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lifestyle environmentalism

… from classical liberalism to contemporary neoliberalism, it is the so called free and voluntary trade between buyers and sellers that remains the ideological core of the capitalist hegemony

— matthew t. huber, climate change as class war

lifestyle environmentalism is the belief that your individual actions, in particular your consumptive habits and practices, is both the driving force and the solution to ecological issues and climate change. more generally, it seeks to improve our ecological issues by focusing our actions on individual actions rather than collective ones.

in contrast, more radical approaches to addressing climate change, such as extinction rebellion, makes demands like “system change, not climate change”, and focus on collective actions rather than actions that revolve around individual (often consumerist) behaviors.

organizations (1, 2), often point to various versions of this: we all need to do our part, some actions are better than others, or maybe its really just the uber-wealthy that are the problem. however all of these approaches still focus on the actions of the individual: if you recycle more, if i stop eating meat. some articles (1) even bend towards neomalthusian, suggesting not having children in order to reduce your carbon footprint.

carbon guilt

the entire concept of a carbon footprint was popularized by british petroleum in the early 2000’s. now you can pay people to calculate your exact carbon footprint and quantify exactly how bad you should feel for your lifestyle, and exactly how good when you reduce your carbon footprint by X amount. while i have no problem with quantification, or with reducing your carbon footprint, the fact that the concept was literally coined by fossil fuel companies to distract us from their own systemic connection to climate change is worth keeping in mind. underlying the concept of carbon guilt is an implicit belief in, and near moral reification of, consumer sovereignty. this, in conjunction with the belief in the “invisible hand of the market”, dissolve us of needing to question or dismantle the systems the present our limited options.

professional class with respect to climate change

in climate change as class war by matthew t. huber, the professional class (a take on the professional-managerial class is broken down into three groups:

type political goal theory of change
science communicator spreading climate truth & science knowledge informs political action & behavior
policy technocrat implementing climate policy right-wing policymakers can be won over with smart policy designs that channel market incentives
anti-system radical system change, not climate change small-scale alternatives and anti-consumerism will erode capitalism

what connects these three highly schematic “types” is the centrality of knowledge systems in shaping their political engagements with environmental problems

anti-system radical

huber goes on to state:

Finally, there are the anti-system radicals, whose own exposure to the science of ecological collapse leads to a kind of political radicalization […] a lot of this radicalization is rooted in guilt over their own complicity in practices of consumption central to professional-class norms. This kind of climate activist is more likely to understand that the cause of environmental problems is systematically rooted in capitalism, but their political response is to look inwards through moralistic invocations to consume less, reject industrial society, and advocate micro-alternatives at the local scale. This kind of person might find the only outlet for such radical ideas in academia, or they might eschew a profession entirely in favor of more niche knowledge systems like DIY off-the-grid living or studying “perma-culture” agricultural techniques.

i found this call our particularly interesting, as someone who is both surrounded by many who are interested in or practice DIY off the grid living, and have idealized it myself. it is interesting that carbon guilt may affect some to buy more, and others to buy less, but it rarely seems to actually push us towards fixing the problem.

further reading

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