Who are the Real Eco-Villains?

Image credit: TheRegimen

I've been thinking a lot about villains lately. From Massey CEO Don Blankenship to climate skeptic holocaust denier Nick Griffin, there are plenty of people whose pursuit of self interest and questionable politics have a terrible effect on both our environment and our society. But are they evil? The idea of the eco-villain is a perennial theme in environmental debate. From Japanese whalers to Exxon, activists love to brand their targets as evil incarnate, out to destroy the world with villainous intent.

That kind of narrative even filters through to discourse about individuals. Environmentalists often talk about people whose actions they disagree with - be they SUV drivers, hunters, politicians, corporate suits, unspecified "rednecks", or anyone else - as if they are an enemy that needs to be defeated. The trouble is, fighting talk tends to breed fights. And fights don't tend to change minds.

Don't get me wrong. I think there is a valid place for outright opposition. And framing the debate in terms of good and evil or right and wrong can be a very effective tactic. It's a tactic I use in my own work - most recently in opposing KFC's destruction of Southern forests. But it's a tactic, not a world view. And underneath the facade, it's more about bad ideas than it is bad people.

As I've argued before, everyone who is interested in the survival of our species is an environmentalist, whether they realize it or not. The danger with painting certain 'targets' as villains is that they then self-identify with that role, and they view environmentalists as the enemy.

There's also a flip-side to that argument. If everyone is an environmentalist, then everyone is also an environmental villain. I know eco-activists, myself included, that fly regularly, drive cars, eat meat, and many other actions that have a profound environmental impact. There's probably very few people left on the planet who are independent of fossil fuels.

So while we may use the heroes versus villains story when it fits, let's remember that it is a story. Ultimately we need everybody on board with sustainability if we are going to survive.

Tags: Activism

Best of TreeHugger