Monday, March 26, 2007

Beliefs and tactics part two

The lifestyle enjoyed by westerners is unsustainable. Furthermore one cannot have the kind of lifestyle enjoyed by westerners without the large scale destruction of the planet. You can’t have a car without mines, we can’t have cheap food without oil and pesticides, we can’t have cheap clothes without sweatshops. Realistically we probably can’t consume above the level of an advanced agricultural society without permanently degrading the environment. All of this seems pretty obvious, grab the nearest thing to you and think about what was necessary to produce it. Take a look at what you are wearing and try and think about how our society would have to be structured if what you were wearing were to grown organically transported without fossil fuel emissions and sold in a completely sustainable store. And what if everyone that came into contact with the product was living sustainably, what would such a society have to look like?

Knowing how unsustainable our current society is it seems logical to start thinking about how to change our society so it no longer relies on things such as fossil fuels. But exactly the same people who claim to want to stop burning fossil fuels get mad when you start talking about how we are going to be forced to give up everything we take for granted if we are serious about stopping this destruction. They get mad when I say that because no one will willingly give up cheap food and cars we shouldn’t pretend that democracy will get it. Clearly there is a disconnect here, obviously people care about the environment but few seem to connect it to our day to day reality.

Furthermore few environmentalists seem to have a grasp of the grossly unsustainable nature of our society. Rarely is it mentioned that the carrying capacity of the planet is somewhere around 2 billion, not 6. When the food supply is talked about few realize that we are currently putting ten times more energy into producing it than we get from consuming it. Or that we are losing topsoil one hundred times faster than it can be naturally regenerated and that when it is gone our agricultural regions will collapse like those of the middle east.

If environmentalists realized or cared about these things they wouldn’t get angry when I suggest that a lot of people are going to die due to land degradation. And if they realized the web of destruction necessary to manufacture the simplest of items in our society they wouldn’t be upset when I say that I don’t want people in the west to be able to comsume on our current levels. If they were actually keen to halt environmental destruction they probably wouldn’t be arguing about which car is the best to buy.

So I think that most self declared environmentalists are not serious about what needs to happen to stop the destruction of the planet. I think most are still attatched to the notion that we have a right to be affluent. I think when the time for tough decisions comes that those in groups such as the greens will choose to continue grossly unsustainable acts rather than compromise our societys ability to continue in its current shape. I think that most left wing activists still believe it is the inherent right of humans to destroy whatever they want for their own gain.
Allmost all of our actions as environmentalists are approved of by the government and the police. Allmost all of our actions fail to question the right of humans to consume and destroy the environment. And almost all of our actions fail to in any way challenge the structures our industrial civilization needs to continue. All this leads me to believe that our environmental activism is just a release valve for discontent that builds up in our society, a reformist feel good all absorbing pursuit for activists that want to actually make a difference. These ideas aren’t anything new, its just I’m sick of being lied to by environmentalists about the effectiveness of any such reformist action.


George said...

Perhaps I've been brainwashed too. I really do feel conflicted when I realise the disconnect between the affluent lifestyle I live and what is necessary to sustain the world. I'll think about it - I like that we have friends in coutries around the world, and can visit them with a few months savings... but what does that realistically mean? The very idea of withdrawing from those priviledges seems impossible, meaning we probably need a shift in thinking that won't come until it's too late. And that's just to get to the acceptance part. Still, people like you are a big part of challenging mainstream environmentalism.

I always used to think that environmentalism meant a simple life, consuming very little. It seemed like common sense to me. That idea got eroded over time, and pushed to the background as I spent time with people from mainstream environmental groups and movements. It's about time I fought back for what I believe in.

John said...

Thanks for the comment, I had a conversation with capitalism bad tree pretty in wellington and it left me feeling pretty gloomy as to how few people are willing to think honestly about the situation we are in and what needs to change. At the same time I'm part of a lot of little projects which are about building a sane and sustainable culture, I just don't know how to get these ideas accepted by more than a few fans of deep ecology and animism.