Is There A Difference Between Lifestyle & Livelihood Environmentalism?


photo: Clean Energy Resource Teams/Creative Commons

On a number of occasions previously and at a couple times yesterday during World Environment Day 2011 activities in Delhi there's been a notion expressed, explicitly by environment minister Jairam Ramesh and implicitly by others around this year's theme of 'Forests: Nature at Your Service', that there is a difference between 'lifestyle' and 'livelihood' environmentalism.

It's an effort to try to frame environmental issues, conservation as one of necessity rather than choice. It's not a bad effort, and certainly true from a certain perspective. But I can't also help feeling like an artificial conflict is being set up, especially by Ramesh. Is there really a difference between lifestyle and livelihood? Is the emphasis on there being a difference really a semantic hair of difference more than anything else? The alliteration in the contrast is a nice turn of phrase but is there more to it?

Environment as livelihood. Without a doubt this is true, although the connection between the two is not always recognized--increasingly when many people do not directly make money off agricultural activity, or any other activity that puts them in contact with the land. But ultimately every single person's livelihood depends on a clean, functioning environment. Even in an information-based economy, every single person needs to eat every day, needs to breath several times a minute, needs to drink water. All the electronics used in that sort of economy, every single piece of dematerialized piece of commerce, ultimately derives from physical resources. There is no escaping that--even if sometimes intellectual abstractions of economics ignores this. Environment is livelihood and livelihood is environment. Yes.

Environment as lifestyle. It's simply not correct thinking to assume (as seems to be done in setting up this comparison) that buying eco-friendly products, being concerned about endangered species and driving a hybrid car is as shallow a choice as whether to wear your hair long or cut it short, to prefer skinny jeans over baggier ones, or prefer sneakers to shoes with heals. To make this assumption simply shows a lack of understanding of the nature of the modern green movement. Not to mention ignores that fact that even if those 'lifestyle' products there are livelihood's dependent on them.

TreeHugger has always made a conscious choice to showcase all the shades of green of the modern environmental movement, from the some of the surface decoration characterized as lifestyle environmentalism to the fundamental aspects of concern represented by livelihood environmentalism.

There is no conflict between them, despite apparent efforts to create one.

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