E.1.2 What is the difference between environmentalism and ecology?

As we noted in section A.3.3, eco-anarchists contrast ecology with environmentalism. The difference is important as it suggests both a different analysis of where our ecological problems come from and the best way to solve them. As Bookchin put it: 

“By ‘environmentalism’ I propose to designate a mechanistic, instrumental outlook that sees nature as a passive habitat composed of ‘objects’ such as animals, plants, minerals, and the like that must merely be rendered more serviceable for human use . . . Within this context, very little of a social nature is spared from the environmentalist’s vocabulary: cities become ‘urban resources’ and their inhabitants ‘human resources’ . . . Environmentalism . . . tends to view the ecological project for attaining a harmonious relationship between humanity and nature as a truce rather than a lasting equilibrium. The ‘harmony’ of the environmentalist centres around the development of new techniques for plundering the natural world with minimal disruption of the human ‘habitat.’ Environmentalism does not question the most basic premise of the present society, notably, that humanity must dominant nature; rather, it seeks to facilitate than notion by developing techniques for diminishing the hazards caused by the reckless despoliation of the environment.” [The Ecology of Freedom, p. 86]

So eco-anarchists call the position of those who seek to reform capitalism and make it more green “environmentalism” rather than ecology. The reasons are obvious, as environmentalists “focus on specific issues like air and water pollution” while ignoring the social roots of the problems they are trying to solve. In other words, their outlook “rest[s] on an instrumental, almost engineering approach to solving ecological dislocations. To all appearances, they wanted to adapt the natural world to the needs of the existing society and its exploitative, capitalist imperatives by way of reforms that minimise harm to human health and well-being. The much-needed goals of formulating a project for radical social change and for cultivating a new sensibility toward the natural world tended to fall outside the orbit of their practical concerns.” Eco-anarchists, while supporting such partial structures, stress that “these problems originate in a hierarchical, class, and today, competitive capitalist system that nourishes a view of the natural world as a mere agglomeration of ‘resources’ for human production and consumption.” [Op. Cit., pp. 15-6]

This is the key. As environmentalism does not bring into question the underlying notion of the present society that man must dominate nature it cannot present anything other than short-term solutions for the various symptoms of the underlying problem. Moreover, as it does not question hierarchy, it simply adjusts itself to the status quo. Thus liberal environmentalism is so “hopelessly ineffectual” because “it takes the present social order for granted” and is mired in “the paralysing belief that a market society, privately owned property, and the present-day bureaucratic nation-state cannot be changed in any basic sense. Thus, it is the prevailing order that sets the terms of any ‘compromise’ or ‘trade-off'” and so “the natural world, including oppressed people, always loses something piece by piece, until everything is lost in the end. As long as liberal environmentalism is structured around the social status quo, property rights always prevail over public rights and power always prevails over powerlessness. Be it a forest, wetlands, or good agricultural soil, a ‘developer’ who owns any of these ‘resources’ usually sets the terms on which every negotiation occurs and ultimately succeeds in achieving the triumph of wealth over ecological considerations.” [Bookchin, Remaking Society, p. 15]

This means that a truly ecological perspective seeks to end the situation where a few govern the many, not to make the few nicer. As Chomsky once noted on the issue of “corporate social responsibility”, he could not discuss the issue as such because he did “not accept some of its presuppositions, specifically with regard to the legitimacy of corporate power” as he did not see any “justification for concentration of private power” than “in the political domain.” Both would “act in a socially responsible way — as benevolent despots — when social strife, disorder, protest, etc., induce them to do so for their own benefit.” He stressed that in a capitalist society “socially responsible behaviour would be penalised quickly in that competitors, lacking such social responsibility, would supplant anyone so misguided as to be concerned with something other than private benefit.” This explains why real capitalist systems have always “been required to safeguard social existence in the face of the destructive forces of private capitalism” by means of “substantial state control.” However, the “central questions . . . are not addressed, but rather begged” when discussing corporate social responsibility. [Language and Politics, p. 275]

Ultimately, the key problem with liberal environmentalism (as with liberalism in general) is that it tends, by definition, to ignore class and hierarchy. The “we are all in this together” kind of message ignores that most of decisions that got us into our current ecological and social mess were made by the rich as they have control over resources and power structures (both private and public). It also suggests that getting us out of the mess must involve taking power and wealth back from the elite — if for no other reason because working class people do not, by themselves, have the resources to solve the problem.

Moreover, the fact is the ruling class do not inhabit quite the same polluted planet as everyone else. Their wealth protects them, to a large degree, to the problems that they themselves have created and which, in fact, they owe so much of that wealth to (little wonder, then, they deny there is a serious problem). They have access to a better quality of life, food and local environment (no toxic dumps and motorways are near their homes or holiday retreats). Of course, this is a short term protection but the fate of the planet is a long-term abstraction when compared to the immediate returns on one’s investments. So it is not true to say that all parts of the ruling class are in denial about the ecological problems. A few are aware but many more show utter hatred towards those who think the planet is more important than profits.

This means that such key environmentalist activities such as education and lobbying are unlikely to have much effect. While these may produce some improvements in terms of our environmental impact, it cannot stop the long-term destruction of our planet as the ecological crisis is systemic — and not a matter of misinformation, spiritual insensitivity, or lack of moral integrity. The present social illness lies not only in the outlook that pervades the present society; it lies above all in the very structure and law of life in the system itself, in its imperative, which no entrepreneur or corporation can ignore without facing destruction: growth, more growth, and still more growth.” [Murray Bookchin, “The Ecological Crisis, Socialism, and the need to remake society,” pp. 1-10, Society and Nature, vol. 2, no. 3, pp. 2-3] This can only be ended by ending capitalism, not by appeals to consumers to buy eco-friendly products or to capitalists to provide them:

“Accumulation is determined not by the good or bad intentions of the individual bourgeois, but by the commodity relationship itself . . . It is not the perversity of the bourgeois that creates production for the sake of production, but the very market nexus over which he presides and to which he succumbs. . . . It requires a grotesque self-deception, or worse, an act of ideological social deception, to foster the belief that this society can undo its very law of life in response to ethical arguments or intellectual persuasion.” [Toward an Ecological Society, p. 66]

Sadly, much of what passes for the green movement is based on this kind of perspective. At worse, many environmentalists place their hopes on green consumerism and education. At best, they seek to create green parties to work within the state to pass appropriate regulations and laws. Neither option gets to the core of the problem, namely a system in which there are “oppressive human beings who literally own society and others who are owned by it. Until society can be reclaimed by an undivided humanity that will use its collective wisdom, cultural achievements, technological innovations, scientific knowledge, and innate creativity for its own benefit and for that of the natural world, all ecological problems will have their roots in social problems.” [Bookchin, Remaking Society, p. 39]

December 15, 2009 - Posted by | anti-kapitalizm, e-kitap, sistem karsitligi

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