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The Mac Weekly - April 16, 2010
A Critique of Green Capitalism and Primitivism
By Henry Slocum
Environmentalism is all the rage these days. Although green is the new black, the question remains, how far are we willing to go to save the environment? Mainstream ideas focus around emissions caps and trading, renewable/clean energy sources, sustainable building materials, and a multitude of other focuses. Macalester's Institute for Global Citizenship (IGC) is an exemplification of these measures, known to many as Green Capitalism. However, these ideas merely scratch the surface of rescuing the global environment. For many, the best response to this "produce more to waste less" paradigm is primitivism. While both of these approaches seemingly reduce the production of waste, Green Capitalism is an up-and-coming ideology that has more flaws than are visible to the naked eye.
The IGC has been given a platinum certification by the LEED institute because of its use of passive solar heating, water conservation methods, and sustainable building materials. However, wouldn't we have been better off if the building was never built? Think of all the fuel consumed by heavy equipment during construction. Building new "sustainable" structures to say that one is committed to sustainability and "good global citizen[ship]" (taken from the Markim Hall press release) does not solve the problem of continued and increasing degradation of the global environment. It is, at best, neutral.
Primitivism is an anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian lifestyle intended to return the Earth to the way it was before the industrialization of society. Provocative, no? In essence, primitivists live off the grid and work actively to reverse the further degradation of the planet by resisting projects such as deforestation, industrial pollution, and excessive carbon emissions. In the primitivist lifestyle, one lives off the land, causing minimal to no impact, without the use of technology that pollutes or degrades the environment in any irreversible way. Although extreme, this may really be the only way to save the planet: allowing the planet take over once again.
Doubtless, primitivism is a more drastic step towards rescuing the global environment than green capitalism. Green capitalism focuses solely on reducing harmful emissions, finding more sustainable building materials and fuels, and environmental clean-up projects to the extent possible without losing any money. With the growing obsession with capital, most efforts of "going green" are curtailed by the fear that money will be lost with a shift to using more sustainable products, reducing emissions, etc. Primitivism, however, embraces the idea that the Earth is a sacred place that must be protected regardless of the accumulation of capital. For this reason, the primitivist approach stands a better chance at saving our planet from death row.
However, primitivism is not necessarily the best way forward. One major problem (among others) is the fact that it is ableist. Primitivism requires a certain amount of self-reliance; the ability to move around without the convenience of cars or other methods of mechanized transportation, the ability to grow one's own food, care for one's health, and much more. For people with severe physical or mental disabilities, primitivism is not an option. So while it stands a good chance at saving the planet from further destruction, primitivism is a largely exclusionary lifestyle that doesn't create an open, accommodating human society.
We cannot accept Green Capitalism as a course of action to save the planet. There is far too much at stake to be satisfied with new "sustainable" buildings. We must find an alternative to both Green Capitalism and Primitivism in order to save the planet from environmental catastrophe, yet include all who are interested in joining the movement. Peter Gelderloos will be addressing some of these issues, specifically engaging in a critique of "Green capitalist" environmentalism, the Thursday, April 22 at 7 p.m. in Olin Rice 250. His talk, entitled "Guns for Global Warming: Climate Change and Social Control," will speak to the necessity of finding alternative approaches that are truly committed to countering environmental catastrophe.
Henry Slocum '13 writes as a member of MPJC-SDS.