I haven’t really been a part of the “environmental movement” in any meaningful sense (no activism, plus I took a long break from reading anything on the topic), so when I read things about people who have been, who are talking about apparent blindspots and shortcomings with environmentalism, it is always kind of an interesting experience.
Here is this piece that talks about some of the conflicts between environmentally-focused people and labor-focused people: Can We Earn a Living on a Living Planet? and I think well, you have to. You have to find a way.
I can certainly understand how and why the conflicts have existed for so long (the article neatly lays them out: “growth” has different implications depending on which group you are most-closely aligned with). It also seems clear that different countries are going to have different conflicts, or perhaps less, depending on how the culture and social systems in those countries function:
“German workers have less to fear,” observes Joe Uehlein. “They already have a just transition in the form of a social safety net. These German workers are not afraid of losing their health care, pension, paid vacations, and affordable educations for kids. We need the equivalent of military base–closing legislation as we close power plants, with planning and worker protections.”
Joe Uehlein’s point about Germany offers a clue to uniting labor, community, and environmental activists. If we really want to fix the environment, then we need coalitions to rewire an economic system that currently exploits humans and depletes nature.
“What we enviros need to understand is the centrality of work in people’s lives—and that in a society with deep social insecurity, your job is everything,” says Uehlein. “One’s livelihood, retirement, hopes, and dreams. We have everything to fear from an environmental movement that is silent about workers. Sustainability starts at the kitchen table, meaning our kid’s education, savings, food, and next job.”
To talk about 100-year scenarios and the survivability of other species, without standing with the immediate survival struggles of most people, is to retreat to a privileged and deeply disconnected space. Until we address the underlying insecurities that most people face, we will fail in our efforts to build a common movement.
For “environmentalism” or “sustainability” to truly be sustainable – to end up with a scenario where processes will be able to keep going without recklessly depleting something; for processes that are regenerative (or much closer to it), integrated into all the other processes to create an overall system that functions in a healthy fashion – you can’t just focus on the other-than-human (“the environment”) any more than you can expect to have long-term success with human-centric concerns without considering the other-than-human, since all that we do is utterly dependent on the other. It is frustrating to see that, for so very long, too many people have been so narrowly focused on their specific concerns that the conflicts still exist, but it is also good to see so many instances (laid out in the article) of people who understand that the conflicts exist and want to find ways to get the results we all want, to find ways to address all the problems; they are all interconnected, after all. If you solve one of them the best way, you should also be solving many others at the same time.