The Future of Missionary Environmentalism

By Keith Kloor | March 27, 2013 9:25 am

Anyone familiar with environmentalism knows how earnest it is. Saving the planet is serious business, right? Ever watch panels where people are talking about climate change or endangered species? These people don’t joke around, they don’t poke fun at themselves or their cause.

Because it is a righteous cause, and they are righteous people. Environmentalists, like the Blues Brothers, are on a holy mission.

And that’s why environmentalism, like the Catholic church, is a doomed institution. It’s cool that some of the heretics are trying to breathe some sanity and oxygen into the movement, but on my most cynical days I think that effort is doomed, too. Because you can’t reason with self-righteous people who are operating from a position of moral superiority, people with built-in, unassailable assumptions about the purity of Mother Nature and the wickedness of capitalistic marauders who, according to the master eco-narrative, are hell-bent on keeping us enslaved to fossil fuels and a paradigm of endless growth.

In this narrative, either you are on the side of the angels (Mother Nature) or you are on the side of the earth-destroying corporations, the devils in this world, like Monsanto and Exxon. This is a battle between good and evil and it’s no joking matter. Nothing less than the fate of the planet is at stake!

This missionary seriousness, more than any outdated notions of nature and fear of technology, is what ultimately will suck the last breath out of environmentalism. If greens really want to convert people to their cause, they should take Jenny Price’s advice and Stop Saving the Planet. Stanford’s Generation Anthropocene just did a great interview with her.

To my green friends: If Price’s recent essay and the points she makes in the interview don’t wipe the humorless, smug smile off your faces, then you are a lost cause and so is the unfulfilled promise of environmentalism.

UPDATE: I have been made aware of a related 2007 essay by the UK’s George Marshall, who comes at this from the climate change perspective.


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About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets.From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine.In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest.He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.


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