Why Environmentalism is Set to Fail

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September 5, 2010

At the cor­ner of St. James St and Portage Ave in Win­nipeg is a build­ing which has pro­vided the can­vas for some mas­sive murals for Win­nipeg Hydro. As I passed by the mural today I saw two kids lay­ing back on the grass at the edge of a lake. They were look­ing up into a blue sky made lighter with the pres­ence of dis­tinct white clouds. It was the clas­sic sce­nario of see­ing ‘some­thing’ within the unique and ran­dom shapes that pass by. The clouds, how­ever, betrayed the clear and unmis­tak­able shapes of an energy-efficient light bulb and wash­ing machine. There are an increas­ing num­ber cri­tiques out there of how cap­i­tal­ism con­tin­ues to entrench itself within envi­ron­men­tal­ism pro­vid­ing the ther­a­peu­tic oppor­tu­nity to buy and con­sume your way to a cleaner world and there­fore feel good about your­self with­out hav­ing to change any­thing (I can remem­ber a hybrid car com­mer­cial with the ques­tion what is this car doing and the answer clean­ing the envi­ron­ment.

This mural, how­ever, struck me as even more sin­is­ter. Instead of offer­ing a sim­ple seda­tive to the prob­lem of what­ever our envi­ron­men­tal cri­sis may be this mural actu­ally attempts to co-opt the very pos­si­bil­ity of imag­i­na­tive alter­na­tives. Go ahead and dream of what is pos­si­ble but the game is fixed, we now posses the mate­r­ial of your imag­i­na­tion and can mold it for our gain. Am I wrong? There is a cult grow­ing around envi­ron­men­tal­ism that I am hav­ing lit­tle faith in. It seems dis­in­ter­ested in and detached from the larger issues of equal­ity and social restoration.

I found the image online and as I looked at it again it keeps get­ting worse. The light bulb and wash­ing machine are actu­ally placed as the exclu­sive vari­ables for a math­e­mat­i­cal equa­tion the sum of which equals a green tree. This is a bla­tant lie. The vari­ables in this equa­tion are no dif­fer­ent then the vari­ables of an old bulb and wash­ing machine (per­haps with a slightly lower numer­i­cal value). This ad is try­ing to tell you that these new prod­ucts are of a fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent order and com­po­si­tion. They no longer add to dis­as­ter but now add to sal­va­tion. This is a load of crap.

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