Now, I think I get why environmentalist friends give me blank stares…perhaps they can't see that the way we think about ‘environmental problems’ is part of the problem.
Curtis White has found a way to write about the mythical 'idols' of American culture that also drive environmentalism off its intended track (via orion mag).
There's so much worth chewing on in 'The Idols of Environmentalism' that I'll just direct you to it and excerpt some of White's jewels below.
Perhaps this can help us understand why sustainability is not environmentalism warmed-over.
Oh, and, this is just Part One. Orion will publish Part Two next month.
Here ya go, straight from this Midwestern lit profs mouth:
- "What the environmental movement is not very good at is acknowledging that something in the very fabric of our daily life is deeply anti-nature as well as anti-human. It inhabits not just bad-guy CEOs at Monsanto and Weyerhaeuser but nearly every working American, environmentalists included.
- Believing in powerful corporate evildoers as the primary source of our problems forces us to think in cartoons.
- All environmentalists understand that the global crisis we are experiencing requires urgent action, but not everyone understands that if our activism is driven by idols we can exhaust ourselves with effort while having very little effect on the crisis. Most frighteningly, it is even possible that our efforts can sustain the crisis. The question the environmental tribe must ask is, do our mistaken assumptions actually cause us to conspire against our own interests?
- Our primary dependence on the scientific language of “environment,” “ecology,” “diversity,” “habitat,” and “ecosystem” is a way of acknowledging the superiority of the very kind of rationality that serves not only the Sierra Club but corporate capitalism as well.
- My concern is with the wisdom of using as our primary weapon the rhetoric and logic of the very entities we suspect of causing our problems in the first place. Perhaps we support legalistic responses to problems, with all their technoscientific descriptors, out of a sense that this is the best we can do for the moment. But the danger is always that eventually we come to believe this language and its mindset ourselves.
- This mindset is generally called “quantitative reasoning,” and it is second nature to Anglo-Americans. It also has the consequence of turning environmentalists into quislings, collaborators, and virtuous practitioners of a cost-benefit logic figured in songbirds.
- We use our most basic vocabulary, words like “ecosystem,” with a complete innocence, as if we couldn’t imagine that there might be something perilous in it. What if such language were actually the announcement of the defeat of what we claim to want? That’s the worm at the heart of the rose of the “ecologist.”
- In the end, environmental science criticizes not only corporate destructiveness but (as it has always done) more spiritual notions of nature as well.
- It is the language of “system” (nature as a kind of complicated machine) that allows most of us to feel comfortable with working for or giving money to environmental organizations.
- Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth may have distressing things to say about global warming, but subconsciously it is an extended apology for scientific rationality, the free market, and our utterly corrupted democracy.
- It is convenient that we can imagine a power beyond us because that means we don’t have to spend much time examining our own lives. And it is very convenient that we can hand the hard work of resistance over to scientists, our designated national problem solvers.
- Environmentalism has made a Faustian pact with quantitative reasoning; science has given it power but it cannot provide deliverance. If environmentalism truly wishes, as it claims, to want to “save” something—the planet, a species, itself—it needs to rediscover a common language of Care.
- Rather than taking the risk of challenging the roles money and work play in all of our lives by actually taking the responsibility for reordering our lives, the most prominent strategy of environmentalists seems to be to “give back” to nature through the bequests, the annuities, the Working Assets credit cards and long distance telephone schemes, and the socially responsible mutual funds advertised in Sierra and proliferating across the environmental movement. Such giving may make us feel better, but it will never be enough."
I especially like White's conclusion, which is also the lead paragraph in this fine essay:
"Environmental destruction proceeds apace in spite of all the warnings, the good science, the 501(c)3 organizations with their memberships in the millions, the poll results, and the martyrs perched high in the branches of sequoias or shot dead in the Amazon. This is so not because of a power, a strength out there that we must resist. It is because we are weak and fearful. Only a weak and fearful society could invest so much desperate energy in protecting activities that are the equivalent of suicide."
Stay tuned for Part Two.
Are we having fun, yet?