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Today there is a growing awareness that business-as-usual corporate and lifestyle practices jeopardize the health of the planet and the ability of future generations to sustain a good quality of life. Awareness in turn has created a confusing array of sustainability-oriented decisions. The Greenophobe takes a skeptical, practical, informed look at a variety of sustainability topics. Explore a mix of common sense solutions and in-depth discussions that demystify how to live green and live well.

28 January 2010

Environmentalism is dead.

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"-Ism's in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself..."

- Ferris Bueller

Environmentalism is dead. Environmentalists are not the key to salvation. They're often the door blocking our way to it.

-Ists and -isms sometimes make for great headlines and fiery debates about the environment and how best to protect it. But at this stage in our universal global enlightenment on environmental issues, the consumer is the last and only line of defense. Governments and luck play strong supporting roles.

Picking on -ists and -isms is just a bit of semantics on the way to a powerful point. So don't throw a fit if you self-identify as an environmentalist. Same as Catholiscism or liberalism, your -ism is a descriptive label for the way you feel and it may suit you just fine. Unfortunately, in the case of the environmental movement, -ists and -isms aren't harmless labels. They're impediments to change that perpetuate obsolete beliefs about what we need to do to save the world.

One of the main reasons for the existence of the rift between mainstream consumers and so-called environmentalists has been the notion of sacrifice. Those who are actively engaged in living with conveniences and luxuries are "average consumers." Those who are willing to forego such consumer delights in the name of planetary protection implicitly join the ranks of the "environmentalists." Environmentalists throw paint on people wearing furs. They drive tiny Smart cars that look stupid to the rest of us. If you can't fit your groceries or go for a romp in the back of your car, how is that possibly smart? They think hemp is a plausible answer to most environmental problems and can be spotted sequestering themselves in trees and being arrested while blocking progress in any number of highly visible and sometimes illegal ways. -Isms unfortunately denote an extreme dedication to a cause, regardless of the reality. While the extreme examples may be the outliers, society at large interprets them for the average.

It's no wonder we are inclined to fear things that are green rather than put in the time to understand them and find the solutions that fit our lives. The Greenophobic perspective aims to be a clear voice of the new reality, for people who don't want their beliefs or behaviors concerning the environment to create a new label or direct their lives.

One of the underlying realities about people who care enough to actively fend off climate change and preserve the environment is that, right out of the gate, eco-aware individuals have a larger-than-average baseline environmental footprint.

The reasoning is simple: unless you are an avid consumer of the world's many splendors, you may not care to go out of your way to protect them.

"I earnestly recommend the establishment of a Bureau of National Parks. Such legislation is essential to the proper management of those wondrous manifestations of nature, so startling and so beautiful that everyone recognizes the obligations of the Government to preserve them for the edification and recreation of the people." President Taft in an address to Congress, February 2, 1912

The principle of preservation by recreation promulgated by President Taft still has important implications for today's environmental movement. The idea is simple: we must create sustainable ways to experience the wonders of our natural environment, or we risk losing sight of the motivation behind what we're trying to save in the first place.

This is the key to transitioning the proliferation of environmentally friendly lifestyles from the fringe of society to the mainstream. The "use it or lose it" mentality can be applied not just to national parks and natural wonders but also to the smaller things we buy and do on a daily basis.

Busy people lead busy, high-performance lives. They manage others and in the process shape entire enterprises, individual viewpoints, behaviors, households and large-scale economies. The effect created by one person in an influential role has far-reaching effects on the environment which become harder to trace but exponentially more powerful with each degree of separation.

The Greenophobe exists to inform the individuals who call the shots. We're also speaking to people who might not be influencers today but want to be tomorrow. And in doing so, we have a chance to create real change. One guy who famously inspired millions of people to wake up and embrace a very basic understanding of climate change has also come under fire for his own environmentally degrading lifestyle.

In 2006, following the release of Al Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth, there was major outcry about the film producer's private aviation habits and the Gore family's ridiculous $30,000 annual home utility bill.

At face value, the facts stink of hypocrisy. Are environmental influencers such as Al Gore or the film execs involved with the project entitled to Gulfstream jets and mansions with heated Olympic-sized swimming pools?

The answer to that question of entitlement is "no more than anyone else."

We need to rethink the concept of entitlement when environmental impact is concerned. The fact is, Gore is a powerful influencer. He doesn't earn any green credit for it, but he's an influencer before he's an environmentalist. The problem is not his lifestyle but rather the label we apply to Gore when we bring his lifestyle into question. Calling Gore and other influential leaders "environmentalists" invokes all the stuff that is attached to that obsolete expression. Environmentalists are supposed to go without for the benefit of the planet. Environmentalists are those brave and psychotic souls lying prone in front of raging bulldozers to stop the construction of a strip mall where a park once was.  By the outdated implied definition, environmentalism does not sound like much fun, which is precisely the problem.

Today, flying around to reach as many people as possible as fast as possible is a necessity for any influencer whether they're preaching about the environment or any other topic. We have yet to sign a treaty, hold a court trial or accomplish anything meaningful purely in cyberspace.  People need live contact.  And in lieu of the legendary anti-bulldozer sit-in, the swipe of a credit card has become the most powerful form of demonstration.  The power of the dollar enables you to support a great charitable cause that has the power to go out and do some good on your behalf, or make a product purchasing decision armed with information and purpose about what that purchase really means for the environment.

If we do not immediately divorce our outdated notions of environmentalism, it will be impossible to avert the environmental disaster that threatens to reshape our definition of life as usual. With seven billion people inhabiting the earth, most of whom live in countries that have yet to reach the peak of industrialization, we need no fewer than seven billion environmentalists and we need them fast.

We cannot settle for the 50,000 who are willing to get arrested to make a point. Nor can we settle for the 50 million who might be willing to make some significant sacrifices -- like driving an underpowered hybrid car -- to lower their carbon footprint by a few tons. None of that is enough now. Half-assing global environmental change is akin to asking 500 million people in China to jump at the same time to knock the world off its axis into a cooler orbit that would result in less heat reaching earth from the sun. It might require amazing effort and unprecedented coordination but would be totally futile in the end thanks to the laws of physics.

In slicing and dicing what it means to care about the environment, let's not forget what America's investment in the national parks symbolizes. People who care are people who consume and vise versa. With the right regulatory encouragement, environmental solutions rooted in consumption will emerge from business and industry. The environmental leaders and influencers of today are charged with creating opportunities that enable responsible consumption and form the confluence of convenience and sustainability. Examples already in existence include products that are desgined for easy recycling such as BMW cars and urban planning that creates communities, instead of closed doors and long driveways.

It's a new world so environmentalists, beware. Thankfully for the other 6.95 billion of us, your craft is obsolete and has been replaced by the power of choice in free market economies. Al Gore's supple leather Gulfstream seats are much more comfortable than your tree stand. If you're not enjoying life and encouraging others to do the same, you're not going to help move the world forward in the new global green economy.

"Life moves pretty fast. [If] you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." (Ibid)

1 comment:

  1. Wow--somewhat shaky but well done and provocative. I agree in many ways. I will be thinking of this for days. Though, I don't think you can comfortably *inspire* comfy, privileged folks to clean up their uncomfortable mess. Consider this: http://elisabethsowecke.blogspot.com/2009/06/out-of-sight-out-of-mind.html