The Arizona Desert Lamp

Environmentalism without the environment

Posted in Politics by Evan Lisull on 9 December 2008

It started with Matt’s post — which I mostly agreed with, but left me with uneasy feeling. Then, over at the New York Time’s Lede blog, the paper highlighted a story on the environmental impact of the conflict in Darfur. Finally, in Thursday’s paper, there was this editorial on how “holiday dinners worsen global warming.” Combined, these arguments left me with a reaction that I’m usually at the receiving end of: “You callous bastard, people are losing their jobs!”

To clarify: it’s no accident that the rhetoric over global warming and other environmental issues were largely ignored over the last few months of the campaign. It is a luxury good to be able to worry about the environment, and thus it was ignored in wake of bigger issues, like the economy and the war.

The key for environmentalists is to remember that environmentalism is not about the environment. Nature for nature’s sake is not a cause that humans should ever fight for — nature, for all intents and purposes, has waged a no-holds-barred war against Man for its entire existence. As anyone who lives outside of society’s comforts knows, Mother Earth is not a docile beauty being raped, but a vicious she-monster, barely contained. Instead, they must fight for the environment insofar as it is an element of human society — an environment beholden to man, and not the other way around. You can already see these sorts of activists getting away from the tree hugging with the overwhelming replacement of “sustainable” for “environmental,” the former channeling a socially conservative message that the latter never had.

Thus, in arguments about public transportation, you need to talk about providing a superior transportation option for workers and students, not about “cutting down on emissions.” We can see this already in posts by Matt Yglesias and Ryan Avent, who emphasize the role that transit can play in helping struggling economies, as opposed to their environmental impact.

This applies to campus environmental/sustainable efforts as well. I can see an argument for a campus-wide bike program on the basis of (hypothetically) reducing bike theft, but not on the basis of reducing the UA’s “carbon footprint.” Sustainability for sustainability’s sake, at the expense of taxpayers and families, is never enough of a justification.

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3 Responses

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  1. Stacey Derbinshire said, on 9 December 2008 at 2:45 pm

    You know, I have to tell you, I really enjoy this blog and the insight from everyone who participates. I find it to be refreshing and very informative. I wish there were more blogs like it. Anyway, I felt it was about time I posted, Ive spent most of my time here just lurking and reading, but today for some reason I just felt compelled to say this.

  2. Justyn Dillingham said, on 9 December 2008 at 4:39 pm

    I’m in agreement with some of this. To some degree, caring about the global environment is a luxury of countries that have achieved a certain standard of living.

    But Evan, I gotta say — your stance on nature is basically indistinguishable from that of Captain Ahab. I don’t think environmental policy has to begin with the assumption that the natural world is a malevolent fiend. For one thing, “nature” is a different thing than “the environment.” Nature — or God, or natural selection, or whatever you want to call it — is indeed out to get us, in a sense. But the environment is where we *live*, and it’s certainly in every person’s interests to live in a pleasant, non-toxic place. That local community-level interest is what environmental activists ought to emphasize, not vaguely utopian aims like trying to force Third World countries to lower their emissions. I’m not a fan of the left’s hectoring tone on environmental issues, but I’m not convinced that packaging it as a strictly utilitarian one — particularly in market-speak like “providing a superior transportation option” — is much of an improvement. For one thing, if you think that “nature for nature’s sake” is a goal never worth pursuing, what’s the purpose of national parks?

  3. […] conveniently provides an illustration of the problems in environmentally-friendly policy discussed here: Our goal of educing the number of single occupancy cars on campus, reducing traffic congestion and […]


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