Post- Environmentalism is more than a makeover
Over at the UK Youth Climate Coalition’s blog, my good friend Simon Howlett has posted a blog about the overuse of the term ‘post-environmentalism’, suggesting that there’s a risk that it’s already lost its meaning. This post is a response to Simon’s concerns.
As I predicted in January, over the past few months we’ve seen some pretty seismic changes taking place in the global climate movement. Driven by Fukushima and the continuing reverberations from Copenhagen/Climategate/Deepwater Horizon, there’s a growing debate amongst climate concerned people about whether ‘environmentalism’, as currently conceived, is up to the job of dealing with climate change.
Although this ‘limits of environmentalism’ discussion has been going on for several years now in academic circles, over the past 6 months it’s starting to break through into activism, with growing numbers of groups discussing what a ‘post environmentalist’ agenda might mean in practical terms for their policy agenda, projects, communications and the way they work.
With that in mind, those of us who have adopted the label of ‘post-environmentalist’ have a real responsibility to define what we mean by it. Inevitably, some of that definition will involve us asserting our originality and defining ourselves against what has come before. Despite heated discussions otherwise, I think that’s perfectly legitimate. But it’s also crucial that we clearly outline what we are for, ensuring that the term means far more than a fashionable protest against the status quo.
Below, I’ve tried to outline the key things which I think define post-environmentalism, and which give it life and practical relevance.
- Post environmentalism is about fundamentals
Over the past couple of years, the movement has paid more and more attention about how it communicates its messages and how it is perceived by others. That’s a good thing. But it’s also important to recognise that communications tactics have their limits- remember the adage about putting lipstick on a pig?Post-environmentalists believe that in the wake of the setbacks of the past two years, climate advocacy doesn’t just need a facelift, it needs a fundamental re-think of the way we conceive the problems, and the way in which we construct solutions.
- Post-environmentalism is expansive
Rather than viewing climate change in a clearly-delimited, single-issue box marked ‘environment’, post-environmentalists conceive issue priorities such as climate, energy, transport, poverty and development as inseparable.A post-environmental coalition is more than a tick-box of interest groups, however.It is defined not by issues, but by shared values. Rather than asking others to see the world as we do, to care about ‘our’ issue, or by asking them to adopt ‘our’ policy aims, it works with them to define aims and policy objectives which fulfil the needs of all involved. Partnerships exist for the common and shared good, not just as a means to an end.
- Post environmentalism is relentlessly populist
In a democratic society, lasting political change relies upon building mass support. Far too often, climate activists have developed policy prescriptions and campaign asks in wilful isolation from popular and political context. The result has been policies which make intellectual sense, but which are unlikely to have mass appeal.Post-environmentalists are focused on crafting policy that is designed to coincide with the demands, priorities and worldview of the democratic majority. It is communicated in terms which are unambiguous, clear and relentlessly relevant. In a time-limited issue with millions of lives at stake, there’s no point in policy that doesn’t sell.
- Post-environmentalism puts humanity at the centre
Increasing attention to ‘green jobs’ and other economically-focused appeals are a great thing but, in many respects they miss the point. Appeals to human needs and human dignity need to be more than a hook with which to attract people to ‘our’ issue. Public transport matters because it improves people’s lives- not just because it reduces emissions.Post-environmentalists believe that human dignity and economic development must be at heart of our agenda for pragmatic as well as ethical reasons. Humanity is viewed as part of, rather than alongside or in opposition to the natural World.
While they accept that there are legitimate critiques of our existing models of resource-intensive growth, Post-environmentalists also recognise that the human appetite for technological and economic ‘progress’ is a fundamental and legitimate part of our identity as a species. Post-environmental policies seek to channel, rather than challenge these impulses, viewing humanity’s creativity and ingenuity as resources to be harnessed rather than problems to be contained.
- Post-environmentalism is self-critical and responsive
A movement which defines itself against another is one which lacks durability and the ability to proactively shape an agenda of its own. ‘Post-environmentalists’ need to work hard to ensure that their agenda is shaped by more than their alienation from established environmentalism.Equally, however, post-environmentalists assert the distinctiveness of their agenda. They are open and frank about the loss of public confidence in existing climate policy, and about the limits of its appeal. Post-environmentalists should be open about their own failings and open to discussion and debate over their values and principles. There should be no sacred cows.