Who’s responsible for the green crap?
December 2, 2013 § 4 Comments
Climate change is often seen as an environmental issue. Why such a limited view? Many of its harms are a question of justice. Most of the solutions will come through political agreement. Our out-of-control consumption is a question of economics and desire. Our complicity in catastrophe is a mix of ideology, ignorance and anxiety.
Yet the words – ‘green levy’ ‘green taxes’ ‘green business’ and ‘green crap’ – resonate across the media along with the suggestion that this is all about some dispensable polar bears, some obscure insects and a bunch of people in woolly hats.
The green ghetto
Over the last few months I’ve heard a number of people suggest that environmentalists are somehow to blame for the fact that climate change is seen as an environmental issue. Climate change needs to come out of the ‘green ghetto’, they argue. Environmentalists have captured the green agenda, they complain. Environmentalists ‘put people off’ with their strident demands.
This one has the fingerprints of our old friend projection all over it. Blame is being offloaded by the bucket-load.
If you enquire a bit more deeply about who exactly is at fault, answers are not forthcoming. Is it the RSPB? No, they say. The Wildlife Trust then? No – not that kind of environmentalist. Friends of the Earth or Greenpeace then? No – they think FOE and Greenpeace do good work. Who do they mean? Bill McKibben? Jonathan Porritt? Caroline Lucas? No – they quite like all of them. Who then? They struggle. Maybe it’s the climate camp people. But they haven’t been around for over three years, I say, and there were only ever a handful of them. The argument rapidly collapses. My interlocutor is confused.
It isn’t the environmentalists who have labelled climate change an environmental issue at all. It’s the powerful who cynically frame it as belonging to a ‘green fringe’. These are the people who talk about ‘green crap’. Some of them do so in order to dismiss climate change out of hand, some of them do so from their half-hearted commitment to an issue that challenges their assumptions about how the world works. In a week where the Guardian reported that a mere 90 companies (primarily fossil-fuel companies) have produced nearly two-thirds of the greenhouse gases generated in the industrial age, we should not be surprised at such obfuscation.
In psychological terms the process of projection occurs when one person attributes a feeling, a characteristic, an action or a responsibility to someone it doesn’t really belong to. ‘I’m not angry, you are.’ ‘He’s the most careless person I know.’ In the process called projective identification, the person who is the object of the projection comes to feel that they are indeed as described. “Perhaps I am angry…” “Maybe I am careless…” Similarly we find people from environmental organisations wondering if they are to blame for the marginalisation of climate change in the so-called ‘green ghetto’ and assuming responsibility for emerging from it.
Time to break out
Minorities live in ghettos not from their own choice but because people more powerful confine them there. If climate change is locked in a green ghetto it is not because environmentalists have put it there but because the powerful prefer to place climate change where they believe its implications will not touch them. It’s time for an uprising not an apology.
I read your post on Green Projection with great interest: please keep them coming…
Robin (Williams) Final talk Ecobuild 2013 🙂
Dear Ro, all very important points and you are entirely right that it suits opponents to define climate change as ‘environmental’ – as ever your arguments are very insightful.
However I do believe strongly that the environmental movement (and media) has created the environmental frame through its use or images and language and that its failure to actively engage outside (and sometimes opposing audiences) gives it some responsibility for the limitations of this. The use of the iconic polar bear, for example, emerges through the concerns, values, polar conservation and campaign priorities and (to be blunt) fundraising strategies. No other progressive organisation would put a bear at the center of its messaging. This is seriously problematic in my view.
Fault is a strong word. Greens are just doing what greens do and we have been on the frontline of this issue. Other movements have been negligent in not moving more strongly to apply their values to this issue.So I do not see this as a matter of blame. However I would happily finger all the organisations you mention as participants- and I have worked with most of them!
If you do a google image search for “polar bear ice floe”, up come the iconic images but the sites using them are not environmental campaigning organisations. The first ten are the Daily Telegraph, a wildlife photographer, a climate sceptical blog, a travel magazine, NASA, Polar Bears International, an image library, a fine art site, a wallpaper manufacturer and a christian climate sceptic site. You have to trawl through 67 images before you come across Greenpeace. So while campaigning organisations have indeed used this image (and some continue to do so) I don’t think it has become iconic through their use of it but through its adoption by wider social currents, made up of many interests no doubt, and certainly some players whose purpose is to keep climate change as a niche issue.
I think a lot of the use of these polar bear images by environmentalists now takes place at the community level of climate change activity, where people without much experience or knowledge put together publicity material without reflection, simply drawing on what have become the dominant frames in the wider media. Before I left Cambridge Carbon Footprint I became exhausted repeating to people “no polar bears, no windmills, no appeals to money-saving, don’t use the colour green, don’t catastrophise” etc etc etc. What I don’t have an answer to is why people are so resistant to understanding that these frames are damaging.
For another take on those 90 companies, here’s a spoken word performance poem “90 CEOs, that’s who’s driving this bus …” — http://youtu.be/wMTrz3t8F4Q