You are here

Flint Jones

Some Thoughts on the Environmental Movement

By Flint Jones - December 2, 2014

In 2010, I was part of a workshop at the Renewing the Anarchist Tradition conference in Baltimore, MD.  Also on the panel were Michael Loadenthal and Chris Spannos. The panel was givein these questions:

  • What types of nonhierarchical organizational forms are applicable to the environmental movement as well as up to the challenge of contesting and ultimately offering a dual power to those forces that are destroying the planet and separating humans from the nonhuman world? 
  • How would a society based on anarchist principles resolve the ecological problems inherent in various aspects of the current system, from transportation to the food supply to energy production?

My answers, I think, still hold up: One thing that environmental movement has been successful at is atleast temporarily halting some kinds of ecological destruction;whether it’s stopping construction of a lumber mill or a nuclear power plant.  Unfortunately, many of these campaigns are quite localized andexamples of “Not In My Backyard” environmentalism.   Ecological destruction can then often relocate to a location in which thepolitical climate is more open to natural exploitation.  WhileNIMBYism might work in a limited matter in terms of conservation ofsome relatively underexploited bit of wilderness--it doesn’t matter where coal is being burned for it to effect global warming and climate change.  Stopping a particular environmental abuse in one location does not change the demand that stimulated that environmentally destructive process.  I grew up in rural West Virginia and my fatherworked the coal trains.  While many people have turned against mountain top removal or coal mining in general, the coal industry hasa simple effective slogan, “Coal keeps the lights on!”.   Until we either convince people to do without light, produce light with less energy or find another way to produce the light without coal... there is still going to be a huge demand for mining and burning coal--regardless of which ancient mountain they destroy in which county, state or country.

There has been considerable emphasis in the environmental movement in regards to influencing consumers to individually change their consumption practices.  One example is the advocacy of a vegetarian or vegan diet.  I’m a vegetarian, myself.  In terms of bringing about a shift in food consumption in the U.S. for environmental reasons--that movement has failed; and spectacularly so.  While the number ofvegetarians/vegans amounts to 3.7% of population (with 10% being vegetarian inclined), since the 1950s the per capita meat consumptionin the U.S. has increased from 150 to 200 pounds (even with the growth of vegetarianism).  Americans eat twice the global average for meat. At about 5 percent of the world’s population, we grow and kill nearly 10 billion animals a year, more than 15 percent of the world’s total. When we are talking about environmental problems we are talking about the collective impacts of all people.   In terms of the impact of diet upon the environment, we would have been more effective if we had encouraged the majority to only reduce their meat consumption or if we had limited meat production to only open range grass fed meat (rather than grain fed feed lots)--rather than convincing a tiny minority to eliminate meat entirely from their diet. Individual consumption patterns matter far less than the aggregate impact of all people. The infrastructure and industrial method of how energy and goods areproduced and delivered matter more than the specific product beingconsumed.

When white people start talking about overpopulation, I get nervous. Globally, the population growth rate has been reducing for some time. In many industrialized countries, there is now even negative population growth.  Population predictions have the global population growing to nine billion before declining--all the while the median age will increase.  The problem isn’t so much the sheer quantity of people but how those people use resources.  The third most populated country in the world is the United States. The problem is very much with the U.S. and. how it has been built up and consumes resources.  Outside of some black carbon from cooking fires, the carbon footprint of the poorest billion people on the planet is negligible. The impact of of 310 million folks in the U.S. is huge.  An average U.S. resident emits twice as much carbon dioxide as an European and 20 times as much as an African.  We must meet the needs and demands of nine billion peopleand a discussion on how to more rapidly decrease population in the next fifty years is as much a distraction as any kind of viablepolicy.  If noone in the U.S. environmental movement ever mentioned overpopulation again and we stuck only to a conversation about how to reduce our per capita resource use nationally--I think we’d be better off.

For similar reasons, attempts to form small autonomous communities within the U.S that are disconnected from the majority of the population will not solve our environmental problems.  This panel description suggested a dual power situation between our anarchist ecological ideas and presumably the status quo.  Given that climate change is a global phenomenon and any intentional anarchist community would share bio-region and watersheds with environmentally destructive capitalists states; there can be no parallel development.  We must systematically transform the current industrial mode of production and we can not wait to do that by building an separate alternative as merely a demonstration.  Green Potemkin villages will not change people’s mind or have any significant impact.  It’s not enough for asmall group of activists to create a back yard victory garden in abandoned lots to address our demands for food.  If we are serious about addressing the ecological destruction caused by our food production, we need large scale systematic change of how we grow food. If small urban farms can’t even provide all calories their farmers need, they certainly can’t meet the demand of all those people who are not farming.  The new society must be built literally in the shell ofthe old; not just down the road from it.  We must build organizations capable of winning immediate demands from the status quo.

The Fine Print I:

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) unless otherwise indicated and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s, nor should it be assumed that any of these authors automatically support the IWW or endorse any of its positions.

Further: the inclusion of a link on our site (other than the link to the main IWW site) does not imply endorsement by or an alliance with the IWW. These sites have been chosen by our members due to their perceived relevance to the IWW EUC and are included here for informational purposes only. If you have any suggestions or comments on any of the links included (or not included) above, please contact us.

The Fine Print II:

Fair Use Notice: The material on this site is provided for educational and informational purposes. It may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of scientific, environmental, economic, social justice and human rights issues etc.

It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have an interest in using the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The information on this site does not constitute legal or technical advice.