Saturday, May 14, 2005

Environmentalism Needs to Stop Being a Class Issue

It’s very easy for environmentalists like me to sometimes become shortsighted and see everything in terms of black and white. Hunters are bad; environmentalists are good. Anyone who degrades the environment is bad; those who seek to conserve it are good. But what many of us fail to see is that this is a class issue, as much as it is an environmental issue. When conservatives complain about liberals being “elitists”, they are not getting this idea out of thin air. At least as far as environmentalists go, the conservatives are right.
Think about it. Environmentalists are not just asking people to be outraged at our current ecological situation; we're asking people to do something about it, which is very productive. Unfortunately, what we seek from other people sometimes costs more money than they have. We preach that we must only buy organic foods, recycled products, fair trade and so on, which, as we’ve noticed, all cost a great deal more money than the less politically correct products. Yes, cheap labor coffee is evil; yes, Foster Farms and KFC treat their chickens horrendously, but they cost less, and people gotta eat. Even if they’re vegetarian, we still ask that they buy fair trade and organic products.
Then we come to hunting and logging. The CEOs of logging corporations are rich and can afford to treat the environment better, but the people who work for them are trying to make a living. If we simply ban logging without giving alternatives, those people will permanently lose their jobs. As for hunting, many hunters hunt for food. It’s a lot better than cooping up some poor cow in a tiny cage and letting her rot in her own feces, yes? These hunted animals, delicately put, are “free-range”. If they are endangered, we must offer an alternative to hunters before taking their food away.
What about cars? Do low-emission and high gas mileage vehicles cost less than the average car? No. When it comes to more environmentally sustainable cars, the investment is ecological, not economic. As for hybrid vehicles, take this example: If someone were to buy a Honda Civic Hybrid, which costs $5000 more than a regular Civic, s/he would have to put 300,000 miles on his or her car before the high mileage started making up for the $5000 difference.
A lot of working-class and poor people have a hard time identifying with environmentalists, because on average, we’re middle-class. They resent our demands for buying PC foods and products, because they simply cannot afford them. We take their apathy toward our cause as simple ignorance and greed, but is it more than that? By definition, lower-class people tend not to be as well educated as middle-class people, so we need to educate them about the environmental issues that we’re facing. But we also must combine environmental justice with economic justice, because logically, one cannot exist without the other.

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