There are a lot of bad ideas circulating among environmentalists today: there are the pro-business ideas of groups like Friends of the Earth; there is the incredibly racist anti-immigrant ideology which is influential among some (not all!) members of the Sierra Club; there are even some environmentalists who explicitly come out against human beings altogether, such as the reactionary who argued in the EarthFirst! Journal that AIDS was a good thing, since it would help reduce the human population and thereby supposedly benefit other lifeforms on earth. Fortunately, there are also lots of good ideas out there! First and foremost, there are two important political currents that should be welcomed by socialists: eco-socialism and environmental justice. Of course, by mentioning them individually, I don't mean to suggest that either one excludes the other. On the contrary, their arguments and activism are mutually supportive, and there is reason to hope that they will continue to learn from and help develop each other. Nevertheless, each has arisen in response to its own set of issues. We can divide "environmental issues" into six rough categories, recognizing that there will be overlap among them in many cases: 1. ecosystem imbalances (e.g., global warming; desertification; "acid rain"); 2. wilderness and wildlife conservation (e.g., endangered species; rainforest clearcutting); 3. animal welfare (e.g., animal testing; factory farming); 4. public health risks (e.g., toxic waste disposal; nuclear power) 5. occupational hazards (e.g., unsafe or unhealthy working conditions) 6. environmental inequities (e.g., environmental racism; undemocratic production decisions) Of these, the mainstream organizations of the environmental movement (from the mid-1960s on) have placed overwhelming emphasis on the first three categories, and to a lesser extent the fourth. They have ignored almost completely the fifth and sixth types of issue. This emphasis is linked to their political strategy: a strategy of winning popular financial support for a lobbying effort aiming at getting regulatory legislation passed by governments and accepted by businesses. Ordinary people serve as donors or voters, but not as direct agents of political change, in this approach to politics. As a result, there is no need to emphasize issues which affect people so directly that they can be mobilized to struggle on behalf of themselves, their communities and their co-workers. Issues of protection and preservation (categories 1 to 3), which appeal to potential donors on a sentimental/emotional level, inevitably attract the most attention. But from the beginning of the modern environmental movement, it has been clear that the kind of issues around which it is easiest to mobilize masses of people to take action demanding change have been those falling under categories 4 through 6: issues of public health, workplace health and safety, and environmental inequities. Inevitably, eco-socialists and environmental justice activists (socialist or not) have placed considerably more attention on these issues, than on issues of conservation. Crucial to the development of eco-socialism has been the participation of socialists in grassroots struggles against public health risks (such as toxic waste and nuclear power) and struggles around the world for indigenous rights. And the environmental justice movement initially arose as a response to the pattern of governments locating polluting industries and dumps disproportionately in neighbourhoods populated primarily by people of colour. The distinctive sort of environmentalism that has arisen from these struggles has begun to take shape as a real alternative to the familiar fundraise-and-lobby approach which has spent countless millions of dollars but accomplished comparatively little. This new-style radical environmentalism holds out the promise of building a new mass movement based on the self-organization of the people most directly affected by capitalism's ruthless exploitation of both the natural environment and the people who live in it. In the meantime, a number of key points of political difference have emerged that distinguish eco-socialism and environmental justice from mainstream environmentalism. In particular, the former currents have emphasized: (1) a strategy of grassroots action, rather than a narrow lobbying and education strategy; (2) demanding pollution and hazard prevention, rather than regulation or cleanup after the damage is already done; (3) a defense of vital human needs, such as for safety or for clean air and water, rather than identifying human needs as the fundamental problem; (4) an emphasis on the destructive impact of methods and priorities in production (and decisions about consumption options made at the point of production), rather than on the symptom of consumption patterns themselves; (5) an analysis of ecosystemic imbalances that relates them to the privatization of economic power in the hands of unaccountable firms, rather than an analysis that scapegoats the poor, immigrants or the abstract idea of "modernity" or technology as such; (6) above all, an attempt to integrate a critical analysis of class rule, racism, sexism and imperialism into an enriched radical environmentalism, rather than dismissing these "human-centred" issues as peripheral to the supposedly more pressing questions of the health of "the planet." None of this means that socialist environmentalists should ignore issues of type 1, 2, or 3. On the contrary, issues like soil erosion or global warming are far too important -- both for human welfare and for the long-range viability of the socialist project -- to be ignored. What it means is that the starting-point of a socialist environmentalism must be a determination to link together (both in theory and practice) struggles to defend our environment and struggles for social justice -- struggles against class rule, racism, sexism and imperialism. This means that environmentalism needs to change; but it also means that environmentalism can help to change and renew the socialist critique of capitalism and the socialist strategy for eradicating it. This pamphlet is an attempt to contribute to this process. (Steve D'Arcy is a member of the Resistance Collective)
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