Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Crazy Rant #4: "Eco-Friendly"

Back when I was still clinging to the foolish notion of earning a living by writing, I attempted to contribute as a freelancer to a website which specialized in generating daily "eco-friendly tips" for local citizens who were interested in that sort of thing. As you might have guessed, this dalliance did not last long. The more I learned about this concept of "eco-friendly," the more I realized that I did not agree with its philosophical implications. Eventually I realized that "eco-friendly" was upper-middle class code for "guilt-free." As in, "Oh no, honey, did you realize that when we buy these things and we do these things, we're actually destroying the 'environment?' Well we can't do that because it's going to hurt our children, and our children's children, and we want our children to last forever, don't we honey?" Well guess what "honey," buying organic cat food isn't quite going to do it. Sure, you can pat yourself on the back and think that you're sparing yourself from your children's children's wrath, but let's get real here.

Almost every single aspect of human life is bad for "the environment," if by "environment" you mean "everything on Earth other than humans." I would almost venture to say that "human life" and "the environment" are diametrically opposed. Altering the "environment" is simply what humans do - and how. To me this does not merit some sort of negative judgement. I think people have set up a false dichotomy. Environmentalists believe there are things that are "bad for the environment" and "good for the environment." Like there was a point in time where the earth was perfect and then humans came along and "altered" everything from its "natural" course. Well wait a second. Everything in our world today is "natural," in the sense that it is here in our world. Human life and all of its chemical creations are part of the "environment." Every little pocket of car exhaust floating into our atmosphere is part of the "environment." What about when the earth was just a ball of hot, molten lava? That probably wasn't very "eco-friendly," was it?

Environmentalists seem to act as though something has gone terribly "wrong" with the path of history, and we have to try as fast as we can now to "fix" it. It's funny but, although environmentalism is usually considered a liberal issue, from a philosophical standpoint I find it an intrinsically conservative one. This may sound obvious, but "conservative" means "to conserve," and environmentalists want to conserve the earth exactly as it is. But from a Buddhist point of view, the world is constantly changing and any attempt to "conserve" things as they are is doomed to fail. The way of the universe is change. The human race is not going to last forever. Planet Earth will not last forever. The way I see it, the destruction of the "environment" is neither a good nor bad thing in and of itself. It is just something that is happening. We are the ones who are placing a judgement on it. Sure, it may be bad for Planet Earth, but Planet Earth isn't necessarily the center of the freaking universe, is it?

I mean, if you really wanted to save "the environment," you know what you should do? Don't use electricity, don't buy clothes, don't flush the toilet. Or better yet: kill yourself. No, even better: become a mass murderer. Because otherwise, simply by consuming water and eating a bag of Cheetos, you are destroying "the environment." You may think you're off the hook by "recycling," but you know what? Even recycling takes energy. You're still destroying the "environment" by recycling. Sure, less destruction is better than more destruction, but don't call it "eco-friendly." How about "less eco-destroying"? Doesn't have quite the same ring to it, does it?

Which brings me to another point: the marketing has really gotten out of control. Companies suddenly realized that "Ooh, everybody's feeling really guilty all of a sudden about how obscenely materialistic their lives are, so why don't we put a little picture of nature our shitty little box, make the font green, and stamp 'eco-friendly' on the label even though that term doesn't really mean anything in particular, and then people can buy our shitty little product and not feel so horribly guilty about it, even though it's almost just as bad for the 'environment' as our regular product?" Gimme a break. I picked up the newspaper the other day and it said "Printed with soy ink on recycled paper." Oh thank God, otherwise I was going to feel completely disgusted with myself.

I mean, how is this supposed to work? Are we someday supposed to reach a point where everything that isn't "eco-friendly" is suddenly gone, and then we can just go on with our perfectly"sustainable" lives? Here's what I see happening: 90% of the world, including every Third World country, not giving a crap about the environment until we reach some kind of "tipping point," and the human race will slowly just sort of die out, leaving the cockroachs and microbes to have their way. Maybe it's my impulse toward perfection that kills any environmental concern within me. The whole thing is just too half-assed. You either do something properly or you don't do it at all. It's like if there are about 50 large cracks in the Hoover Dam, and you're trying to repair one tiny little crack at the bottom. The dam is going to blow. Sure, you can try to repair that one little crack if you think it's going to make you feel better, but I wouldn't blame you if you didn't.


ninquelote said...

Little Earl, my man! I do believe you've just written something for which I agree with every word. Environmentalists who think they are saving the world for our childrens' children are completely nuts. I am so sick and tired of things saying they are eco-friendly, or made from recycled material, or even worse - GREEN!

Herr Zrbo said...

Ok, I understand where you're coming from in your argument, but there's a few points that need to be made.

'Saving the environment' is not the black/white issue you think people make it out to be. Really it's an attempt to make sure our planet remains habitable for life. Yes, if the temperature increased dramatically and most life died off there'd still be some organisms able to survive, so maybe the proper definition is that environmentalism is trying to not only preserve life, but the diversity of life. I think it's in everyone's interest that we are able to live and carry out our lives.

Secondly I think you need to look into what 'green' is really supposed to mean. 'Green' politics were originally conceived by Arne Ness with the idea that the living environment, including humanity, has the same right to live and flourish. If you look into true 'green' philosophy I think you'd find it is VERY Buddhist.

Environmentalism, and the concept of 'green' has been completely co-opted by media and advertising in recent years. What they advertise on TV as 'green' is not at all what the original meaning is, and I too am tired of hearing how 'green' Exxon Mobil is. I think this has led to this idea of 'guilt-free' when that was not its original intention at all. I suggest looking at Naess' Ecology, Community, and Lifestyle which provided the underpinnings for 'green' thinking.

Herr Zrbo said...

LE, you should go to your local library and look for Chinnagounder's Challenge: the question of ecological citizenship. In it is an essay titled "A State of Mind Like Water: Ecosophy T and the Buddhist Traditions", Ecosophy T being a philsophy developed by Arne Naess.

Actually, just use
this link to Google books. Voila!

yoggoth said...

"Environmentalism" could mean attempting to keep the world in a state agreeable to human habitation. In this sense, it is actually bordering on psychopathic to be against "environmentalism." All people have some responsibility to consider the effects of their actions on others, this is the foundation of civilization.

Humanity may die out in the future, but what does this have to do with working towards prosperity? Considering the fact that we're all going to die, should we all become heroin addicts?

Personally, I find it very amusing that the people who rant about environmentalism are the same people who complain about taxes and deficit spending. Oh sure, they're concerned that we're saddling our children with debt, but they don't care if their children have a decent place to live?

This is entirely separate from the issue of corporate exploitation of environmentalism. If you want to do research, you can find out what will actually help out and what is advertising nonsense. If you don't care that much, you can simply vote for politicians who support stricter standards and higher taxes on environmentally destructive products. If you are religious, selfish, or an anti-global-warming conspiracy theorist you can ignore the issue and be perfectly happy.

yoggoth said...

I'd also like to point out that some personal moral decisions may not be based on any grand changes to the world around you. Sure you can't save the planet alone, but maybe you just feel good promoting health and beauty around you?

Little Earl said...


"Considering the fact that we're all going to die, should we all become heroin addicts?"

Yes. Also, I am honored that you are suggesting I am borderline psychopathic.

Zrbo: Since when did you know so much about (or care so much about) the environmental movement? Not that I mind.

Ninquote: Not so fast there, buddy. I'm making fun of environmentalists because I don't think they're being realistic. You're making fun of environmentalists because if they're right, that means you'll have to change your life around in a bunch of annoying little ways and you'll probably see that as a big fat hassle. I also find it funny that, whereas I have no family plans, you're actually having children, and yet you're not the least bit concerned. I must confess I find your logic intriguing.

Herr Zrbo said...

I took a philosophy of ecology class back in college and had to read all about ecosophy, the green movement, and ecosophy T.

I'm getting defensive here because it sounded like you were getting confused between the green movement and "McDonald's has gone green!". Speaking of which, I saw a Prius commercial this morning that seemed to suggest driving a Prius would be healthful for the environment.

Herr Zrbo said...

Sorry to keep coming back to this, but I just reading the 8 principles of the deep ecological movement, and I think some of them are exactly what you're asking for LE:

"4. The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of non-human life requires such a decrease."

~aka "Have fewer kids dammit!"

"7. The ideological change is mainly that of appreciating quality (dwelling in situations of inherent worth) rather than adhering to an increasingly higher standard of living."

~ "You don't need all this shit you think you do!"

ninquelote said...

You guys have been living in the Bay Area for too long. You're all psychopaths, and you don't seem to know me very well either. I am a huge advocate for environmentalism, and I'm pretty sure I've planted more trees than the three of you put together.

I also think the average environmentalist is completely unrealistic and the general public has had the wool pulled so far down over their eyes that they can hardly breath. All of these products that claim to be environmentally friendly, guess what, they're probably not. All the millions of things that have the word "Green" pasted across their label, guess what, their probably not. These things are the Enemies of the State. But they are readily available, and just expensive enough that people will shell out a few extra dollars the get a hold of them. It's called marketing, people.

The other problem with the green movement in America is that we've gone about as far as we can go for the time being because to go further would be too expensive for the average person. But that's ok, we're actually doing pretty good right now in the grand scheme of things. It's the rest of the industrialized countries of the world that are throwing the balance so far off. Hell, the majority of the air pollution in California comes from China for Christ's sake. (Yoggoth, you can move to strike those last few words from that sentence)

Ruby Pilar @ said...

Your 4th paragraph was the best part. You provide an interesting perspective that I think people should discuss on a cultural level -- and with this I mean colonialism, discrimination, and ancestral traditions -- a bit too much to fit into a comment. I trackbacked to your post with one of mine, but to extend what I mentioned at the top of this comment, I'll leave another one for a more relevant post soon.

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