Local environmentalism

Perhaps it is unwise for me to criticize environmental groups at the moment, given that we are all trying to push a difficult issue forward at a time of considerable political hostility. Reagan’s 11th Commandment is a major reason why the Republicans are so strong in the United States. At the same time, it is disheartening to see people expending their useful energy on the wrong thing, when there is something they would care about a lot more available. Also, given that the environmental movement makes choices based on things that are still at the edge of scientific knowledge, there is a benefit in having public discussions, and making the strongest possible cases to one another. We should not assume ourselves to be infallible, but rather to be in a dialogue with an ever-emerging collection of complex information on how the climate operates.

All that said, I must confess that I am perplexed by how many environmental groups seem to focus their time. It might be a terrible thing that some ugly new development will replace a nice bit of woodland, but I think people need to consider the scale on which humanity is smashing nature. That little plot of forest is threatened along with a whole lot of other forests if catastrophic or runaway climate change occurs.

It reminds me of a person wandering in the middle of a battlefield, looking for their glasses. They realize one problem – that their glasses have been dropped – and they are working diligently at solving it by scrutinizing the ground. At the same time, bullets are flying all around them. They see the small problem, miss the big one, and focus their efforts in the wrong way as a consequence.

Climate change really is the over-riding environmental priority right now. If we warm up the planet five or six ˚C, it will ruin all conservation efforts that have been undertaken in the meanwhile. We need to solve climate change first – taking advantages of co-benefits where possible.

In any case, I think I can see the appeal of being a part of a group dedicated to saving the local bog. It has locavore chic. Also, the area might have a special importance to you personally. Finally, it has the benefit that even if your quest fails, the outcome isn’t so bad. Being part of something friendly and local is a lot more pleasant than confronting a terrifying spectre of global destruction. And yet, that seems to be what we are facing.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

7 thoughts on “Local environmentalism”

  1. Incidentally, it seems a bit absurd that the thing in the photo is the Afghan embassy in Canada. It seems to show how one-sided the relationship is, given the massive fortress-like embassies NATO forces have built in Afghanistan and American forces have built in Iraq.

    This looks a tiny bit imperialist.

  2. I feel that the value of local struggles is largely in the feeling of groundedness which it can instill for people who are also involved in large scale democratic climate activism. Thus, if it becomes an end in itself and not a supplement, I think it’s nearly purely hegemonic (disguised support for the status quo).

  3. On the other hand, of course, community is an essential part of being a whole person, so if local environmental activism is blind to the real problem of the environment, what forms of local activism are appropriate given the real circumstances in which we live? Another friend of mind is becoming heavily involved in health-care activism – fighting against the withering away of our nationalized health care system, fighting for health care access for migrant workers, fighting essentially for the recognition of the validity of human persons and their right to life, and to live a good life.

  4. As someone who gives relatively little either by way of time or resources to social issues, I do not suggest how those who are active should focus their time, efforts or money.

    I also expect that those who are local environmental activists, also support global environmental initiatives.

    The reality is that probably most people are active in neither.

  5. Some people would say that the Republican strategy of not criticizing one another is why the Republicans have become increasingly extreme and rightwing, and both propose and make terrible policies. In effect, that strategy introduces a double standard whereby the lefty Republicans can’t criticize the right, but the rightwing constantly attack the left-leaning Rebublicans by identifying them with the evils of liberalism and the Democrats. No wonder the Republican right engage in such crazy behaviour and lies when they know they won’t get called out on it by anyone that their voters might possible listen to.

    Given that the Republican strategy has been to the detriment of almost all Americans (save the tiny minority of the very richest, who’ve benefitted massively over the last 30 years), my guess is that trying to shut down criticism within the environmental movement would be to the detriment of almost everybody in the world. The result would just be to alienate scientists and produce lousy, ineffectual policies based on soundbites instead of evidence.

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