Recently a theme has been going around from certain people who like to attack activists, ignore the reasons they give for their activism, and who like to attribute ugly motives to them, that driving priuses, using energy efficient lightbulbs, getting solar panels, and becoming vegetarian will solve our environmental problems. To be clear, I am for all of these things and certainly don’t reject them, but I find three things particularly interesting in arguments coming from those who would li,e to call themselves eco-activists because they give talks and sometimes make appearances on radio: 1) I find it interesting that those who argue this position provide no analysis of the economic constraints on the vast majority of people. With wages depressed for literally decades, class disparities in wealth the greatest they’ve been since the Great Depression, overall unemployment hovering around 9% and at over 16% among African Americans (curiously defenders of this line of argument tend to claim they’re arguing from a standpoint of racial equality, arguing that the left is racist in its criticisms of the neoliberal policies of the administration, even as they support and defend policies devastating to minorities, ie, they defend a purely abstract equality) electric and hybrid cars, energy efficient lightbulbs, vegetarian diets, and solar panels are expensive, and in many cases, unobtainable luxuries for many just trying to survive (often under conditions of crushing debt). Again, the point is not that such things shouldn’t be done if one is able, but that it’s curious that one would focus on such things–especially in an object-oriented framework that acknowledges objects as agencies and material conditions –without examining the economic constraints on this sort of “activism”.
2) I find it interesting that this line of argument places the onus of change on consumers and workers (or those who work for a wage), while never, as far as I can tell, addressing the role of owners and industrialists (those that invest money to make money). The role that industry and buisiness play in our environmental problems seem to go completely unaddressed in this line of thought, as if the axiom of endless annual growth in capitalist economy did not have the lion’s share of fault with respect to the destruction of our environment. Basically, then, business and industry that have produced the majority of this catastrophic destruction are to get off free, while wager earners are required to accept more austerity, more channeling of wealth to the upper two percent, less mobility and freedom, and will be required to pay for the consequences of this destruction through their tax dollars. It’s as if fighting the environmental catastrophe were merely a lifestyle problem, a style, where it’s enough to simply eat right, drive the right car, have the right lightbulbs, etc (so long, of course, as you’re an Oxford trained person that can afford to live in California who can safely condemn morally all those without jobs, good wages, sturggling to raise families on limited incomes, struggling to survive while suffering from chronic income on limited income, etc. These people just are not making the right lifestyle choice and are culpable for not having an Oxford education). The problem here is not that something is asked of consumers– that’s great and necessary –but rather that nothing is asked of business and industry. Indeed, we even repeatedly see a form of argument where wage earners aren’t even supposed to speak up because “the experts i government and business have this!” No seat at the table for these unwashed masses! What do they know about the delicate nature of economy? Of course, this comes as no surprise if you come from a privileged perspective that enables you to argue that the problem is primarily one of environmental aesthetics, of how art has represented nature– which, of course, doesn’t exist (why not instead claim that there is nothing outside nature?) –and not of real material conditions… Again, a rather luxurious position.
3) It is interesting that this position often leaves uninterrogated the relation between big money and the government. Often this position– I’ll call it the “Oxford politics” –shows a strange Oedipal faith in governmemt leadership, arguing “don’t worry, we have this”, ignoring the disproportionate power that industry and business exercise over governmemt policy rendering it disinclined to rock the policy boat in ways that might harm profit margins. Where it is acknowledged that these sorts of pressures exist for elected officials we are told nothing can be done and that the only option is to place the onus on consumers, leaving business and industry untouched, ie, we get a narrative about “political realism” and maturity. In other words, we get an inegalitarian “politics” where workers and wage earners are called to sacrifice while nothing is sacrificed by business and industry.
This is a curious politics which blames those that protest and speak out saying “we’re people too, what of our place, why do we not get a say, why do we make all the sacrifices?” rather than those in positions of governmemt power and the massive power of business and industry. It is never suggested by tye Oxford political theorists (really they try to annul politics) that people should use their people power to put pressure on business, industry, and elected officials to compel them to adopt more equitable solutions and to address the root of the problem. Indeed, those that speak up are usually condemned (generally in an ad hominem fashion that doesn’t address the points or address the question of why only wage earners must sacrifice and give up their freedoms) and the spectre of a lunatic right is trotted out to compel us to accept more austerity. The point again is not that energy efficient cars, lightbulbs, diets, etc, are not good measures, but that it is odd that Oxford politics takes all these other elements off the table, attacks those that speak up, and remains silent on the role of big money in these problems and in government inaction.