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September 13, 2010 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

When good environmentalism goes bad

I’ve got a confession to make. While I try not to be overly negative in writing, in real life I often find myself complaining loudly about environmental groups. At parties you’ll find me leaning on kitchen benches, glass in hand, espousing an ill-remembered web article on ‘green capitalism’. Perhaps I’ll move on to conspiratorially criticising ‘small step’ campaigns which focus on changing light bulbs, or spilling red wine on the carpet as I dish the dirt on NGOs.

I’m not proud of this. Ideally, I would like to be supportive of groups working towards the same ends. We definitely need a whole spectrum of action against behemothic crises such as climate change. Campaigns I see as being ineffective, others may see as pragmatic. Approaches I consider the only way to really get to grips with an issue, others consider as being hopelessly idealistic, potentially polarising to a wider audience or simply dangerous.

So, maybe a diversity of views is good. And it is possible to work with a variety of perspectives concurrently. For instance, creating an environmentally sustainable community can simultaneously be a political statement of autonomy and localisation (the reverse of globalisation). If there are a myriad of approaches to tackling climate change, then it’s more likely everyone will get busy, and shit will get done, right?

Well, kinda. As long as we aren’t encouraging people to pursue courses of action which say, “hey we’re fixing the problem!” but actually achieve nothing, or even worse, exacerbate said problem. Recently, an article in the Guardian discussed how ‘clicktivism’ (signing e-petitions, joining Facebook groups and the like) is decreasing real-life political action by competing with local grassroots groups and colonising budding activist identities. No surprise there.

The ‘greenwashing’ of products is our second example. ‘Greenwashing’ describes how a company or government may pretend to be eco-friendly when they’re not. Say, for example, a certain cleaning brand markets their products as the only way to stop countless baby polar bears from perishing in arctic waters. People may feel a warm rosy glow of achievement when buying this product, but there are two important factors to consider: (a) the product might not do anything at all; (b) purchasing the product may make people feel like they have done enough. A focus on green consumption puts the onus of change on the individual, rather than treating climate change as a systematic problem.

Don’t get me wrong, I buy recycled toilet paper, get annoyed when people don’t recycle and use prettily-packaged eco beauty products. But I also strongly believe that consumption is not going to save the world. We need big changes, and we shouldn’t mask problems or limit political involvement by treating consumption as the primary route to change.

So, while I am attempting to respect all forms of action striving to tackle climate change, if you start informing me that changing light bulbs will save the world, I still might tell you to fuck off.


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  1. Jstorm says:


  2. smackdown says:

    dont yell use your inside voice

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