An anti-ICA, of a sort, for Earth Day, sorta
A Guest Posting by Hybrid Soc Prof
Your ‘Struggling to get the boys out of bed’ Michigan Correspondent
This arrived in my Inbox on 21 April. If I had been able to get my shit together at that time, it would have been posted on Wednesday 22 April. It’s still a great read, even if the late appearance takes away from some of the impact of HSP’s excellent words. Over, without further delay, to our man in Michigan.
In honor of the politically ambiguous event that is Earth Day, an anti-ICA where the anti-part is like the anti- in the anti-folk of early-80s New York… sure as heck sounded like folk, it’s just that it wasn’t done by folksters.
Basically, I searched my hard drive for the word Green. Then I tossed out all the album titles with the word, all the band names with the word, all the songs where the word was a root rather than stand-alone (all those versions of Greensleeves, POOF!)… and I still had too many. So-o-o, I reduced the list to songs that started with the word Green and got a manageable number.
I then played with different combinations, permutations, sonic themes and trajectories and ended up with these. It ends with my favorite of the bunch.
About Earth Day, my area of expertise is political ecology/critical environmental sociology. I was raised hiking, camping, canoeing, rafting, recycling, worried about extinction, population, consumption, resource inefficiency, pollution, acid rain, nuclear energy/war/winter, solid waste, litter, and – after we moved out of low income neighborhoods in smog-filled cities – with an organic garden and massive compost pile in the backyard. We were pretty active in Earth Day 1970 – I was 8.
By the time I wrote my undergraduate thesis on acid rain and freshwater fish, however, I’d studied pesticides, deforestation, desertification, the ecological devastation of war from Southeast Asia to Central America, and the anti-toxics campaigns soon to combine with struggles against environmental racism as what we now call the environmental justice movement. Of course, at that point, Reagan was dismantling the environmental state in all its legislative, administrative and bureaucratic manifestations. I’d thought environmentalism was about sublime nature – as America wrote in the song, Horse with No Name, “plants and birds and rocks and things”… I’d thought it was about ecological science and rational, expert-led, science-based policy. I’d though that no reasonable person could oppose what some European scholars later named ecological modernization.
By my second year of grad school, however, I’d read enough histories of the idea of nature, enough environmental history, enough research into the history of environmentalism to understand why elite “environmental” concerns with population, landscape preservation, resource efficiencies, environmental health and consumption were seen by some folks on the left and right as bourgeois concerns the implementation of which would hurt and disenfranchise working people, small businesses and small farms… much less the people of the global south, particularly land-poor low income women. Legitimate critiques of technocratic blindness to social justice and refusal of democratic participation in program implementation abound.
Like a lot of environmentalists, I find wilderness, mountains, plains, oceans and wildlife sublime. I marvel at and am in awe of them. Put I’m privileged to do so. Similarly, I’m physically and spiritually rejuvenated when I spend time in such places, where such beings still reside. Moreover, I think resource efficiency – extractive and in consumption – is inordinately important for all manner of reasons, including not despoiling landscapes, polluting neighborhoods and eliminating species. On top of that, who in their right mind wants to live in a polluted, litter-strewn, toxic terrain watching people of all ages die young? And who is affronted by the fact that all negative environmental consequences disproportionately effect lower income – especially lower income historically oppressed minority – populations?
But the thing is once you’ve made it to the last paragraph – and I know this is less of an insight for our European readers than it is for Romantic Americans who tend to think North and South America were pristine and Edenic, barely populated much less modified by “natural” peoples living lightly on the land – it should be clear that environmentalism is far less about Nature and Science – defined by gov’t and universities – and far more about health and justice – broadly defined.
Environmentalism, then, isn’t about pierced and tattooed, patchouli-drenched, long-haired, unshaven, bicycle-riding, vegan, recycling-obsessed, squatters younger than 28 fighting to save the planet – as most of my students, and pretty much all of their parents – think, it is and has always been about quality of life. The question is, of course, quality of life for whom and how many, and that’s not a technical question, it’s a social one… connected to the pandemic.
Thanks to all here for improving my quality of my life.