Why Environmentalism Is Failing

Lake landscapePhoto: Axel-D

“I find the possibility that after all this time, after all the campaigning and hard work, that the environmental issue is still not being taken to the heart of the people worrying. I think that in our quest for advocacy the message has been lost, the metaphors are not resonating. A more spiritual view toward the environment is desperately needed” – Jonathon Porritt, environmentalist, founder director, Forum for the Future

The philosophy behind being green is an idealized notion. It’s not that it’s wrong or we shouldn’t do it, or even that the statistics are untrue. It’s just philosophically speaking the idea of ecology is listed in the categories of things we hope for. This is what I mean when I say this is an idealized notion. I am not criminalizing the idea.

Bulgarian forestPhoto: Kiril Kapustin

We as people interact with our fantasies as an idealized Other. We hope that one day, we might have a job, a car, the 2.5 children and the American Dream in tow. Some are waiting for the dream job or person to come along so they can start their lives. This is exactly what I am dealing with, desire.
Desire is the desire for the impossible.

The impossible exists to open us up the possibility of (im)possibility.
Because if something is possible then it stands to reason that it could also be impossible, right? So impossibility also opens us up to possibilities. When we realize something is so frustrating and almost drives us to give up, we are left with the painful ache that if we give up then what we believe (a.k.a. idealized notion) might never materialize.

Porritt is dealing with this very conundrum when he says that he finds it a
possibility that people aren’t taking the environmental issues to heart. By stating that it’s a possibility and then entering into a discourse about why people aren’t engaging with the possibility, Porritt is admitting to a quasi-ideological defeat.

Green handPhoto: Helisianne

He then begins to realize that people aren’t engaging because the metaphors
aren’t reaching the audience. I think he hits a nerve here. Metaphors are represented by something else. So in this sense, the metaphors are being everything but metaphors. If the metaphors are informed by the Big Other (in this instance, environmentalism), then the metaphors have already lost their ‘metaphor-ness’.

And when Porritt goes on to state that a spiritual view needs to be adopted, he is advocating a change of metaphors. This change of metaphors is a great idea. Because, I think with new metaphors, we can engage the audience that much better. Metaphors are powerful because they are part of a bigger entity, the post-colonial metanarrative.

Our history and archaeology are rife with metaphors, why?
Because as humanity, we are all drunk on story. We want a good story to be a part of. The tragedy of environmentalism is that it has been prostituted as the next cool things to do. By making something a fad, it is already doomed to failure. Why? Fads change. If ecological intervention is nothing more than a t-shirt you can buy on Amazon, well, then we have advocated the very thing that has a hand in causing a lot of our issues environmentally, which is the beast of consumerism.

Environmentalism has come to represent the very enemy it has disavowed. The idea of being green is now nothing more than a bumper sticker and a bag of used coffee beans from Starbucks. It’s a passing phase. When Porritt esorts to spirituality as a possibility for new metaphors, he himself is turning
to spirituality as a way to save himself from all the other impossibilities.

Spirituality is the mystic in the conversation immersed in rhetoric, it is the beyond that lies the beyond. Spirituality might be the very thing this awareness-driven movement needs. Because we are spiritual beings.

Birds on beachPhoto: JKDs

So, environmentalism is a spiritual issue.
But rather than overloading some perverse marketing ploy to make the world a better place, I think less is more. I think to redeem our metaphors is
the right way to go. The better we get at redeeming our metaphors, is a
step closer to making this world a better place to be. Spirituality will
keep us from being environmentalists under the guise of being
ecological heroes that have done nothing more than endorse the very
thing we condemn.

Spirituality is different from a religiosity that gets so confused as the same. Spirituality is the actions necessary to encourage a belief system. Rather than endorsing some marketing ploy to get people interested, act on what is being ‘sold’. The best ‘marketing’ is action rather than inaction. It gives the consumer the idea that they no longer can survive on a 10% approach to caring for the earth, but that by being active participants in a better world, they are following through on the very thing they say they believe. I think it starts by picking up the very piece of paper we’re using to market this whole thing.