on the ground

Authentic Environmentalism

It is a potentially fatal mistake to assume that mere resilience is the solution to environmental crises.

An honest assessment of the biogeospheric, technological, sociocultural, economic, and political systems of the world demands the admission that neither personal nor community resilience are complete solutions. Yes, we do stand a better chance of successfully tackling planetary problems if cities and regions are able to bounce back quickly from environmental shocks but even large, strong communities become fragile in the face of overwhelming challenges. Civilizations have fallen from less than what we face today; “too big to fail” is largely a myth; and collective success often requires getting people on board who don’t understand the problems.

Making wise environmental choices, engaging in pro-environmental practices, and successfully implementing policies, enterprises, or initiatives requires the courage to look at situations that are often frightening, potentially overwhelming, and personally challenging. Personal resilience is needed to make a sustained effort at delivering feasible solutions. Fortunately, there is a broad dialogue about what “resilience” means. But it is not enough.

What we decide to do is as important as how we do it. Simply making the rich richer while the biogeosphere gets poorer from extractivism will not lead to enduring solutions. To last, solutions must liberate people, not constrain them. It is not sufficient, but necessary, to address fairness, reciprocity, and the prevention of harm. To insure economically against volatile environmental conditions is partly to integrate these principles into our actions in ecological domains, as well as in our sociocultural and financial domains. But it is still not enough.

Identity politics are an impediment to pro-environmental markets, so authentic environmentalists are wary of people who engage in them. Often, those who embrace such politics view capital as an enemy. Yet capital is a necessary and powerful tool for change – an unavoidable component of large-scale solutions. Authentic pro-environmental economic systems provide people with opportunities to generate wealth and ensure fair trading practices while enabling the biogeosphere to thrive in changing conditions. Economic links are also social and biological links. The volition to transform our practices depends greatly on how we manage them.

While resilience is not a complete solution, neither is technology. Predictions about technology leave us in a state of perpetual fragility because we cannot rely on them being invented – let alone adopted – in time. Nonetheless, just as capital and consensus are necessary components of large-scale solutions, so too are the tools we use to communicate with each other, move things around, and shape our built environments.

The rate at which we make and implement pro-environmental solutions is also important. While there is a scientific consensus, the world still lacks sufficient political consensus. Nonetheless, an active framework is in place which is guided by the United Nations, with the help of other world bodies. But people are still not changing their habits and systems fast enough to reach internationally agreed-upon goals.

Authentic Environmentalism takes place on the ground. It is about recognizing environmental challenges and focusing on what makes us more than resilient, both now and in the future. It takes into account how emotions, beliefs, attitudes, and opinions enable people to satisfy psychological needs through the places they know, and the spaces they share. It involves letting go of ideological notions that mentally separate us from the biogeosphere; building systems that grow from volatility; and discovering the real-world agency of humans.

Andrew Nuttall
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Andrew Nuttall

Andrew is interested in bringing a transformative, interdisciplinary approach to climate action. He resides on the rugged coast of British Columbia where he is actively developing a podcast.
Andrew Nuttall
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