The Neo-Green Contradictions

Because Ed Abbey and David Foster Wallace are no longer around, I’m nominating Charles Bowden to attend this upcoming conference sponsored by the European Science Foundation:

Eco-Chic: Connecting Ethical, Sustainable and Elite Consumption

As anthropologist Adam Fish observes:

Eco-chic, like many other socio-cultural manifestations of neoliberalism is rife with contradiction. The fundamental contradiction being that it is a social justice movement within consumer capitalism. The producers of eco-chic goods and experiences are structured by capitalism’s profit motive. Likewise consumers of eco-chic goods and experiences are motivated by ideals that try to transcend or correct the ecological or deleterious human impacts of capitalism. Thus both producer and consumer of eco-chic are caught in a contradiction between their social justice drives and their suspension in the logic of neoliberalism.

It’s a contradiction made all the more perverse when the eco-chic lifestyle is adopted by the rich and famous who then become green celebrities. But even as a guiding philosophy for commoners, it just doesn’t square. The problem with the eco-chic lifestyle, Fish asserts, is that it is a massive contradiction

between doing good and doing well, being ecologically sensitive while being hedonistic, being trendy while being independent, and being a creative producer while also being a conscious consumer. These contradictions don’t fly.

Most media coverage has either chronicled what Wired in 2006 called the “Rise of the Neo-Greens” or celebrated the eco-chic lifestyle. But I’m not aware of any critiques of the movement put forward in places like Harper’s or Mother Jones magazine, whose readers might be considered a prime eco-chic demographic.

It’s time someone with literary and intellectual chops explored the eco-chic contradictions that Fish lays out, and the implications for environmentalism as a sustainable, politically relevant movement. Harpers’s and Mother Jones each has a stable of talented writers up to the task.

7 Responses to “The Neo-Green Contradictions”

  1. Dean says:

    “consumers of eco-chic goods and experiences are motivated by ideals that try to transcend or correct the ecological or deleterious human impacts of capitalism.”
    While I would tend to agree with Fish, the above quote, for some the question is to what degree deleterious ecological impacts are inherent with capitalism, and I would assume that some eco-chic consumers do not think it is, making it easier to be a consumer without the impacts.
    I also think that we need to define what eco-chic is, to what kinds of purchases it applies to. Organic applies? Organic cotton? Climate offsets? Expensive hybrid cars? Flying to a film festival in Montana? A lot of variation there. Some are much more chic than others.

  2. EdG says:

    This conference is a classic example of the contradiction. The whole thing could be done by video conference – if anyone actually thought that it was necessary at all.

    But the attendees will all fly there, consume goods and services, and then talk about how hypocritical it is for others to do what they are doing.

    On the hypocrisy scale it ranks right up there with the Climate Change Revival meetings (e.g. Cancun) where thousands of devotees fly in to discuss why everybody else should reduce their CO2 emissions.

    Getting back to the ‘culture war’ theme, the gross hypocrisy of the leaders of the AGW cult(ure) is one thing that anybody and everybody can see – except those in the cult who love and enjoy lavish meetings on expense accounts.

    As I noted in the earlier thread on that topic, Al Gore, who somebody once thought was a good spokesman for the cause, is the most high profile symbol of this hypocrisy (and so much more). Thus if the AGW Team wants to rebuild its credibility they should send him to an undisclosed bunker ASAP, and keep him there. Romm too, though hardly anyone not following all this knows who he is.

  3. jeffn says:

    This is just another example of the climate issue being a cultural issue. The eco-chic are seeking validation- of their moral superiority toward the planet and the less fortunate and for their preferred policy goals- greater government regulation of commerce/consumption/profit.
    Notice that 18-25 age group is both the primary target for eco-chic groups like Greenpeace and the demographic sweet spot for corporations’ marketing budgets (based on the observed fact that this age group has an almost limitless willingness to buy unnecessary stuff). It’s also the target market for universities offering “sustainability” degrees for $20,000 annual tuition- something you’d have to sell a lot of widgets to pay for.
    There is also the hit to credibility. I always cringed when Andy Revkin would highlight some student tree-sing-in or something. Nothing says trustworthy appeal to intellect like a vague call to limit capitalism from a college sophomore.
    Gotta sell a lot o’ widgets to cover that bill.

  4. Eli Rabett says:

    So, let us see, eco-chics are much worse than granola eaters are much worse than Joe Romms, Al Gore is fat and Michelle Obama ate a burger with fries
    Fact is that what we really have to do is jail all the churnalists
    Eli is taking bets that one of them visited UEA.

  5. Jeff Norris says:

    I think most media would reaction would probably be much like the one Jeff Bercovici received from Grist on this article idea.

  6. Bill says:

     “Trust Fund treehugger” is a nice one!

  7. Brandon Keim says:

    Yes, the eco-chic crowd is annoying. Seeing Bono posing for photographs in an African village while wearing designer sunglasses, or some anorexic model pimping for organics, is risible. But if you’re going to condemn the anti-consumerist, wary-around-capitalism strains of environmentalism — which, correct me if I’m wrong, seems to be a tendency around here — you can’t complain about “a social justice movement within consumer capitalism.”

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