Abrupt climate change and the dead end of eco-consumerism

4:30 pm in Uncategorized by cassiodorus

crossposted at DailyKos.com and at VOTS

Book review: Pierre-Louis, Kendra. Green Washed: Why We Can’t Buy Our Way to a Green Planet. Brooklyn: IG Publishing, 2012.

Green Washed cover

A recent book takes aim at the idea that we can buy our way to a clean environment.

A number of recent written pieces have reflected actual interest in doing something about abrupt climate change. Abrupt climate change is now stalling the gulf stream. Barack Obama mentioned climate change in his recent State of the Union speech. Canada dumps its Kyoto targets, but perhaps Barbara Boxer and Bernie Sanders are now interested in climate change legislation. “John Crapper” suggests we ought to declare war on fossil fuel. Agathena tells us more about Canadian tar sands.

Generally speaking, none of the suggested solutions to have reached mainstream respectability does what it takes. We are still debating the comparative merits of continuing along the current path, or ineffectively petitioning the government to do something ineffective. I know, this may appear to be cart-before-the-horse logic to those who simply wish to get the government to focus on abrupt climate change. However, we need to be careful to avoid imagining that our problems will be solved with anything less than a broad social transformation. You can make the “work within the system” argument all you want, but generally speaking both the Republican and the Democratic Parties are conservative parties, and we do ourselves no favors by repeating their conservatisms.

Even “John Crapper” does not go far enough:

What if we declared war on our fossil fuel dependency and waged a WWII type effort to wean ourselves off of its use and transform our economy to a non-polluting , renewable energy based one?

What we actually need is an economy that isn’t predatory, and that isn’t going to bring the natural world and the working-class society to ruin. The worst thing we could do, in light of all that, is to assuage the collective guilt about pollution and unsustainability while at the same time creating a “new economy” which is just as polluting and unsustainable as the old economy. Higher standards are not “purity” — they’re the price of sincerity.

We can already predict that, in the case of abrupt climate change, another consumer-oriented solution is going to be proposed. We are already told that, as consumers of fossil fuels, it is all our fault — never mind that the fossil fuels come gift-wrapped to us in a tremendous infrastructure of global oil, coal, tar sand, and natural gas production and distribution facilitated by an expanding global capitalist world-economy, none of which was our choice to begin with. Moreover, we will be told by the environmental advocates of business as usual that the solution to our evil consumerism is to buy carbon-credits, or to pay carbon taxes, or to buy carbon easements. Let’s assuage the collective guilt, they will tell us, and then get on with business as usual. Never mind that business as usual is a bad bargain, and getting worse.

In this regard, we ought to discuss the high standard of sincerity suggested in Kendra Pierre-Louis’ recently-published book Green Washed: Why We Can’t Buy Our Way to a Green Planet. Fundamentally, Pierre-Louis takes aim at the idea that proper consumerism can solve our ecological problems, and concludes that it can’t. This isn’t to say that there aren’t better and worse things to consume, but rather that the whole consumption edifice is unsustainable. “Eco-fashion is less about sustainability and more about mitigating guilt.” (24-25) Systems of commodity production invariably fall afoul of ecosystem integrity, and so our main option is to become post-commodity, and thus post-capitalist.

Pierre-Louis begins by discussing how this works out for industrial agriculture. “We are told that industrial agriculture is the best way, is in fact the only way, we will ever mitigate global hunger. And yet, at the same time, it is a food system that often times seems more efficient at harming the environment than it does at feeding people.” (35) Rather than explaining right away why environmental damage is a necessary characteristic of our industrial-consumer systems, Pierre-Louis launches immediately into assessments of environmental damage. The author begins, then, by showing how tiny the window for avoiding consumer guilt really is, when one takes the world of fact into account. Big Ag is dangerously dependent upon limited water supplies; genetic engineering has manifested “superweeds”; organic agriculture is often bought up by large corporate interests.

Later we are to discuss solutions, and here Pierre-Louis is not comprehensive, advocating change in the most general of terms. But this can be forgiven of her, because she is trying to reach a consumer audience with a message aimed at transforming current modes of thinking, and that she does spectacularly.

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