Against Neo-Environmentalism

City of Rocks state park, new mexico - 57 This is about a bad idea, and a set of other, good ideas, and an essay by Paul Kingsnorth called Dark Ecology in which he writes wonderfully about those ideas.  It's a long (17 page), somewhat slow, meditative, and often sad piece of writing, and you're no doubt extremely busy.  And so I will understand if you don't get to it. You may not even get to this here, as you peruse the title and first few lines of this blog post in your facebook feed.  But I'm writing, here, my summary of it, so maybe at least some folks I know might get the gist.  Still, there's no way I can really replace the original, so if you do feel interested, or inspired, you should click and read.

Who is this for? Is it for you? Well, first of all if you self-identify as an "environmentalist" or as "green" or as someone interested in "sustainability," then this, and Kingsnorth's piece, is for you.  It's also for you if you care about nature and where the natural world is headed and where our society and civilization is headed.

So, let's get down to it. "Dark Ecology" is basically Kingsnorth's examination of where we're at, presently, as environmentally-minded people, as people who've been trying to work on one aspect or another of saving nature from humans.  He reaches the conclusion, after looking back at the last few decades of the environmental movement, that the movement has largely been failing.  Not only has it been failing, but there is a new version or sect of the movement that is going to try to make sure it fails in even bigger ways.  This new (but not really new) school is one you've probably heard from already, or maybe you've been talking up some of its talking points yourself, thinking they're good ideas.  If you've heard about "ecosystem services" or heard people talking about "nature for people," then you've been exposed to this virulent meme, and it's known as "neo-environmentalism". (and by the way, are you annoyed like I am that many people seem to think lately that a "meme" is simply the recent internet fad of silly humorous images with text on them, that take off all of a sudden and get popular? That many people seem to be unaware of the real and larger definition of "meme"?  That any replicating idea, from agriculture to Christianity to the paleo diet, is a meme?)

Kingsnorth expertly dissects and debunks neo-environmentalism and shows how it's really just a sort of dressed-up new way of articulating a very old paradigm that most 'modern' humans have always assumed - that nature is just here for us to use and it has no value other than how useful it is to us humans. The only difference is that now neo-environmentalists are saying that  every bit of that value needs to be quantified and measured scientifically, and affixed with a price tag.  However, this is just the latest episode in the long assault on the environment in the name of "progress," which really, especially now, means in the name of more power and wealth for capitalists.  And it will continue until things reach a catastrophic end.

But somehow, poetically and beautifully, Kingsnorth avoids utter despair, and even ends up with a short list of things to do in the face of this utterly disheartening scenario.  To briefly run through his list, which he provides more explanation and justification for in the essay:  1)  Withdraw;  2) Preserve nonhuman life; 3) Get your hands dirty (do something practical and physical); 4) Insist that nature has a value beyond utility; and 5) Build refuges.

He follows up these suggestions with the disclaimer, "None of it is going to save the world - but then there is no saving the world, and the ones who say there is are the ones you need to save it from."

So, do what you can. And although I've tried to save you the time and effort, if you've gottent this far I'll say to you again, go ahead and read the thing, and don't give up because it's too depressing, read it through to the end and see how it sort of becomes inspiring too.