Rethinking Environmentalism


Here’s what I’ve been thinking:

To suggest that we are somehow harming the Earth, that we have a responsibility to the planet as we are its stewards, is really the same thing as saying: We are privileged on this planet, distinct from it, and hence are free to exhaust and consume all of its many splendored bounty. These are two sides of the same coin.

I’d like to change the coin, if I may.

The Earth, I believe, is indifferent. Absolutely, mercilessly indifferent. The Earth doesn’t care what the ozone is, whether there’s more or less carbon dioxide or plastic. Certain plants and animals might, of course, but the Earth per se? Nope. It doesn’t give a flying fuck.

To imagine that humans are somehow special, and distinct, is (partially) what breeds our contempt for our environs.

What if we shift the very terms of how we think about ourselves, collectively, on this planet? What if we no longer express a concern for this or that species or for this thing we call the environment and, instead, focus on our own living?

The problems I, for one, have with our food industry is not that it pillages the planet. It’s that it makes my life sucky: shitty food that makes me feel shitty is shitty.

The problems I have with rampant global capitalism is multifold and has nothing whatsoever to do with my concern over the spotted owl or the dolphin. My problem is that I hate being served by some bored, indifferent 18 year old making minimum wage. I want to exchange money and services with my neighbors; I want to feel I’m giving to someone good who, in turn, is giving me something good. The anonymity of the global market translated into the anonymity of the so-called local Sears is bone chilling.

The problem, then, is not with how we treat the Earth. It’s with how we treat ourselves. We work 40, 50, 60, 70 hours a week. And thanks to microcomputing, we work all the time. All the time. There is no leisure, there is no pleasure.

And rage — and, of course, impotence (why are there ads for Viagra during prime time?) — runs rampant. Every time I’m out driving — every time — I have to negotiate a plethora of deranged assholes rushing here and there, speeding up to tailgate me, honking, running lights. This is not a sign of a healthy life.

And this — these day to day exchanges for coffee, groceries, driving — is the environment. Literally. I don’t want to give my money to save the Amazon rain forest. I want to not have to work 70 hours a week just to break even.

And if everyone were just to slow down, well then, perhaps we’d stop raping the trees and the ground. Perhaps then we would have less need for the oil we are so concerned about.

But as is, the very terms of environmentalism are constitutive of the precise problem said movement nominally serves. To focus on oil is to focus on the wrong thing; it is to focus on what the oil companies focus on, what the car companies focus on, what Amazon and UPS and Boeing focus on.

The environmental drive to conserve and preserve resources is misguided. It is to be duped by the CEOs and Wall Street.

The focus should not be oil or plants or dolphins but the day to day pleasure of human beings. And then everything else will fall into place.

Imagine all the money and resources and policy that are dumped into the so-called environmental movement all of sudden going to making day to day life for human beings more pleasurable. Imagine that rather than saving the whales, we save computer programmers, marketers, sales people from having their lives exhausted by the inane, insane, demands to work all the time. Imagine that we make medicine actually driven by concern for health and not how Pfizer’s stock performs.

Imagine that we put all our collective resources — our architects and economists, our do-gooders and our legislators — towards making life a pleasurable undertaking ripe with delicious, fresh food; with slow sex; with happy children who are not stressed out by standardized tests; with doctors who take the time to listen and heal; with roads filled with courteous, safe drivers; with movie theaters where popcorn eating is verboten.

Now that’s an environmental movement I could get behind.


Credits: Teaser Photo by Susanne Riber Christensen (Grassy Green); Creative Commons License.