The nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency showed exactly what President Donald Trump’s commitment, or lack thereof, to the environment would be for the duration of his presidency.
Trump’s comments on climate change have varied from calling it a hoax to agreeing that it is a problem that needs to be dealt with in some manner. Pruitt as a nominee reflects the former of these views on climate change and a commitment to fossil fuel corporate interests.
The EPA is here to stick around, but that does not mean that Pruitt cannot facilitate a conservative agenda that drastically cuts EPA funding, relaxes EPA-mandated regulations, and turns a blind eye to industrial interests. The Senate confirmation of Pruitt, someone who has sued the EPA 14 times, will mark a tremendous blow to environmentalists in an era where climate change will be the most pressing global issue. With this, it is important to look to green movements that can facilitate pushback against a pro-industry, anti-environmental administration for the next four years.
John Dryzek, a professor at the University of Canberra’s Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, outlines specific approaches to solving environmental issues, including survivalism, environmental problem solving, sustainability, and green radicalism.
Sustainability and green radical movements are both worldviews that recognize the environmental issues facing us today and the fact that humans are at the center of this negative impact on nature. What is abundantly clear in Dryzek’s study of the different worldviews is that their blueprint for protecting the environment represents the central value structure of each discourse.
For example, the sustainability world view positions the environment at the feet of humans, while the Green Radical worldview does not. Sustainability as a solution is committed to the Western, capitalist principles of development at all costs, but wants to “sustain” the environment by promoting a cause that can achieve it all.
Green radicals see capitalism and its ideals of incessant production and consumption as a problem that can only be fixed by overthrowing the system itself. It becomes a question of whether we work with the system or destroy it to build our own.
The sustainability worldview is broken into sustainable development and ecological modernization. While both intentionally fit the neoliberal framework, focusing on progression and economic development, they are also attempting to change the systems of production so that we can “have it all.”
Moreover, sustainable development revolves around the idea that we can still grow if we solve environmental issues in a multifaceted approach, much like democracy, that promotes many values in a competitive and cooperative manner.
The problem with this is twofold.
We must first make sustainable resources desirable to corporate interests, initially by making them economically more efficient and then finding a way to incorporate the oil and automobile industry in this transition seeing as they have an immense amount of political power.
This effort was made clear by President Barack Obama when he presented the efficient models of clean energy and used them to reduce emissions throughout his presidency. Then, even if we can produce less, emit less, and become more sustainable, because of our consumer habits inherent in a capitalistic economy, we will continue to harm the earth when consuming what developing countries are producing.
This multifaceted attempt to promote sustainable economic growth through international and grassroots organization while de-emphasizing national government, is encouraging in that it decentralizes power, reducing the strength and validity behind realist political thought, while promoting traditional liberal political theory. The fact that this discourse incorporates decentralization makes it better than ecological modernization by giving people more access and focused less on experts and elites setting up the so-called sustainable economy. I believe this would be beneficial to many international issues of power facing us today by moving from a zero-sum to a positive-sum foreign policy. From an environmental perspective, however, sustainable development still submits to market capitalism and its relentless need for growth, and therefore will not be successful.
Though this model of sustainable development promotes the notion of having it all, scientific research tells us this may not be possible. Scientific reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change show that the threat of an environmental catastrophe is imminent. Continued growth means more emissions, meaning higher global temperatures, rising sea levels, increases in the number of natural disasters, huge displacements of refugees and economic ruin. Even if we were to turn to a sustainable economy, this would take time that we may not have. The transition to sustainable resources such as solar or wind would require continued reliance on emissions simply just for infrastructure development and implementation.
To tackle the environmental problems facing the globe, an approach along the lines of green radicalism seems more appropriate.
Green radicalism is able to detach from capitalist imprisonment through a polycentric approach. While green radicalism as a worldview encompasses the discourse of green consciousness and green politics, together, they may be best fit to tackle the dilemma of protecting the environment while overthrowing and rebuilding the political and cultural structures that I believe are most fit for society.
Through the implementation of what Dryzek calls eco-theology (though I will call it eco-spirituality) and bioregionalism, a greater appreciation and connection can be made between humans and nature, molding our cultural identity to one that coincides with the environment rather than battling it. On a political front, green politics can transform institutions from the inside out, promoting a decentralized style of governance rather than government, while grassroots organizing can mobilize from the ground up through what may look like what Dryzek calls “radicalized democratic pragmatism.”
This democratic mobilization can borrow from activist, grassroots agendas laid out by democratic pragmatists such as: alternative dispute resolution, policy dialogue, citizens’ juries and town meetings. Furthermore, the implementation of worker cooperatives, where employees own and democratically make decisions about the company’s future, would help to derail capitalism at its core through infusing corporate markets with more efficient, better-run businesses for the people. These worker co-ops have been shown to increase the happiness of workers, increase the efficiency by which they work and increase the overall productivity of the business.
This is simply because the people are given the power to take control of their destiny, because it is their own — and not a wealthy elitist’s — business. If you change the value structure in societal culture then mobilize on the ground to support political action within these capitalist market economies that are headed by corporate interest, the liberal capitalist political economy can be uprooted and overthrown. From there, local initiative and community action could build a greener socialist alternative that incorporates the principles of self-governance.