Sunday, April 19, 2009

What Comes After Environmentalism?

By Charles Halvorson

With just three short weeks remaining between now and graduation, the urge to reflect has begun to occupy this senior. In what must be a perennial activity for graduating classes everywhere, I fill out cap and gown measurements and I recollect. Often this recollection takes me down paths of social remembrances of little interest to anyone who wasn’t there. But sometimes, the object of my reminiscence has far broader relevance.

Central among these is the problem that dwarfs all others in its significance – climate change. Within our four years at Lewis and Clark, we have witnessed a transformation in the discussion of this issue. What was once a demand for radical change put forth by an almost exclusively liberal base has been taken up by mainstream society. This would have been a good thing except most Americans did not want to radically restructure the way we live our lives. Maintaining the status quo has hitherto taken precedence over enacting meaningful change and the solutions we have put forth seek to address the issue in terms that do not threaten the hegemony of capitalist accumulation in our culture.

As it was commercialized, global warming lost its urgency and its capability to inspire radical action. Green became the new black and proved itself an equally capable color when it came to denoting the bottom line. Emission credit swaps and the Hybrid Cadillac Escalade illustrate the degree to which our response to the threat of global catastrophe has been co-opted by the forces of capitalism and to our willingness, our eagerness to let this happen.

Skepticism cuts through the rhetoric of “buying green” and reveals our collective desire to hold environmental protection in high esteem without challenging the status quo of conspicuous consumption. We cannot simply change the names of our deities and presume to continue our vociferous consumption unabated. Our burgeoning population inhabits a planet with finite resources; clearly, our strategy for continued survival clearly cannot be predicated upon unlimited want.

Hardworking environmental advocates have capably synthesized and presented what will be the dire fate of our planet should we remain stuck in our current patterns. The threat of environmental catastrophe is real and plaintively evident to all who care to look: the dreidel on which humanity currently spins is coming perilously close to the edge of the table.

Recollection may remain in the realm of mere nostalgia. But remembering and empathizing with our younger selves also presents an opportunity to reconsider our present condition. The current state of environmentalism is not the inevitable conclusion of our historical circumstances. Indulging in our memories offers a poignant reminder of our continued agency.  

1 comment:

Brian Schultz said...

I used to own that blue flannel. Crazy