I have generally been skeptical of anti-capitalist environmentalism for two main reasons: the added difficulty involved in changing our economic system and the possibility that an alternative economic system might not be more sustainable.
We have a tough enough fight on our hands, trying to create a sustainable world, even if we aren’t also trying to overcome the obsession of politicians and the public with endless economic growth and ever-increasing personal consumption. Indeed, criticism of either is so far outside the political mainstream that it raises questions of what kind of political program could succeed.
Furthermore, among 20th and 21st century political and economic systems, I don’t see non-capitalist economic systems that are clearly more sustainable than consumer capitalism. The clearest alternative – communism as practiced in Russia, China, and elsewhere – seems similarly ecologically destructive: maybe less capable of producing consumer goods, but even more cavalier about environmental contamination by heavy industry.
Reading Peter Dauvergne’s Environmentalism of the Poor has been another reminder of the plausible argument that the root of our environmental problems is unsustainable consumption, and only societal reforms that somehow counter that can succeed in keeping us from destroying the Earth and ourselves. If that’s true, we really have a lot of difficult political work ahead. The odds of success seem to depend on how humanity as a whole deals with the rising stress that will accompany trends like climate change and nuclear proliferation. If a growing recognition of crisis opens up political discourse and lets us challenge things like the assumption that economic growth is good, we may have a chance. If people respond instead by focusing ever-more on their own personal material interests, with less and less consideration for others, we may be on a trajectory to destruction with no means of course correction.