As conservation and environmental activists, we spend much of our time fighting numerous individual battles across diverse fronts related to environmental concerns. These battles may include, but are not limited to protecting old growth forests, preventing the creation of new fossil fuel infrastructure, demanding emissions reductions, fighting for the protection of species at risk, and/or participating in regulatory processes in order to hold both government and industry accountable. Much of this work is necessary, and requires our dedicated time and energy because without representatives from the environmental sector (and Indigenous communities), there would be nobody at the table standing up for nature, wilderness, and the future livability of our planet. However, I often wonder if some (or most) of the energy spent by those working in environmental conservation might be better directed in a coordinated manner against the root cause of all of these individual battles, rather than fighting them individually in a fragmented manner.
I describe the work I do as putting out many fires (or at least trying to), but what if we focused our attention at halting the system that creates those fires in the first place — neoliberal capitalism and the pursuit of profit growth built on a foundation of exploitation of working class people (i.e., wage labour) and the environment (i.e., resource extraction and pollution). Rather than fighting the construction of a single new pipeline, why don’t we combine our efforts and target the economic system that treats the environment as expendable so long as profits continue to grow. All of the environmental issues we currently face are the direct result of a society that sees our natural world as resources that can be mined, processed and sold for a profit, rather than integral pieces of a global ecosystem that has evolved to sustain life over millions of years. Yes, I recognize that preventing a new pipeline is still a very significant win in the fight against corporate greed and the destruction of wilderness and Indigenous traditional lands, but the defeat of a single pipeline in a single location does nothing to prevent the next pipeline or tar sand that gets proposed for construction elsewhere.
In my opinion, I don’t think that someone could ever truly call themselves an environmentalist without being anti-capitalist at the same time — and this goes for any and all other forms of social justice activism as well. Class consciousness is necessary to ensure that the future world we are fighting for can and will address society’s numerous and intersectional injustices in an equitable manner for all — including both people and non-human beings. Homelessness, rising wealth inequality, and Indigenous genocide are all the result of the same system that needs reforming. Some people may consider a greener form of capitalism to be a significant win — which it would be from a purely environmental standpoint in contrast to the status quo. However, green capitalism can only exist if exploitation and suffering still exist at some point in our global supply chain and that’s not a future worth fighting for in my eyes. That would just be the corporate greenwashing of our entire society.