Perhaps the greatest harm to environmentalism today comes from Earth Day and the E.P.A. This is not to say that either harm the environment; rather, they hinder the possibility that environmentalism will ever actually accomplish anything meaningful.
The problem is this: Earth Day and the E.P.A. seek to ‘protect’ the environment while doing nothing to change the cultural foundation that creates the problem. a similar issue can be found with weight-loss via gyms and dieting: they are meant to let us keep our problematic eating culture without worrying about its consequences.
What the E.P.A. and Earth day do is try (often in vain; one simply needs to look at the recent chemical leak in West Virginia) to eliminate the effects of consumption culture while telling us we can keep the consumption (a consumption culture is not so much capitalistic as it is industrial; communist China is just as guilty of this as any in the West). There is an idea, propagated by these institutions, that we can consume what we want without there being any (problematic) waste, that eventually our technology will solve the problems caused by our own technology.
Production inevitably makes some sort of waste (the creation of energy from food produces CO2 and offal), but the more and faster we produce the more waste there is. One only needs to look at our food products to see this. We buy small packages of a lot of food, packages that are nothing but waste (even if we recycle it still takes energy and not everything is reused). Even the unpackaged foods have stickers on them and are shipped in disposable containers. About the only thing reusable in the process are the trucks.
So long as we insist on industrial convenience we will have industrial waste (sitting in front of me are the nine pieces of trash my fast food meal came in, and this is not counting two receipts and two pieces I have already thrown away. God only knows how many pieces of trash they used behind the counter making it. Even these words were first written with a fountain pen with a disposable ink cartridge). We can hide it, pretend it doesn’t matter, or come up with guidelines and rules to limit it, but we still drive thousands of cars and throw away mountains of garbage (an efficient package from Amazon is still garbage that would not exist if I hadn’t bought that book, or even if I had purchased it from a bookstore). The only way to eliminate it is to stop consuming what we don’t need and start making what we do.
What, then, do we need? I recently was very ill and spent several weeks in the hospital. One of the things you discover while ill is just how much you can live without. I am a man who loves to read; I own books in the thousands, yet I did not open one during the majority of my illness. If I had lacked conversation, it would have been more difficult, but anyone who thinks they would die without books has not learned to live. I would not anytime soon give up my books and reading, but if the vast majority of all people in the history of the world were people who did not read I see no reason to doubt it wouldn’t be beyond me. In fact, here is the deepest answer to the question of ‘what we need:’ not much. What possesses me to imagine that I need more than Plato did? It may not be easy but it is utterly livable.
One of the most attractive things I have heard from a woman was “I don’t expect to ever own a new car.” This was from a young lady who is getting a degree from a well known private college, who fits firmly into the class of people who drive the sales of new cars. In her it is an awareness of need (Plato may not have had a car but it is nigh impossible to live in many towns without one, particularly with a family) that suggest she has her eyes on the one needful thing, and it will not be taken from her.
Justin Burgard is trying to figure out just how we can live in this world, all while completing a degree in Philosophy and learning how to write all over again.