, to renewable energy, innovation and a sustainable economy.
So, “Fridays for the Future” filled the leadership void, a movement inspired by 16-year-old Swedish student Greta Thunberg, who inspired climate activism by refusing to go to school. First, she demonstrated alone outside the Swedish parliament, demanding a stronger action on global warming. Now, she mobilizes millions of students, in a global climate strike movement.
“Black Friday” and “Fridays for Future” are related through “Earth Overshoot Day,” a measurement of humanity’s demand for natural resources and ecological services every year. Starting from December in the 1970s, it occurs earlier each year. This year, Monday, July 29, marked the day all renewable resources and carbon sequestration that the planet can provide for the year were consumed. As a result, according to the Global Footprint Network that developed this tool, for the past four months, we are consuming the biosphere capital.
I often think of the environmental crisis as a new global holocaust taking place right now. The destruction we are perpetrating to living organisms and entire ecosystems can only be compared to systematic annihilation of life, at the scale of the Holocaust. This is why when I hear the name “Black Friday” I often think of another “Black” day in history. “Black Sabbath,” as related to the Jewish history of Greece. Saturday, July 11, 1942, marked the beginning of the end for the roughly 54,000 Jewish community of Salonika. On that day, all Jewish men were summoned to Plateia Eleftherias (Liberty Square) in the city center, where they were forced to stand in line under the burning sun, and were humiliated and beaten while performing pointless exercises. Then, they were enlisted to forced labor, where many died. The isolation of the Jewish community was followed by the destruction of the ancient Jewish cemetery – where the Aristotle University is built today – and, finally, the deportation of the community in 19 t
rain transports to Auschwitz, where 96% of the community perished. Unlike, those, who, according to German novelist Ulrich Boschwitz, either perpetrated the crimes or turned a blind eye, it is thanks to the courageous who chose to act and hide the persecuted, like the Greek Orthodox family who saved my family, I am here today to write this piece.
Thunberg and the “Fridays for Future” movement are the courageous today. For them the choice is clear. It is now up to us to stop and listen, and to act. We can also choose to turn a blind eye, while we entertain ourselves with another shopping experience.
The writer, a Yale-educated architect and environmental consultant, is the founding chairman of NGO ECOWEEK and co-editor of Book#1: 50 Voices for Sustainability.