Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Jeffrey St. Clair on today's environmental groups

'They [the large environmental groups] are shackled by their source of money, shackled by their relationship to the Democratic Party, shackled by the fact that their boards are controlled by corporate executives. ... The environment isn’t even talked about in political campaigns much anymore … aside from these airy homilies about global warming, or green jobs to try and reinvigorate the economy. ... It’s a tragic waste that hundreds of millions each year are going to these large organizations. What it means is that people are now left to fend for themselves, to mount their own resistance. ...'

Q: In the early 1990s, some journalists were talking about the limits to growth. As the ecological crises have gotten more dire and potentially more fatal to the human species, it seems like that’s not such a discussion any more in the mainstream.

'What they would like is sort of the Gore approach, which is painless optimism. And that’s not the way it is. These issues, down at the grassroots, are life and death issues. They’re not being reported, they’re not part of policy. There aren’t any easy solutions, there aren’t fifty easy ways you can save the planet. That’s what they want, but that’s not going to do it. And you can’t shop your way to a better planet.

'Difficult choices are going to have to be made in terms of growth, in terms of energy. I mean, California is essentially out of water. What are you going to do, are you going to spend billions of dollars to build a peripheral canal that won’t even solve your problem? Meanwhile, the ecology of your state is crashing. ...

'We’re not going to get our way out of this energy crisis as long as the energy system remains centralized. It’s just not going to happen. ... If you democratize energy production you can begin to enact the kind of fundamental changes we need. ... But if the question is the future of the atmosphere of the planet, I don’t think that’s going to get you very far. ... So frankly, I don’t think there are any solutions, because I think the climate crisis and the extinction crisis are beyond our control. Thirty years ago, if we’d made radically different choices, perhaps. There’s an element of hubris in this [that recalls] British philosopher David Ehrenfeld’s view of technology and the environment, the arrogance of humanism. The idea that a technological solution can stall or reverse climate change is almost the same kind of hubris that got us into this mess. ...

'What it’s going to require, even to feel good about yourself, as the planet careens toward a kind of climate Armageddon, is a radical downscaling. What we’re being offered is a kind of short-selling of the environment. The solutions from Gore, the solutions of many of the mainstream environmental groups, are a kind of profit-taking as the planet hurtles toward a radical reshaping of the global ecosystem which I think spells doom at the end of the line for mammalian species. That’s what these solutions are about. They’re about how to make money, how to capitalize off the anxiety and panic and guilt and hopelessness that many people feel about the state of the environment. ...'

Q: Will the economic crisis result in foundation money drying up for the big environmental groups and for smaller ones?

'Well, that is a positive. These major foundations have been like cloning shops for environmental groups. They control their agenda, they want all of them to look the same, behave the same, be utterly predictable, and dependent upon their money. Once you get on the foundation dole, it’s like becoming like a meth addict. A lot of them, certainly the smaller groups, will lose their funding first, and that’s going to be a very good thing. The weaning process is going to hurt for a while. But when they emerge from that, they’re going to be much better off. That’s what I’m interested in—the varieties of resistance to industrial capitalism and neoliberalism, the forces that are exploiting the planet. The first mission of the foundations was to take critiques of capitalism off the table. Hopefully in the future, you’re going to be seeing, five to ten years from now, much more indigenous radical and unpredictable, organic environmental groups that will end up being much more effective, much more healing for people.

'You want it to be fun, like Edward Abbey says… of all the movements out there, the environmental movement should probably be the most fun. You can see what you’re fighting for, the kind of direct actions and protests that you can engage in are much more exhilarating than a lot of other issues. And it has to be fun, otherwise you’re going to burn out. One of the things the foundations have done is turn it into a bureaucracy. It’s easier to control that way.'

Q: Do you see the environmental justice movement as holding hope for a shift toward that kind of activism?

'Yeah, I do. Environmental justice became a sort of passing interest of the foundations in the ‘90s. But the big money never came. It was the same old white Eastern elites pimping off of their issues, with the exception of Greenpeace, which probably was the only big environmental group that had a commitment on environmental justice issues in the Mississippi Delta Region, in Cancer Alley. They actually went there and listened to people living in the chemical soup bowl. And they put their expertise at direct action, how to train people in Cancer Alley, how to shut down a chemical plant for a day with a protest.

'The other groups remained in DC, they put out their White Papers, and when interest eroded in environmental justice they moved on to something else. I think people will be happy to extract themselves from the likes of the Environmental Defense Fund and the NRDC.'

Published in Terrain Magazine, Fall/Winter 2008

environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, anarchism, ecoanarchism