Reply To: Joachim Radkau – The Era of Ecology

Author Replies # Posted on December 8, 2014 at 14:51

In response to Michael: (I apologize for this not being posted sooner, there must have been a glitch when I tried to upload it on the 19th that I didn’t notice. Anyways, better late than never!)
I can see you enjoyed our visit from Radkau, he ignited a lengthy reflection on your part! I really enjoyed what you said about thinking globally and acting locally being schizophrenic, and our problems really stemming from acting globally and thinking locally. Thinking locally and acting locally does certainly sound like solid advice. And this will flatter you, but when I was an undergraduate I went to hear a talk given by the Dalai Lama (name dropping!) but he said that people are always asking him what they can do to fix the world. His response was to focus on fixing ones own community first. So you are speaking in similar platitudes to the spiritual leader of Tibet. Pretty rad stuff.
I must also say that your apple picking allegory reminded me of my father in a most amusing way. Particularly when you wrote that “there might be a set of thoughts and practices out there which is “good”, “sustainable”, “resilient” (call it what you want) to the environment without reference to environmentalism at all.” I think your reflection is hinting that environmentalism, in becoming a global movement, can be conceptualized as dogmatic. I think you have hit on a really interesting point here, because the notion of environmentalism can be extremely polarizing and actually interferes with as you say “choosing the most convenient, simple and harmless” ways to live.
When Radkau talks about the how environmentalism is proffered as an emancipation of the ‘American way of life’ I had a bit of a giggle. I can tell you not all conservative-small town-denim clad-farming-men-approaching their mid 60s (i.e. middle-North American stereotypes) are keen to be flying that green flag. My father is one of these beings.
He has been a Canadian grape farmer for some 40 some odd years, and his daddy a grape farmer before him. He sells some of his grapes to regional vintners who make wine for personal consumption, and the rest get sold to a winery in town which distributes to local markets.
Apart from that he tends a pretty excellent garden and in the winter freezes and stores most of the produce they consume. My mother and him have recently started butchering their own meat and freezing that too. They make their own dog food from the leftover bounty.
I have also never encountered a person so completely unfazed by consumerism. He buys his jeans in bulk once every few years from Costco and wears whatever else has accumulated in his closet over the course of his life. He duck tapes his shoes rather than buy new ones. He duck tapes a lot of things.
When faced with the task of erecting a boathouse (he also fishes), he decided to recycle an industrial cargo storage container he salvaged from a scrap heap. It looks pretty good. He also lives in a straw adobe house with a living grass roof. To heat this house he cuts his own wood from trees he has felled on his property and burns it in an ultra-efficient massive stone hearth.
I could go on, but the point is the man is probably the greenest person I know. Yet he would never, ever admit it. If you made the mistake of calling him an environmentalist he would vehemently disagree. He thinks organically labeled food is for vain morons. He is pretty convincing about organic maple syrup though, because nobody ever uses pesticides on maple trees, and he would know, he makes maple syrup. He also has a real, serious, dinner-party-disrupting aversion for David Suzuki.
Again, I could go on, but I think what he finds most disturbing is the insincerity of a lot of actions that are represented as green though they are not in fact “the most convenient, simple, and harmless” choices. It has really soured the credibility of environmentalism in his eyes.
To conclude, Michael, I think that your suggestions to think locally and act locally, and as simply as possible would be very popular amongst some people still unwilling to be emancipated by environmentalism.