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22.9.06

Environmentalism As Politics Versus Environmentalism As Lifestyle

Environmentalism is, at heart, a political project. It aims at the achievement of certain outcomes -- changes in the way our society relates to the natural environment. One important avenue for achieving that change is alteration of individuals' lifestyles*. Yet there is a danger here -- green lifestyles may take on a life of their own, such that the pursuit of a certain lifestyle is pursued as an end in itself without reference to the original goals.

One example of this environmentalism-as-lifestyle thinking can be seen in a recent post by Dave Pollard (who is normally better than this) discussing tips for living a simpler life. I agree that in many cases, choices that we would consider "simpler" are better for the environment, and I agree with quite a few of Pollard's specific recommendations. But Pollard's post fetishizes simplicity. For example, he advises us to have storage space built into the walls of our home, rather than having furniture to put stuff on. Now, I suppose it is simpler in an Occam's Razor sort of sense because built-in shelving means that you own fewer separate objects, but I don't see how it would simplify my life in any meaningful sense for my bookcase to be bolted to my wall.

On the other hand, Pollard advocates veganism. Veganism is certainly good for the environment, but it's far from simple. After all, one of the simplest foods in the world to prepare is a steak. And I'm not sure what is really accomplished by simplicity for simplicity's sake in food -- my favorite vegan meals are various curries, which are much more complex to prepare than meat-and-two-veg, but all the more enjoyable for it.

Pollard also gives us a vision of the ultimate goal of lifestyle "simplification," in a hypothetical visit to a clothing-optional commune (a commune which has apparently been simplified by exterminating all those pesky complicated old people and ugly people). A key feature of this commune is polyamory. Now, I have nothing against polyamory. But there's nothing simple about real polyamory. It requires a lot of work to maintain the complex balancing act of multiple partners. And whatever its other benefits, polyamory is no better or worse for the environment than monogamy (one might -- incorrectly, I think -- claim that polyamory is more natural than monogamy, but that brings you out of environmentalism into the territory of naturalness-fetishism).

*Though I think modern environmentalism has a tendency to go too far in this direction.

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