Is Environmentalism Socialist? Comrade, please...

Image credit: Cafe Press

Perhaps one of the most confusing things about the recent attacks on the green movement by some of the wackier climate conspiracy theorists (as opposed to legitimate concerns over certain scientists' behavior, or less than optimal citations at the IPCC), have been accusations that climate change is both a socialist conspiracy and a scam to make Wall Street rich. We already know that fossil fuel interests are vastly outspending Wall Street on climate lobbying (and Exxon is still funneling cash into climate denial), so if it's not the evil capitalists playing Chicken Little, then it must be those dastardly communists, right? At first glance, the suggestion that environmentalists have a socialist, or at least anti-capitalist, agenda is a little more plausible. Certainly we know that our current economic system's focus on relentless growth at all costs drives over-consumption and a disregard for preserving our natural resources. So it's no surprise that many environmentalists find themselves offering a critique of capitalism, and many socialists find themselves gravitating toward environmentalism as a pillar of their arguments against the status quo.

But to argue that environmentalism as a whole is a socialist, or even communist, pursuit is laughably simplistic to say the least. From T Boone Pickens' plans for major wind power as a route to energy independence (although his wind farm plans have recently hit trouble because of the financial crisis), to Richard Branson's warning that peak oil could cripple our economy in 5 years, there's a growing number of major business minds who realize that spending our natural capital in the form of fossil fuels, rather than living off the interest of renewables, is not just capitalism, it's bad capitalism.

And while those on the right wing who decry any and every Government intervention in our lives might see environmental legislation as further evidence of tyranny by stealth, many others see cap and trade, feed-in tariffs, and other such measures as little different to the direct and indirect subsidies that were used to get the fossil fuel, automobile and aviation industries off the ground during the last century. (Interestingly, while opponents of climate legislation have been successful at decrying "socialist cap n tax" policies, in my experience it is the more left wing greenies who stand opposed to these measures, arguing that they are a get out of jail free card for major corporations.)

In the end, I find myself returning to the argument I made in my post on whether environmentalism is a movement, that everybody is an environmentalist whether they realize it or not. If you are a human being interested in survival of the species, then you are an environmentalist.

That doesn't mean you agree with every other environmentalist on what should, or should not, be done to protect our collective resources (if "collective resources" sounds too socialist, we can also say natural capital). But it does mean you have a shared interest in doing so. So the argument becomes about methods, not goals. And that, I would hope, is something everyone can agree on.

Tags: Activism | Economics | United States