I am not an environmentalist.
I do not disavow the label because I enjoy tweeting about the emissions of my personal car collection out of irrational hatred for a young Swedish activist. Like everyone else, I recognize the existence of climate change, and I know that recognition is not enough.
No, I am not an environmentalist because an environmentalist forgets that the climate crisis is fundamentally a crisis of injustice that cannot be fixed by recycling harder. I am not an environmentalist because an environmentalist believes that if only everyone cared as much about some romanticized notion of the colonized outdoors as they did, “we” would stop exploiting the “environment”.
An environmentalist cannot see that the climate crisis is not a lack of awareness by the many but an abuse of power by the few; yet an environmentalist blames the greed of the few on the individual shortcomings of the many.
As Michael Maniates writes in ”Individualization: Plant a Tree, Buy a Bike, Save the World?”, “when responsibility for environmental problems is individualized, there is little room to ponder institutions […] or the ways of collectively changing the distribution of power”.
An environmentalist has forgotten, to bring in Jessa Crispin, that “for something to be universally accepted, it must become as banal, as non-threatening and ineffective as possible”. And so “environmentalist” is comfortable and easy to those in power—indeed, it is couched in power, it originates from power, it hides that there are certain individuals and institutions reaping profits from this crisis, who would very much like to continue doing so with market-based wishful thinking.
Environmentalism is steeped in whiteness and the idea that climate change is the most important issue, the issue we can fix first and then address those other things like racism and sexism and homophobia, which have been happening forever anyway so just wait a bit longer okay? An environmentalist cannot understand that the only way we address the climate crisis is by addressing the legacy of imperialism and the white racial order. An environmentalist cannot draw a connection between polar bear habitat loss and Manuel Esteban Paez Terán’s murder in Atlanta’s Cop City.
In the depoliticization of environmentalism it has become universal, so universal that people like Jamie Dimon of Chase Bank can claim the label. Dimon states that “climate change and inequality are two of the critical issues of our time” while pouring billions into new fossil fuel infrastructure through Chase, against the absolute deadline imposed by science that we had to stop building new fossil fuel infrastructure two years ago.
Recognize that any new infrastructure will be responsible for the avoidable loss of so many lives and livelihoods, and wonder whether we are really building this new infrastructure because of supposed individual shortcomings, or because all of our systems are set up to extract every last drop of carbon on this planet. Remember who benefits when the sky turns orange and soot chokes our lungs.
We cannot forget that we are the perpetrators of this climate crisis. I do not mean your styrofoam cup is causing the climate crisis. I mean that the institutions of the Global North that enable my livelihood and privilege, our systems of extraction and exploitation of the many for the benefit of the few, are also causing unimaginable suffering to people around the world whom I will never see and never know, the people who have done the least to cause this crisis.
If by declaring myself an environmentalist I forget that fact, then I am not an environmentalist.
Inspired by Jessa Crispin’s Why I Am Not A Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto