Saturday, February 17, 2007

Varieties of environmentalists

Ever since the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change) released a rather bleak forecast of the world's climate early this month, the American media has been abuzz with posturing and counter-posturing on the issue of global warming. It is fun to see the variety of responses that the report has evoked, since almost every individual of significance has been compelled to say something, given the media blitz.

Well, truth be told, watching the environmental debate is amusing even without the report. I have been meaning to write about the joys of watching "everyday environmentalists" since a long time, and this looks like the opportune moment. Following are pen pictures of few of the varieties of environmentalists I have personally encountered while in the US. Of course, I waive the pretension that this represents a complete list; indeed, there are as many kinds of environmentalists as there are people.

The Oprah Environmentalist
The Orpah-entalist is a rather likeable, fun-loving individual. Her exposure to media (primarily through the TV) is enormous, but this excludes anything that is newsy, documenterish or interviewish, or which pertains to the darker side of life (politics, science etc). She is more interested in the color of Paris Hilton's chaddi than the number of dead Iraqis. But, sometimes, certain real-world problems become big enough (global warming or Nancy Pelosi, for example) that they can no longer be screened out of the fantasy world of American TV, and even lifestyle gurus like Orpah feel obliged to pay lip service to them. Such incidental utterances on part of celebrities are the primary source of awareness for the Oprah-environmentalist, and because she had ungodly faith in her demigods, she takes those issues to heart. So, if someone as much as mention 'global warming' in front of her, she will get all attentive and her eyes will go round, because she remembers Oprah saying its something very, very bad. Once convinced (by Oprah), individuals of this variety are good to have on your side.

The Subaru Environmentalist
"Environmental Emancipation through Consumption" is the motto of the Subaru environmentalist. He can be easily distinguished by the car he drives (a Subaru or a 4Runner, both sporty SUVs), which is likely to be adorned with a Thule or Yakima sports rack. Come weekend, and our friend will hitch his skis or bike or surfboard to his car and head for the hills or the beach, as the case may be. The car will be adorned with at least one bumper sticker advertising an environmental cause; undoubtedly, the Subaru environmentalist thinks that his fastidious and abundant buying is the fast track to environmental bliss, and wonders why everyone isn't like him. Floating on his $800 ultra light canoe in the middle of a secluded lake, he will admire the virginness of nature around him (never mind the 250-mile CO2-spitting drive that brought him here). His kin have given rise to an entire industry of sporty environmentalism or conscientious sportishness, embodied by stores like REI.

The Urban Environmentalist
As her name suggests, she lives in a big city, or, out of the compulsion to be different, lives in the countryside with weekly drives to the city. She is likely to be a Bush-hater who believes that Mother Earth will bounce back to normal once a Democrat is elected president (of course, she has forgotten that Clinton obstinately refused to consider the Kyoto protocol). She is the armchair activist personified - talk of the Amazon rainforests and you will turn her on. When it comes to consumption, she is quite close in character to her Subaru-driving cousin - her likes are the ones who sustain nifty stores like Whole Foods Market. She will make sure that the coffee she buys is organically produced and is fair-trade certified, and will pinch each tomato for nutritiousness before putting it in her shopping bag, because she knows its the right thing to do. She is the one driving the Prius.

The Academic Environmentalist
This type of environmentalist is into the environment for the same reason that most geeky people are into Formula 1 or cricket - it offers them statistical or analytical challenges to keep their hyper-active minds distracted. Among his broad spectra of reading is included a hefty amount of science- and environment-related material. He is one of the few who actually read the material in journals ranging from the Audubon magazine to Science. Like most geeks, he knows a lot but understands little about the world, so is harmless.

The Karma Environmentalist
Individuals of this variety hold professions related to the environment - biologists, hydrologists, environmental technicians, environmental journalists, NGO employees - and believe that doing their jobs alone is fulfilling their duty to the environment. I count myself among these. My first job out of college was with a science/environmental institution (home of India's wiliest environmental campaigns) where I used to see piles of inefficiently used paper and office waste in the dump behind the office and tell myself that it was justified because of the huge positive impact we were causing. I think that’s how Bono balances with his energy-rich jet-setting lifestyle with his environmental advocacy. That’s how the gurus of global warming avoid the guilt of flying on carbon-farting airplanes to a dozen conference sites around the world annually. (Oh yes, writing this post on the environment earns me guilt-free credits for a 200-mile car ride...)

The Laal Salaam Environmentalist
Has nothing to do with the environment, but rooting for socialism is seen to be equivalent to rooting for environment in today's world, so an incidental environmentalist is born. He thinks that social justice will automatically bring in environmental justice. Plenty of these old hippies can be seen in ex-Hippieland (northern California), riding in their 1980s junks (supposed to be a political statement) with the inevitable "Impeach Bush" bumper sticker. The men will normally sport a beard and women will wear thick glasses (I personally suspect that women of this tribe wear thick glasses even if they have normal vision). They crunch Chomsky for breakfast and Hugo Chavez is their hero nowadays.

The non-Environmentalist
Will likely be a Republican. He is convinced that environmentalism is an anti-American conspiracy hatched by the communists and now controlled by the Al-Qaeda. If he had his way, they would be trying environmentalists of all colours for treason. Listen to what I overheard on Rush Limbaugh’s show last week (its a very popular right-wing radio show): "These guys at the weather service cant even tell us with certainty what the temperature is going to be tomorrow, and now, they are telling us the temperature will rise by a couple of degrees over the next hundred years? Are you going to believe them? All they want to do is get us out of our cars and increase our taxes!!! [emphasis not mine]" Enough said!

The Real McCoy
He is the real thing. You won’t find him at the weekend marathon or gala in support of the cause of global warming, because he sees the paradox that underlies the affair. In fact, he won’t go out much because it involves some sort of effluent. He sees no virtue in protecting the economy at the cost of the environment. He embodies the rule # 1 in waste treatment - "reduction at source". His frugal consuming habits make him unfriendly and miserly. Better stay away from him.

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

free html hit counter