Micro / Macro Environmentalism

January 29, 2007

During this morning’s US history class, I had this brief moment of inquiry into what I’m calling “microenvironmentalism” and just how much of a failure it truly can be if we don’t have a larger focus on “macroenvironmentalism” in America, at least. Micro/Macroenvironmentalism is, I think, is already jargon in a few fields already but since wikipedia doesn’t have a definition for it and google only has 19 pages regarding it I’m going to hijack it for my own purposes.

In terms of trying to “save the environment” and thus the world (apparently, nobody is trying to save the cheerleader here… yet…) there are several ad-hoc McGuyver-esque tips and tricks one can use to micromanage there carbon footprint. This is basically what I mean by microenvironmentalism – miniscule ways an individual can “save the environment.” Here is an excellent example of these tricks: 100 ways to Save the Environment

There are several “all-natural” products that have little pro-microenvironmentalist slogans to make it appear you’re ‘doing your part.’ For instance, Seventh Generation is one of those companies that produce “Natural All Purpose” cleaning supplies with two main quotes that reflect their philosophy. First one is from “The Great Law of the Iroquis Confederacy”:

In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.

Hence the name. This philosphy is in no way small – according to Wikipedia groups have proposed this idea to be a “Seventh Generation Amendment.” The problem is that the other quote Seventh Generation puts on their products is this:

You are making a difference. TM

If every household in the U.S. replaced just one bottle of 32 oz. petroleum based all-purpose cleaning with our renewable resource based product, we could save 7,100 barrels of oil, enough to heat and cool 400 U.S. homes for a year!

Far be it from me to figure out how in the hell they trademarked the phrase “You are making a difference” but this quote reveals the absolute short-sightedness of these seemingly pro-environment companies. 400 houses for a year? That’s what, 1 square mile of a residential area if all 300,000,000 Americans replaced there 32 oz. of WD40 with Seventh Generation’s product? Do the math on that. You’re using 100 percent of the population in order to save 0.0000013 percent. That is statistically irrelevant. They say these microenvironmentalist tips and tricks eventually “add up” and pay off. Well, that might be true if by “add up” you mean having every American citizen doing about a million of these short-sighted tricks every day for decade.

And how amazingly naive is it to think that Seventh Generation could somehow monopolize the cleaning products market? “Saving 7,100 barrels of oil” are they joking? We burn through something like 20 million a day for fucks sake.

This type of short-sighted naivete is what is ultimately killing the environmentalists. They aren’t properly proposing a macroenvironmentalist philosphy that may, actually, do some good. Macroenvironmentalists, obviously, being those ways of reducing emissions and “saving the environment” in a massive way. Two great examples of this are the banning of CFCs and the Clean Emissions Act in the 70s (I think) that required cars to get routine smog checks and mufflers that so forth. This tactic worked during the Ozone crisis and still relatively does work.
But why is there the emphasis on microenvironmentalism moreso than macroenvironmentalism. Well, micro-E is more effective on the individual. Just pick and choose of the 100 ways to save the environment that you can do. They are simple and flexible enough for everyone to fulfill. But ultimately, it’s still short-sighted. Everyone could do them but the reason we have a government, on some level, is get us to do things we must do. The ozone was “saved” not because environmentalists said you should for the sake of the environment get your car’s emissions checked. The ozone was ‘saved’ because the government made it a law. This is macroenvironmentalism. Instead of offering ad-hoc solutions to massive problems confronting mankind, use institutions created for the soul purpose of motiving mankind to solve the problem.

Don’t follow some strange instructions you found on the internet to get your car to run on human excrement, vote for and lobby for policies that enact sweeping pro-environmentalist legislation like supporting green gas power plants, emissions and so forth. Ultimately, if the government and environmentalists work together to do the morally right thing they’ll solve the problem macroenvironmentally – At the very least they’ll be closer to solving the problem than a lifestime of microenvironmentalism ever could.

Now I know I’m sort of misrepresenting my position here because I honestly don’t believe microenvironmentalism to be wholly without merit. The issue I take part in is that microenvironmentalism is only useful if it is to compliment a larger philosophy surrounding macroenvironmentalism. There’s no point in saving 7,100 barrels of oil if we a) still have a major dependence on oil and b) are still sucking oil out of the earth at the same rate.

However, the biggest hurdle macroenvironmentalism will have to overcome is the affinity America has with land, particularly its land. John Locke, the great political philosopher, highlighted the fact that during the American Revolution and America’s inception into the world stage as the power in the Western Hemisphere is that land, specifically property, meant – literally for a time being – freedom and opportunity. This philosophy pervaded much US public policy during it’s Frontier days and even much after the historian Turner said the Frontier was closed – instead of being American pioneers “carving out civilization” we decided to try and conquer Cuba, Philipines and so forth. We still have an affinity for land and property (however property has become a little more intangible ala “intellectual property”, stocks, businesses and so forth) Now that all the property is owned now we have an affinity for power over the land.

America likes using its land and its resources. We’ve liked it since before we became a nation and we’ve liked it ever since. The Turner Frontier thesis shed light on the imperitive for the country to rethink it’s land-centric (or Frontier-centric) philosophy simply because we ran out of physical land to pioneer. Our first response to this was along the lines of “well… conquer someone elses land – Cuba, Philipines.” That’s how we got Puerto Rico and Guam and naval bases like Guantanamo on Cuba.

A hundred years later, our land is threatened again. Now we’re simply not supposed to touch it anymore. We’ve had far far too much fun with it so much so that continuing in a such a way will ultimately be hazardous to us – fatally even. Rome over-extended its empire  and power over Asia, Africa and Europe to the point where it fell. America is over-using its empire to the point where we have to “liberate” countries to impose our political philosophy on so that… hopefully and eventually… America can continue to exist in other forms.

So now, macroenvironmentalism will have to develop a philosophy that either already compliments Americanism or one that must replace it – fat chance though. I see this being it the philosophy’s main impetutus to adoption but also the only way global warming and environmentalism in general are going to surive. You’ve got to convince America of this and do so in such a way that allows for its adoption by even the most hardcore nationalists (or “patriots” as they are sometimes called).  Once that is fulfilled, have as many McGuyver-esque microenvironmentalist tricks you want.

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