Okay, I’m back. I think.
Complicating the post I wrote a couple of weeks ago about water restructions, Kernal (found via Ben) makes an important argument that environmentalism is a) a new kind of identity politics, and b) a new kind of conservatism. More broadly, that the panic circulating soforcefully at the moment in the media about global warming, drought, bushfire, dwindling water supplies and so on merely expands capitalism’s hold through fear of an apocalypse. Therefore, it’s not enough to respond politically to things like water restrictions on the level of individual water usage versus corporate use of water:
I do not believe that there is anything interesting in exploring ‘climate change’ along the lines of individual attitude vs corporate responsibility (or government sanction). The argument held here seems to be a false polemic. A more accurate and in the end more hopeful approach would be to view both these tendencies as ones common to a general effort by capital at expansion. We individually do our part and expect that companies do the same is perhaps more accurate as - companies expand, dealing with climate change is something to expand with/to, individuals need to be educated so as to allow for expansion (all three occuring at once)…
(Tangentially, there’s an interesting discussion in the comments where someone on Left Writes accuses Kernal of intellectual uber-urbanification — “these intellectuals, they have no soul, they’re disconnected from the earth”. What follows is, interestingly enough, the deployment of nationalism to shore up that ‘common-sense’ environmental collectivity that Kernal (and anyone who critiques environmentalists) so lacks. Supposedly, what connects ‘us all’ as Australians is the landscape: the rainforests, the flora and fauna, the beach… It shouldn’t have to be repeated that landscape is an ideological category, that it doesn’t exist in-itself. A connective disposition towards the so-called ‘virgin Australian landscape’ is also mediated by things as varied as the possession of a vehicle to travel to it; the cultural or actual capital to afford camping and hiking skills and equipment; various imperial senses of possession of the landscape through scientific knowledge or squattocracy, etc. Anyhow.)
Unlike Kernal, I think I am noticing the material effects of global warming. Things are changing. There is less rain. All the more important, then, to deal with these changes in a way that notices how already the political landscape has shifted so that ‘environmentalism’ and ‘doing something about global warming’ have become instruments to expand global trade. ‘Clean coal technology’ agreements with China, for example. Privatisation of water. And if you look a bit harder, it becomes evident that in fact, the work done by many environmentalists over the last 20 years was mere preparation for this moment. Let’s do a quick survey of how conservatism and environmentalism connect:
- Peter Garrett. No to nukes; no to abortion. (Except that first no is evidently negotiable, now he’s joined the ALP.)
- The scary number of previously-assumed-to-be-’left’ environmentalists advocating that water, electricity and gas be mae more expensive for individual consumers to ‘reduce wastage’. Imagine my shock when I realised that the CERES public position on water is that individual water consumption should be more expensive. (CERES, for non-locals is a public ‘environmental park’ on a creek, with a community garden, an eco-house, a nursery, a cafe, farm animals, a secondhand bike workshop etc.) Now, despite the fact that peastraw is always cheaper at the CERES nursery, and you know their plants are raised organically, and it’s lovely to walk through the park and along the creek, with the ducks and the goats, I think I’ve decided CERES is evil. The form of environmentalism on offer there is all about private consumption, and the more money you have, the more of a correct environmentalist consumer you can be. There are relics of communism scattered throughout CERES: the barter group, the shared space, the community garden (which is not really a community garden, because they sell their produce.) But they are relics, in amongst a corporate vision increasingly positioned to get home-owners to install expensive solar panels and rain-water tanks, or doing corporate sponsorship deal with energy companies. This is the way of the future.
- The calls to be good citizens and only water on specific days, on pain of a fine and public humiliation. Like this:
- The way that a lot of people used to argue against increased immigration to Australia based on the logic that Australia can’t handle higher population density. Why can’t it handle a higher population density:? Oh, that’s right, because most of the arable land is owned by a few farmers growing water-expensive crops like cotton and rice, because supposedly importing stuff is bad. Two kinds of protectionism interlock — in total contradiction.
- The Greens. Yes, the political party. Sure, they may be better than the alternatives, and their social policies may be great, but they’re a political party. They’re playing the game. Making the deals. And they still mention “pressure on the Australian environment” as almost the primary factor in deciding on migration policy, no matter how great that policy is.
It’s not that many people I know who think of themselves as ‘green’ would actually want capital to expand — or maybe not consciously. It’s more that in a way, it’s inevitable. Corporatism is seen as the only way to do anything. All the more reason for people to be consciously resisting that reappropriative drift towards assisting capital in its expansion: no work on green housing that isn’t public housing, for instance. No work on water preservation that submits the problem to a society of control dynamic. Grey and rain water usage programs that target and support house tenants, rather than home-owners, and that acknowledge tenants are at an immediate disadvantage in the government programs that already exist: no access to installation grants, leases that forbid renovation = total dependence on mains water. And so on.