Monday 23 August 2010

Open Minds and Dropping Conventional Environmentalism

Here is my response to Christine Ottery's excellent recent article 'How to be Less Maladaptive' over on 'Open Minds and Parachutes'

Hi Christine,

If we do as you suggest and keep all bases covered in our 'green' communications, are we not just perpetuating the status quo? It took me a while to find it, but I am now fixed on the 'Don't mention the Environment' approach.

We, as environmentalists, are locked in a battle (that we are losing horrendously) with consumer psychologists employed to keep people believing that material wealth = well-being. Belief in this myth is caused by what John K Galbraith in 'The Affluent Society' called 'The Paramount Position of Production' in the pursuit of economic growth and security. This creates 'The imperative of [maintaining] consumer demand' and, ultimately, our social and environmental problems.

Environmentalists are locked in a paradigm that has been proven over decades to be a fruitless and we need to wake up to it. The influence of long term, short term, immediate and distant environmental problems on people's behaviour are very small. We live in a world in which the majority are unable to properly identify and pursue the things that do and do not bring them well-being. We live in a world of 'pseudo-satisfiers', if we didn't the economy would collapse.

Making people aware of environmental problems is pointless unless it is mixed in with a much heavier dose of deeper soul searching. Rather than point people toward The Ecologist, Guardian Environment, 10:10 and The Age of Stupid; point them toward Alain De Botton, Vance Packard, Neil Boorman, Mihaly Csikzentmihayli, Mohammed Yunus, Tobias Jones, Peter Senge, Peter Singer and Oliver James. Or the albums: '12 Crass Songs' by Jeff Lewis and 'Cold Fact' by Rodriguez. Or films like Garbage Warrior, Into the Wild and Shooting Dogs.

These are the sources that have changed my way of thinking about the world and what the hell I should be doing within it. Stories of environmental despair add to my general despair about the human condition in modern Western life. But it is my concerns about my well-being and the well-being of my friends and family from the developed and developing world that drive me. It is the embedded 'Conventional Wisdom' (Galbraith, 1969, Chapter 2) of our current material consumption driven economic system that needs to change. If we want continued economic growth we have to de-materialise it, to do this we as environmentalists need to help people let go of what Tim Kasser calls our High Materialistic Value Orientations.

Key Reference:

Galbraith, J,K. (1969) The Affluent Society, Pelican, UK

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