Recently I attended a People’s Climate Rally here in Denver. Because I run 350 Denver’s Instagram account, I took a bunch of pictures and posted them on Instagram, which also posted to my Twitter account. I got a lot of new followers that evening, but only one response. It was a comment from a Twitter user by the name of Renaud Gange, on a photo of a sign someone was holding that said “Stand up to big oil”.

The comment read “I wonder if that paint is oil based?”

Ah. I see what you are doing there. You’re trying to point out the hypocrisy of climate activists. Well, Twitter isn’t the best platform for intelligent discussion. Any ideas too complex to be expressed in 140 characters or less can be difficult to tackle there. It was early in the morning, I had a child to get to school, and homework of my own to do, so I politely tweeted back a thank you, and informed Renaud Gange that I would be addressing the issue in a blog post. This is that post.

So, let’s get down to it.

First of all, if we’re are going to set a nit picky standard, I’m fairly certain that the sign was printed with ink, not painted. Yes, there is a difference between ink and paint, in consistency, appearance, and use. However, I suppose it is entirely possible that the ink was petroleum based, although there are plant based inks available on the market, and I suppose it’s also possible the ink is not petroleum based. I did not make the sign, so I really can’t say what kind of ink was used. What I can say, however, is that it’s irrelevant.

Maybe you can’t tell from the sign (although judging from the hashtags you used I’m pretty sure you have some idea) but what the People’s Climate Rally is concerned with is not the existence of oil or oil based products. The issue is climate change. And, because you don’t seem to be clear on this issue, climate change is not caused by the use or existence of petroleum based inks. Climate change is caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

Now, I know this takes a trained eye, but if you stay with me here I think I can talk you through it. Look at the picture again. I think you will notice this time that the sign pictured here is neither burning, nor being shoved into a fuel tank. It’s tricky to see, but I believe in you. This (potentially) oil based ink is clearly not being burned for fuel, so (apart from the energy that went into manufacturing the ink, which I’ll address in just a minute, I promise) I think we can pretty much lay to rest the idea that using an oil based ink somehow proves some kind of hypocrisy in people who are protesting the burning of oil to create energy. Putting ink on paper is not the same thing as burning it. Get it?

Now, a more critical thinker, one with a slightly better understanding of science and the causes of climate change, might more justly point out that burning of fossil fuel went into manufacturing the ink that was used to print on the sign (and that holds true whether or not the ink actually is oil based). Fossil fuel was likely also burned to ship it to the store or print shop in which it ended up after manufacturing, and to run the equipment that printed it on the paper. The same could be said of the paper, the stick it was mounted to, the staples that did the mounting, the clothes the person holding the sign was wearing, the food they ate that day, and hell, probably even the transportation that brought them to the event. If you wanted to try and prove hypocrisy in climate activists, it would seem that targeting the stuff they do that actually contributes to climate change might be the more intelligent choice.

But it’s still pretty stupid and uninformed.

Climate activists know that pretty much everything we do involves the burning of fossil fuels. It is literally impossible to completely avoid it in society today. What the fuck do you think we’re protesting?

Society has been designed to make it impossible to get by without fossil fuels. You can do a million things to try and reduce your personal consumption, but at the end of the day, all you can do is reduce, you don’t have the option to eliminate. And make no mistake, designing our collective lifestyle to be completely dependent on the burning of fossil fuel is intentional (and it can be designed differently). Everything from our city planning to societal expectations that dictate our employability and safety in our communities, is intentionally designed to force us, force everyone, to participate in this fossil fuel dependent system whether we want to or not. To imply that we’re hypocrites for protesting a system that we are forced to partake in is absurd.

Yeah, we know oil (and coal, and natural gas) is a part of every facet of our lives and that no matter how much we may want to, we can not weed it out. We probably understand that even better than a person who doesn’t understand the difference between smearing oil on paper and burning oil in a gas tank. And we also understand that the invasive, invisible, and compulsory nature of the burning of fossil fuels is the primary cause of climate change, a phenomenon that kills somewhere between 250,000 to 4,000,000 people a year world wide. What the fuck do you think we are out here protesting about?

We’re not out here doing some hippie love in shit, singing songs about how oil isn’t natural man, and we just need to hug Mother Earth and drive hybrids. We’re out here calling out a system that forces all of us to actively participate in our own destruction, and demanding that those in power start making some serious changes so that we can transition off this shit before we wipe entire countries and cities off the face of this earth.

So yeah, Renaud Gange, we know we use oil. We know we can’t survive without it in our current system. I’ll ask you again, because clearly you didn’t get it. What exactly do you think this protest was about, anyway? We want that system to change.  We demand nothing less than a redesign of the system so that no one is dependent on fossil fuels to survive.  It can be done, it needs to be done, and it needs to start happening immediately.  This is not a minority opinion anymore.  It’s not an opinion at all.  I know you think that you are really smart sitting there on your Twitter account stating the obvious to people who clearly have a way better grasp on the situation than you do, but you are clearly woefully behind the times.  The whole world is up in arms about this.  What rock are you living under?