The Environmental Mainstream Is Obsolete

Stop Esso

In the 1970s life became simpler. The Age of Aquarius was the stuff of satire and the hippy dream of a world full of love and peace had died; ironically killed off by a war in a country that few in the West had heard of until the body bags started coming back, and new terms like Agent Orange and Napalm seeped out of the jungle. In the Summer of Love, groups of free-thinking individuals thought about a new way of living – many started down that path, making tracks towards a life that nature found less objectionable and which was fulfilling in a way that no amount of kitchen gadgets and sunny holidays abroad could ever match. Then we got distracted, again and again: we “grew up”, we got jobs, we sent our children to school, we had “responsibilities”, we didn’t have time to think beyond our next holiday…as the years passed we got distracted so many times that it became too late to fix the problems we thought we might be able to solve back then.


We need a cure for cancer: it’s your job to find it. What will you do?

Convention would suggest a combination of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and excision to be the best course of action, depending on the nature and progress of the disease. This costs money, so you campaign for more funding to provide medicines, machines and reduced surgical waiting lists. The treatment often works, but the cancers keep coming. So what of the cure? You need to ensure money is put into research for better treatments, and the possibility of a vaccine against virus-borne cancers; you also want to provide extensive information about how to avoid carcinogens and reduce your chances of developing cancer, through lifestyle changes. But the cancers keep coming. Think out of the box! You start stepping outside of the comfort zone that most cancer charities confine themselves to: you find evidence that the cause of many cancers is in the air, the water and the soil – carcinogens expelled by industrial processes responsible for the production and disposal of the goods and services the same people suffering from the cancers avidly consume. You work to close down the worst of the factories, plants, incinerators and industrial farms: victory in the courts! New rules are drawn up; the worst offenders are told to change. But what of the cure?

What of the cure? Surely your job is done – others continue the fight, but you have done well to drill down to the heart of the problem; further than the “mainstream” campaigners ever thought of going. Did anyone ever consider shutting down the reason for these toxic processes ever existing in the first place?

We need a cure for the inexorable destruction of the global ecology, and the potentially catastrophic changes in the climate that will add to the burdens being piled upon our already weakened life-support system. What will you do?

I didn’t start this tale in the 1970s by accident. In 1972, following the efforts of four anti-nuclear activists in trying to prevent the testing of nuclear devices in Alaska, Greenpeace was formed. They were undoubtedly a group focussed on a small number of issues, presenting a small number of point solutions: with only a few resourceful and enthusiastic individuals available to try and make a difference what else could they have done? In 2009, Greenpeace worldwide has millions of donors and, perhaps, hundreds of thousands of activists working on its behalf across a range of issues related to reversing environmental damage. In the last year, Greenpeace UK has campaigned on climate change, deforestation, over fishing, GM crops and nuclear proliferation. It lists among its solutions: decentralisation of energy production, creating marine reserves, changing government and business practices in timber use, encouraging organic agriculture and pushing for global disarmament treaties. Greenpeace is widely considered to be among the most radical of the world’s large environmental organisations.

In 2009, WWF boasted a membership of around 5 million worldwide. It has a similar focus to Greenpeace, although GM and Nuclear issues are absent from their headline roster, and WWF does spend a significant amount of effort on academic research. Among its solutions for individuals, it encourages people to use less electricity at home, to recycle, to buy goods with less packaging and attract wildlife to gardens. It also sells carbon offsets for people who wish to fly. Its larger scale solutions have business at the forefront, with a number of corporations, including banks, advertising agencies, consumer product manufacturers and mining and extraction companies, partnering with WWF to improve their globally destructive practices. WWF is widely considered to be one of the less radical, and most business friendly environmental organisations.

If we are to take this to its logical conclusion then, surely, the solutions to the global environmental crisis lie somewhere along the spectrum occupied by the environmental mainstream, from the business-led approach of WWF at one end to the “radicalism” of Greenpeace at the other. Except that there is no logic to this at all: the logic completely breaks down at the point where you start to analyse the worth of the “solutions” that these groups propose. Even if we take Greenpeace’s approach – rather than that of WWF – the potential success of creating marine reserves, for example, is minimal unless those marine reserves occupy around 40% of the world’s oceans (this, ironically, is based on a study carried out by WWF), and that fishing in the remaining areas does not exceed sustainable biological limits. Given that there is very little chance of even a single-digit percentage of the world’s oceans being formally protected (due to corporate power and government protectionism), let alone the ecological diversity and size required to halt marine collapse, the proposal by Greenpeace is doomed to failure. And that’s just the proposal: how they intend to achieve this is another matter entirely. The range of activities includes petitions to government ministers, leafleting on High Streets, the symbolic planting of flags in the sea bed and parliamentary lobbying. Greenpeace say:

We must do all we can to make sure that our (sic) politicians deliver a large-scale network of fully-protected Marine Reserves through European and national legislation.
(Source: Greenpeace UK website)

They do not say: “We must not eat any fish we do not catch ourselves.”

You see, while there is a sliver of a chance that the governments of the world might superficially support the creation of a series of inadequate reserves, even while lobbying on behalf of their own industrial fishing industries to prevent any reductions in catch, Greenpeace and other mainstream (not “radical”) environmental organisations will pursue this avenue. Why? Because no one of any significance in the organisation’s hierarchy can accept that it is the system of Industrial Civilization that is the root of the problem; that the only way to prevent global marine collapse is to completely abandon the way that civilization fuels its insatiable demand for energy. Governments and corporations are not going to stop doing things in the way that has led us to the brink of ecological collapse, because that way is the way civilization works: it would be like a person cutting off one or more of their limbs.

Greenpeace, WWF, the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth and every other mainstream environmental organisation believe that you can “fix” the problems inherent in the system, to make this planet a better place; that you can appeal to the goodness of politicians and industrialists to make them curb their destructive behaviour; that you can bring about a sustainable society by urging people to change their light bulbs, shower instead of bath, travel a bit less, offset their emissions and recycle.

They are the acceptable face of environmentalism in the eyes of the civilized majority, and so what if the occasional publicity stunt makes the odd company or politician squirm? So long as the public remain Good Consumers then the environmental groups can carry on pushing their “solutions” to as many people as they like.

Government needs to regain control of big business to give rights for people and rules for big business…Big business must improve its environmental and social performance.
(Source: Friends of the Earth website)

So, I ask you again: What is the cure for the inexorable destruction of the global ecology, and the potentially catastrophic changes in the climate that will add to the burdens being piled upon our already weakened life-support system?

More pointedly: Do you really think that the environmental organisations that claim they have the solutions and the means to carry them through are going to save us; or are we going to have to do this ourselves, individually and in small groups taking a completely different approach to the way we are living our lives?

I have no doubt that the vast majority of people believe humanity and the global environment can be saved through conventional means: for this the mainstream environmental groups have to take much of the blame; they are as much villains of the piece as the corporations and governments who, at least up until recently, never claimed they were going to “save the world”. Unless the environmental mainstream makes a radical about-face, rejecting the civilized orthodoxy that says the system can be fixed, and leading us in completely the opposite direction, then we have no choice but to reject them and make our own way along the path to a sustainable future.

A bit like the hippies.

Originally published at

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