An Update to “The Most Likely Environmentalists”

About a year ago, I wrote about the [“Most Likely Environmentalists”], and responded in the reactionary way that I do:

People who are invested in the world are inherently environmentalists, for they have much to do to secure their investment. Likewise, can one really respect the efforts of those “deeply committed to the environment” yet put no dime or thought into long-term investments in alternative energies, food productions, or cultural changes? Those people you see on social media with pixelated reposts of old bromides admonishing humanity for its evils: how can this compare with the accomplishments made by those who put their money where their mouth is, and also speak coherently about how the average person can proceed in investing and securing their investment in this earth?

If you continue to read the previous essay, I think you’ll understand that I’m not an apologist for money makers that are only invested in the short-term exploitation of the earth—at the cost of their own lives and others. But something I might have implied is that financial investments is the primary means for an individual or community to push for an environmentally-sound industrial future. This is a point that I must clarify and mostly invalidate.

To clarify: That essay gave Foreign Affairs’ contributor Rebecca Henderson the benefit of the doubt by setting an argument within a capitalist context. This is why I started the essay with this:

If you want the the so-called benefits of civilization and capitalism, you must follow the reality of its system: Environmentalism can only viable when it is profitable, whether in the short or long-term. For the capitalist world, there is no altruism, but the constant question of “What's in it for me?” The tides are turning, and companies see that there is money in environmentalism, so they jump…

So, given Henderson’s capitalist environment, I do believe that financial investments are a primary foundation for expression; the other would be consumer choices, which can be a dead end, as “giving up something” to consume for a principle like environmentalism is a negation that is easily trampled by capitalist inertia: As consumers, we will go for the easiest and the cheapest until we see direct causation between frugality and self or communal harm. Product manufacturers, who see that this is doing just fine, will have little incentive to change its product for the better (unless it dealt with some competition). In other words, we’ll keep on buying bleach until some study correlates bleach-use with cancer, and producers will keep on selling variations of the same chemical until they lose consumer good will or are banned from selling it.

How I summarized it in the previous essay:

Low-and-middle class people are told to recycle and not throw trash on the streets, as if our only actions can be to mitigate the failure of our existence.

On the other end, financial investments are a method of hoarding money in such a way that it benefits the hoarder with more monetary resources. This is a positive action: One is not “giving up”, but “putting in” for direct benefits. This would be like people running to the local grocery store to purchase “UnBleach X”, which is not only just as effective as bleach, but is edible and is fortified with Vitamin C, and fifty cents cheaper. People are much more apt to reach toward something rather than give something up. Financial investments are a reaching towards, and in the supposedly rational system of capitalism, people should reach toward investments that are not only stable and consistently growing, but will also contribute to their own well-being and safety. Why don’t they? Because the constantly shifting narratives over green energy and work muddles the water, not allowing a potential investor in on the truth that industries that make people healthier, safer, and in a more beautiful place will inevitably be those that have indefinite growth.

However, I want to pull away from the idea that financial investments are a primary means of expression for a positive environmental impact on the world. It is simply an important method in our capitalist environment. I do not believe we live in a capitalist environment, but between human and natural environments; capitalism is a human environment that has been given a little too much seriousness and universality, so we mistake capitalism for the overall human condition.

I continue to agree with the energy of my past essay, but I must wave away its narrow scope (the capitalist environment) and broaden the vision of the “Most Likely Environmentalist”. In summary, and of course something that will be addressed in more detail later on, the most likely environmentalist is the product of a cultural inertia. Look to the Industrial Revolution: No important contributor to that time had to ask themselves whether they were an “Industrial Revolutionary”; there were no business or self-help books or self-flagellating over whether one was adding to the revolution: The people, caught up in the inertia of a technological movement, simply did. The people added their two cents, and all these isolated contributions snowballed into the modern age wholly augmented by industrial technology. Ignore the inhumanity of the Industrial Revolution and appreciate the fact that it was a significant event in civilizational history, all brought along by a decentralized network of inventors, thinkers, and pushers, who simply breathed experiments and contributions.

Can this cultural energy be applied to environmentalism? Can technological, philosophical, scientific innovations breathe sustainability and earthly well-being? Only if Nature can be integrated into our cultural inertia. Did you know that growing plants in a certain way can preclude the need for herbicides, pesticides, most irrigation and boring rows of crops on flat territory? Did you know that you don’t need to pay nearly as much for the energy bill during the winter with a cheaper, twig-fueled heater? Did you know that you don’t need toxic, factory-produced chemicals to clean your home, but could use cheap, naturally-available compounds? Did you know that your own locale might be the perfect place for a vacation, rather than enduring hours of plane layovers and expensive hotels? Did you know that there are ways to live a life of luxury without the boats, planes, cars, televisions, and technologies that give one moment of novelty and another decade of debt payments?

The Most Likely Environmentalists will have found from their parents, ancestors, or communities that a life well-lived is one that doesn’t require the current rat race of money hoarding, debt growing, and product consumption currently promised by the “capitalist environment”, where all one can do about the environment is live a more impoverished life. The Industrial Revolution, for all its failures, succeeded because it didn’t promise sacrifice, but overwhelming gain that would have been unthought of by those just a generation prior to the technological movement. The Most Likely Environmentalist will most likely never call themselves an environmentalist, because what they live and breathe is simply better than the lives of their predecessors, with their contributions unfettered by the failures of humanity, but by the successes of innovators who took Nature in mind when they found an even better method of living comfortably.