Saturday Links of the Week – March 24, 2007

beauty strip steve gormanWhat’s Wrong with Environmentalism: Curtis White starts off a two-part article in Orion with a brilliant and moving explanation of why we environmentalists are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Excerpt:

We can, however, look at ourselves and see all of the ways that we conspire against what we imagine to be our own most urgent interests. Perhaps the most powerful way in which we conspire against ourselves is the simple fact that we have jobs. We are willingly part of a world designed for the convenience of what Shakespeare called ’Äúthe visible God’Äù: money. When I say we have jobs, I mean that we find in them our home, our sense of being grounded in the world, grounded in a vast social and economic order. It is a spectacularly complex, even breathtaking, order, and it has two enormous and related problems. First, it seems to be largely responsible for the destruction of the natural world. Second, it has the strong tendency to reduce the human beings inhabiting it to two functions, working and consuming. It tends to hollow us out. It creates a hole in our sense of ourselves and of this country, and it leaves us with few alternatives but to try to fill that hole with money and the things money buys…

Needless to say, many people with environmental sympathies will easily agree with what I’Äôve just said and imagine that in fact they do what they can to resist work and consumption, to resist the world as arranged for the convenience of money. But here again I suspect we are kidding ourselves. Rather than taking the risk of challenging the roles money and work play in all of our lives by actually taking the responsibility for reordering our lives, the most prominent strategy of environmentalists seems to be to ’Äúgive back’Äù to nature through the bequests, the annuities, the Working Assets credit cards and long distance telephone schemes, and the socially responsible mutual funds advertised in Sierra and proliferating across the environmental movement. Such giving may make us feel better, but it will never be enough… We’Äôre willing to be generous in order to ’Äúsave the world’Äù but not before we’Äôve insured our own survival in the reigning system…

Even when we are trying to aid the environment, we are not willing as individuals to leave the system that we know in our heart of hearts is the cause of our problems. We are even further from knowing how to take the collective risk of leaving this system entirely and ordering our societies differently. We are not ready. Not yet, at least.

Read the whole article, and stay tuned for Part Two. And in the meantime, the NYT tells the story of a couple of writers in NYC trying hard to be really green (thanks to Melisa Christensen for the link).

“We’re Sitting On a Powderkeg Here”: George Packer’s astonishing article from the New Yorker about the horror of modern Lagos (my review here) is finally available online — on a Nigerian discussion forum.

How Cuba Survived Peak Oil: The combination of the collapse of the USSR and the US embargo left Cuba in a crisis, bereft of the essentials that had made its economy work, with starvation omnipresent. A new film shows how the Cuban people clawed their way back through The Power of Community, and in so doing developed a model for survival that may be valuable to us when we all face the End of Oil. Thanks to Don Hayward of the Green Party for the link.

Peak Oil Movement Speaks to Big Oil: Randy Udall‘s and Richard Heinberg‘s respectful, credible and expansive comments to the National Petroleum Council on Peak Oil. Excerpt from the former:

Humans have always sought perpetual motion, and for a moment, the petroleum industry has given it to us. The problem is that you have 300 million Americans who take $2.50 gasoline for granted in a country whose architecture, land use patterns, agriculture, prosperity, and cast of mind have been have been built around cheap oil. These oil tribe people, and their political leaders, don’t care about peak oil, they care only about price. Meanwhile, the Chinese are where we were in 1910, with car sales doubling every three years.

Thought for the Week:

To demand that our children feel well in the world which we leave them is an insult to their dignity.
— Ivan Illich  (cited at

Photo: A ‘beauty strip’ at the edge of a devastated clearcut forest, used to hide the destruction from the view of canoeists and (when usedalongside highways) drivers; photo by Steve Gorman for Orion.

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2 Responses to Saturday Links of the Week – March 24, 2007

  1. Siona says:

    I adore Ivan Illich. And you as well.

  2. I really enjoyed Curtis White’s article, and there is a certain universal truth about what he is saying – that environmentalists are fundamentally flawed for their need for money … except … that there are exceptions, and these exceptions knock a very real dent in Mr. White’s argument. The joy of blogging, is that it brings out the stories of people who were previously quite unkown and their lives and struggles undocumented. A group of environmentalists – congolese wildlife rangers – have been protecting the mountain gorillas throughout the 10-year Congolese Civil War. The relevance to Curtis’s article is that they weren’t paid – they were in rebel held territory so couldn’t receive their government salaries, but they continued to work. And it wasn’t easy – 97 of them died protecting the park during that period. One of them started blogging – Paulin Ngobobo on wildlifedirect. It gives you an idea of what they’re up against, and it certainly wasn’t for the money.

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