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Wayne Mellinger: Becoming Deep Green — Steps Toward Radical Environmentalism

By Wayne Mellinger |

Given the breadth and severity of problems facing our natural world, we need to expand our notion of “community” from one focused exclusively on human beings to one focused on all living beings and the Earth itself. Given the absolute failure of mainstream approaches to changing our relationship to the natural world, we need to shift our political orientations to more participatory forms of democracy that embrace citizen activism.

Social justice is a concept that describes fairness in society among social groups. In particular, a social justice perspective highlights the economic inequality between social classes and the plight of the poor in modernity.

Typically, social justice is defined as a state in which all people have equal access to basic human services and are treated with dignity and respect. Classism, racism, sexism and other forms of oppression are seen as evils that impede the evolution of humanity.

As our environmental situation worsens month after month, I feel increasingly drawn to the ecological movement. I believe that the destruction of nature is a social justice issue because environmental problems most adversely affect poor and minority populations.

For example, research on “environmental racism” has documented the effects of toxic chemicals on African-Americans living along “Cancer Alley” in Louisiana, the contamination by uranium mining of the drinking water consumed by some indigenous people, and how the proposed pathway of the Keystone XL pipeline will damage the lives of disadvantaged populations. Poor and minority groups often lack the political power to stand up to corporate greed.

The focus of a social justice perspective on ecological issues has led to the concerns for “environmental justice” — focusing on the unfair distribution of environmental burdens on particular social groups. This focus on how ecological ruin adversely affects human beings has been rightly critiqued for “anthropocentrism” — that is, the exclusive attention to how our species is impacted discounts the rights of the Earth and other species.

The “ecocentric”, or “biocentric,” ethic was conceived by Aldo Leopold in his famous essay “The Land Ethic” in his A Sands County Almanac (1949). The focus becomes the biotic community as a whole. From this perspective, the well-being of ecosystems must take precedence over the well-being of individual sentient animals.

As Leopold states: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

Rather than advancing a park-making conservationism in which parcels of private land moved into the public domain, Leopold insisted on changing the fundamentals of society as a whole.

He argues: “The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants and animals, or collectively, the land. [A] land ethic changes the role of Homo Sapiens from conqueror of the land community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.”

The dominant streams of Western thinking have desacralized nature and led to its oppressions. Our alienation from nature is a disease born of industrial civilization. Many who hold ecocentric perspectives believe that the land is sacred and all its inhabitants are kin to whom humans owe reverence and caregiving. To reconnect to nature, we need to listen and learn from the land. The transformation of human consciousness is a prerequisite to environmental sustainability.

Like many in our culture, I can be so immersed in mainstream discourses that I can lose sight of their complicity with structures of power. The political left of our country is composed of two divergent groups with opposing approaches to dealing with our ecological crisis.

Liberals insist that ”everything will be OK,” while radicals insist that the problems are so serious that we need major structural changes in the organization of society. Liberals tend to regard the basic institutions of our culture as sound and call for reforms. Radicals tend to regard industrial capitalism as inherently flawed and call for a major overhaul of our operating system.

According to Lierre Keith, the two groups have different conceptions of the basic unit of society. Liberals believe that societies are made up of individuals and individualism is a guiding ideology. Radicals see society as composed of groups and classes and regard identifying with a group as the first step toward political consciousness. Of course, this is a simplification.

The United States was founded upon the ideology of classical liberalism, an ideology that values the sovereignty of the individual and insists that economic freedom and property rights are essential to that sovereignty.

Liberals embrace capitalism while radicals reject it. Since the Great Depression, liberalism has embraced government intervention into the economy to regulate business and enforce safety and labor standards.

When it comes to addressing our ecological crisis, liberalism hands us a framework that truncates actions that could otherwise be effective. Lawsuits, recycling and petitions are not enough to confront the powers that be.

Our planet is dying, and nicely asking those in power to do something is not working. Bolder steps are required. We need a massive protest movement that will challenge the systems of power that are killing our planet. Changes in individual lifestyles are not enough. Replacing one consumer choice with another will not do. We need to think institutionally and not personally.

While I have long voted for environmentally-minded politicians, recycled my cans and bottles and have taken part in Earth Day festivities, “saving the planet” wasn’t my particular bag. I had other issues that more passionately stirred my heart. The “silo effect” of American politics allowed me to advocate for social justice detached from an ecological framework. I no longer think this is possible.

To become “deep green” is to combine the ecocentrism and the radical perspectives outlined above. Deep green is another way to talk about radical environmentalism. It has been borne out of frustration with the co-option of mainstream environmentalism.

I used to wonder how people got involved with ecological organizations such as Earth First! and the Earth Liberation Front. These leaderless resistance organization often subscribe to the idea of taking direct action in defense of Mother Earth, including civil disobedience, ecotage and monkeywrenching. While I appreciate their uncompromising attitudes, I personally have not (yet) embraced extra-legal tactics.

A deep green analysis of our environmental crisis would reveal the endemic structural violence at the heart of our socioeconomic order, highlight how power works in this phase of capitalism, and listen to the voices of those who are marginalized and silenced by these systems. Moreover, a deep green perspective listens to the land.

Being “radical” means not just having a critical analysis based on understanding the power structure of our country, but means embracing the role of disruption in bringing forth social change. When people collectively refuse to cooperate in the institutional relationship that constitutes society, they can create a mass protest movement that can alter or abolish the institutions that organize power.

The environmental crisis is rapidly becoming one of the accepted truths of the modern age. There is no more denying the loss of wilderness, the poisoning of land, sea and air, climate change or massive species extinction. While humans have a right to a healthy environment, we must move beyond questions of how environmental ruin affects us humans. The ethical community must be pushed out to include nature and we must fight to protect it.

— Wayne Mellinger, Ph.D., is a social justice activist living in Santa Barbara and social worker for the homeless. He is on the board of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE).




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» on 02.06.13 @ 12:59 PM

Wayne, please go back to school and get an education in science, preferably physics since that about covers everything else. Your apocalyptic view of the earth’s environment is not new and unfortunately panic driven rather than driven by rational thinking.

The biosphere is far more robust than you give it credit for. Yes we can foul it up, but mostly to our own demise. Nature, is rather cruel in that sense, she will allow you to crap your self to extinction often allowing a more robust species to take your place. She it also quite persistent, having survived major extinction events that have killed off nearly 95% of all life, not once, not twice, but several times in the last one billion years and each time she roars back to life.

So please spare me the apocalyptic hysteria. I was like you once, paranoid that we were going to kill the planet with pollution. My fear drove me to study, learn and I was quite surprised at what I found. We humans are pathetic and weak, but nature is not.

Still I agree being wildly careless is stupid, so I remain committed to being a good steward to our planet. I practice practical environmentalism; I learn from nature and look for ways to mimic her profound wisdom. I leave the fascist, totalitarian, control freak crap to communist like you who are driven by intellectual narcissism to enslave your fellow man because “you know better”. Except you don’t.

Social justice is code for the new progressive Marxism. Liberalism is nothing more that weak Marxism. Either way its all about fellows like you pissed off at people you think are mentally inferior becoming wealthy while your lack of success leaves your hungry, and you want justice. You use the poor as a shield for your envy and marshal their contempt for the rich. Yet your environmental radicalism, the policies it generates will hammer and kill more poor people than all the class separation you envious commies can conjure up.

Nature, Wayne, she is a cruel master and she loathes weakness. Communism breads weakness and nature will punish you for that. Market capitalism mimics the natural selection we see in nature, rewarding cleverness and strength and punishing weakness and stupidity. Like it or not, you are on the wrong side of nature. Study, learn and realize what a marvel our planet is and how insignificant we are. Then join those of us you strive to work with nature instead of trying to control her.

» on 02.08.13 @ 04:17 PM

350santabarbara.wordpress.com
facebook.com/350sb

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Great article, Wayne!  Direct action has always played an important part in freedom.  Resisting the British Empire, for one.  African-Americans sitting in whites-only spaces to raise a fuss about white supremacy, as another.  Today we’re seeing Tar Sands Blockade and Idle No More as doing such wonderful, beautiful things.

Oh, physics are lovely!

-The atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration has increased rapidly since the beginning of the industrial revolution, after being nearly constant for thousands of years.

-The surplus carbon dioxide has an isotope composition that can only come from fossil fuels. The increase in concentration is not natural; it comes from human activities.

-The radiative properties of carbon dioxide have been measured by physicists in the laboratory: It absorbs thermal infrared (heat) radiation.

-Because carbon dioxide has this heat-absorbing physical property, the increase in its concentration has increased the infrared opacity of the Earth’s atmosphere and blocks the outward radiation of heat.

-More net energy is now coming into the Earth’s atmosphere from sunlight than is going back out to space as heat radiation.

-The Earth’s temperature is increasing by an amount that is consistent with predictions, based on the laws of physics and the well known heat-absorbing properties of the excess carbon dioxide

You can google “physics of global warming” to learn more.

DO THE MATH!  DO THE SCIENCE!

We can burn less than 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide and stay below 2°C of warming — anything more than that risks catastrophe for life on earth. The only problem? Fossil fuel corporations now have 2,795 gigatons in their reserves, five times the safe amount. And they’re planning to burn it all — unless we rise up to stop them.

DO THE ANTI-RACISM!

-People of color make up the majority of those living in neighborhoods located within 1.8 miles of the nation’s hazardous waste facilities.

-The Commission for Racial Justice contends that “approximately half of all Native Americans live in communities with an uncontrolled toxic waste site.”

-96 percent of African American children who live in inner cities have unsafe amounts of lead in their blood.

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Beware people talking about what is “natural” and not;  these were the same racist arguments supporting African slavery, manifest destiny, the subordination of women, and is still a weak justification for the oppression of LGBTQI people.

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350santabarbara.wordpress.com
facebook.com/350sb

» on 02.10.13 @ 02:11 PM

350, humans are natural, unless you believe we came from some other planet and invaded earth. Carbon dioxide is a very weak GHG and much of the hype in the exaggerated GW hysteria was based on run away thermal feed back loops related to the most powerful GHG, water vapor. The thought was slight enhancement of global warming by CO2 would trigger a run away in the water vapor loop and compound the warming, thus thawing tundra and releasing more CO2 and methane in another run away feed back loop.

The only problem is it didn’t happen. Excess CO2 has prompted enormous growth of vegetation which is consuming far more water vapor than rising temperatures can provide. Damn that biology! Who said life could interfere with a perfectly good environmental crisis?

As for CO2, keep in mind there was three times as much in the atmosphere 15 million years ago, 5 times as much 500 million years ago. We are just putting it back where it came from and the trees, plants and crops we grow love it!

As for your Marxist based racism crap, a better capitalist free market economy fueled with abundant cheap energy will do more to liberate the poor from bad neighborhoods and poverty than all the dopy pot fueled sit ins you and Wayne love so much. I grew up poor and my motivation was to not be poor and I worked my way out of it, your lunatic commie fueled BS does more to hold the poor back than anything else. Oh, but I guess it helps you wealthy white liberals vacuum your shallow guilty consciences, huh?

» on 02.11.13 @ 02:41 PM

350, I made a terrible error in my last comment and I need to correct it. First my apologies for the error.

Global CO2 levels were this high during the Miocene 15 million years ago not 3 times like I said before, they were 5 times the pre-industrial age amount 200 million years ago not 500 million like I said and 20 times pre-industrial levels 550 million years ago. So I was wrong and I want to make sure we both get it right.

Unfortunately it doesn’t change the basis of my argument which is that we are returning CO2 back where it came from, that plants love it and that they are growing far more rapidly and more prolifically and thus consuming far more water vapor thus clamping the water vapor feed back loop and that is probably why we have not seen any rise in temperature in the last 10 years or so.

Remember, before the global panic over CO2 we once thought of this harmless gas as a significant part of the “carbon cycle”? Some how that is all forgotten now that we have designated it as a “pollutant”. Hmmmm!

Wayne you big commie you, please feel free to chime in. I still have a great respect for you and your work even though your dopy Marxism drives me batty!

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