(11AM EST – promoted by Nightprowlkitty)
I met up with a good friend of mine this past weekend at a local dive bar. As the liquor loosened his tongue, he took a moment to complain about the wealthy elites he works for. Or as he put it, “those rich f*cks”.
My friend works for a non-profit, environmental group. The major contributors, all of the board of directors, and most of his coworkers are all wealthy. His new boss wants to focus on gifts for donations, such as tote bags that you can bring to the grocery store, rather than specific environmental causes.
This non-profit environmental group is a microcosm of what is wrong with the environmental movement today. Environmentalism is following down the same path to irrelevancy that labor unions traveled when they made the decision that 2% raises mattered and political movements didn’t.
The economics of denial
The first thing to get over is the idea that you are doing anything for the environment by buying a certain product. You aren’t. You certainly aren’t doing anything for the environment by purchasing an automobile, no matter what it is. Polar bears are not going to want to hug you because you drive a new hybrid. It’s a useless exercise to make stupid people feel better about themselves while continuing to be part of the consumer culture that is destroying the planet.
As author Paul R. Ehrlich points out in his book, One with Nineveh, half of all the energy ever involved in a car occurs in its production. Thus if you trade in a working SUV to buy a new hybrid, you are actually damaging the environment, not helping it.
If you actually wanted to do something for the environment, park you car and start riding a bicycle to work.
“Cars cannot do anything good for the environment except less damage than others.”
– Consumer Ombudsman official Bente Øverli
The next most obvious problem with the environmental movement today is scale. Take, for instance, saving water in California during a drought. You are encouraged to take shorter showers and not always flush the toilet. It’s a pathetic exercise in futility.
In California, agriculture uses 85 percent of our water. All of our toilets together don’t add up to a fraction of the amount of water used by farms that grow taxpayer-subsidized cotton and rice in the desert! It’s a similar story in Arizona.
If we wanted to save water and money then we should stop sending our tax dollars to large agribusinesses who grow totally inappropriate crops in the desert. You don’t do it by not flushing your toilet.
Of course the biggest problem of scale is thinking that our consumer actions are going to make a big impact. This is nothing more than a manufactured, pointless guilt. It’s a distraction by big business that keeps people from actually doing something constructive.
You aren’t a big polluter, and your composting isn’t going to save the world. For instance, if you want to stop mountain-top removal mining, you don’t do it by taking tote bags to grocery stores. You do it by pushing lawmakers to outlaw mountain-top removal mining!
Why is that?
It isn’t a coincidence that the mainstream environmental movement is wasting its time endorsing products to sell to consumers that make us feel good by giving us the false impression that we are doing something for the environment.
Just look at my friend’s environmental agency. The people who run it got rich from the current system. It’s against their personal interest to endorse policies that would endanger this system. Instead we get incrementalism in a rapidly decaying global environment.
That’s not to say that all environmental groups are like this. Some of them are truly grassroots movements and are working toward specific policy goals. But even those groups endorse these useless, guilt-sustaining gestures. Almost none of them address the larger economic change that would actually have tangible environmental benefits.
That larger economic picture I will address in my next essay, The Economics of Ecology.