Monbiot: Environmentalism is stuck

George Monbiot is not the first enviro to argue that the movement, if it is a movement, has argued itself into a corner. That it is, as he says, "stuck." But he has a knack for putting it plainly: 

Those seeking to protect the landscape are not our enemies; nor are those advocating that renewables should replace fossil fuel; nor are those promoting nuclear power as the answer; nor are those opposing nuclear power. We are all struggling with the same problem, all bumping up against atmospheric chemistry and physical constraints. 

Generously, he credits a writer new to me, Paul Kingsnorth, for his yet deeper explorations into the quandary, in his elegant web essay The Poets and the Quants

My feeling is that the green movement has torpedoed itself with numbers. Its single-minded obsession with climate change, and its insistence on seeing this as an engineering challenge which must be overcome with technological solutions guided by the neutral gaze of Science, has forced it into a ghetto from which it may never escape. Most greens in the mainstream now spend their time arguing about whether they prefer windfarms to wave machines or nuclear power to carbon sequestration. They offer up remarkably confident predictions of what will happen if we do or don’t do this or that, all based on mind-numbing numbers cherry-picked from this or that ’study’ as if the world were a giant spreadsheet which only needs to be balanced correctly.

So so true. What is less natural, less earthly, more dead, than a spreadsheet?

And yet it is by spreadsheets — or, to be technical, energy budgets — that some advocates would save us. 

2 thoughts on “Monbiot: Environmentalism is stuck

  1. THANKS KIT for giving added visibility to the work of Paul Kingsnorth (new to me).

    I followed up and found his Dark Mountain essay expressing, and exploring, the critical need for a counternarrative to the consumerist/globalist story. (Really powerful, and full of pithy, usable phrases. He is a poet, after all!)

    I’ve been writing about the environmentalist narrative for a long time. What perplexes me is this: since the 1970s I’ve read many, many calls for “a new story.” I’ve repeated these calls myself. But it seems to be taking its own sweet time. Where is it? What is it?

    Why does the industrial worldview swamp everything else?? Why can’t we get a counter-story up and running – something that speaks to the heart and clarifies the realities?

    All I can say is: A lot of smart green thinkers have identified this problem. But it remains unsolved. (My provisional theory is that you can’t concoct a story like this – it has to emerge. It’s a myth, or a mythos, and comes from deep-dark places. We’ll know it when we see it.)

    Here’s a short talk I gave to some Midwest environmental educators about the importance of story:

    I’ll be back working with these same folks in July, and we’ll undoubtedly read the Kingsnorth essay together. (In Wisconsin, the “Midwest Regional Collective for Sustainable Education.”)


  2. It’s the puritanical side of the environmental movement which tends to be obsessed with numbers and Solutions, missing the point completely. But that’s the country and society we live in, so we’ve got to swing with it. My explanation to people about what “Save The Planet” is about tends to go as follows: “Mother Earth is just fine, she’ll have no problem recovering from whatever damage humans might do. It’s the survival of the human race itself that we need to worry about, and it’s not looking so good right now.”
    TITLE: Peyton Kuhn
    BLOG NAME: Peyton Kuhn
    DATE: 12/23/2011 12:54:20 AM
    Thanks-a-mundo for the blog. Great.


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