Let’s make environmentalism obsolete

Allow me to float an idea past you. Something I’ve been thinking about over the last few weeks. I’d be interested to know if it resonates with anyone.

It strikes me that environmentalism is an odd thing – an ideology or social movement around the protection of the earth. When you think about it, it shouldn’t be necessary. The earth is our home, and we all take care of the places where we live. We fix a leaking roof. We keep it in some semblance of order, some more successfully than others. It becomes an inconvenience, even a danger, if we don’t. The earth as a whole is no different.

Why does it get so complicated then? How does caring for our planetary home become ‘environmentalism’, whether that’s local or global? How does it get so political, and then become an ideology in opposition to others?

Perhaps part of the reason we need environmentalism is because we engage so little with the environment. We live in a neatly sealed and tarmacked world. Light, water and temperature are all controlled. Nature is outside, something we engage with only by choice, and usually in very controlled ways – in the park, or a country walk through fields. We might keep pets or feed the birds, but there is almost no wildness, for most of us. We rarely get to see nature at its most free and beautiful.

Nature has been domesticated, here in the West. The only time when it surprises us are when it trumps our human systems – when snow blocks the roads, or droughts force a hosepipe ban, or when a volcano grounds our flight home. Or at the more mundane end of things, we encounter nature when the pollen count makes us sneeze, or a picnic is rained off, or when there’s a wasp in the living room, bouncing off the window. In other words, we often encounter nature as a problem, something to be managed, an inconvenience to our ordered world.

There’s an incredible freedom to this, it should be mentioned. Our ancestors were at the mercy of nature, and that’s a bad place to be. But I wonder if we’ve gone too far. We are so disconnected from nature that we need an environmental movement to convince us, often unsuccessfully, that the earth matters – something that would surely have been an inconceivable and even surreal idea to previous generations.

How do we rebalance our view of nature? By learning to see it and appreciate it, presumably. If we don’t appreciate it, we won’t value it or care for it. Climate change will remain unresolved, pollution will increase, species will go extinct. If we’re going to care for nature, and value our home, we need to learn to see it again. To find it beautiful. And that means we need to make more room for it in our lives. As David Attenborough says “No one will protect what they do not care about, and no one will care about what they have never experienced.”

The key to preventing runaway climate change, the exhaustion of our natural resources, and stopping species extinction is not more information – telling people how much this matters, or warning of the dire consequences of ignoring it. The key to all these things is going to be love. We have to love the world we live in.

If we loved the natural world, we wouldn’t need environmentalism. It would be obsolete.


  1. Jeremy – you ask if your thought resonates with anyONE – Are you kidding Jeremy! It already,(before you experessed it as your thought), resonates with millions. And you’ve given your own answers in it.

    My resonating with it, in short, will today, be put this way: In a word: Respect. But to elaborate briefly, we do not all care for our homes – many do not know how to. In the same way many do not repect their fellow humans. You ask – how do we come to opposition. It is due to our fear for our survivial. This causes us to, mistakingly, want power over others. (Just think of the gross to the minscule ways this happens everywhere in life at every moment). This causes opposition and pain. It all begins when we do not want harmony with all persons as a priorit, and obviously this cannot exist without love for one another which includes our SHARED universe.

    I could go on and on and on, and write hundreds of books. and expalin more. i will just say that we are all ‘a work in progress’. There is indeed hope beyond compare, but it may not be seen in your lifetime. Despite the ever growing turmoil, it is all a means to an end which has no choice but to be good. David Attenenborough once showed the public that he does not understand this – i hope he now does, and i hope we all do soon because, until we repect the ‘other’ person as we want to be respected’ there will be more pain. but it will come to peace ultimately. Conclusion for you and anyone who cares – ‘Patience is a virtue’ but you’ll probably have to go to your grave waiting! There are more things than meete the eye. Even if you think this the ravings of another looney you have only the same Hobson’s choice – do as you like, when you are feel yourself free to do so. (We are actually always free to do this but some are not yet strong enough to realise this truth).

    It would cost less if we made do with what we have, share it with the world globally and dealt with natures disasters in an equally caring way, in the moment. Then we can progress but only all have equal access to the wrolds resources – a huge aim! Storing is living in fear and out of love. Leaders may probably never be able to lead the world in this way together -who can tell – but we must work towards it and do it as much as we can in our personal lives. ‘Charity begins and home’, but doesn’t stop there and must not be bigger there. All must ultimatley be treated the same and it can only come with our freedom of choice. (Ultimately, perhaps aeons ahead of us, but, possibly tomorrow, only possible with a force greater than any one of us alone). But Jeremy, we are indeed, a good work in progress.

    1. I think you’re right, that power is important, and that fear has a role in that. You may be right about things resolving towards good too. People like Steven Pinker have written about the decline in violence over thousands of years, and our awareness of others does appear to be expanding. On the other hand, philosophers like John Gray describe how easily ‘progress’ can be overturned, as the citizens of Syria would be able to tell us. So while the overall trajectory may be positive, we may not see any of it in the span of a single lifetime.

      As for how much of it is inevitable, and how much of it is down to hard work, I really don’t know. I’m still working that one out, and I’m not going to stop working for good while any doubts remain!

      1. Absolutely Jeremy! I usually try to cover all those points. Sorry if i did miss anything. As for hard work – ‘Fight the good fight with all thy might’, ‘We will not cease from mental fight”. Yes certainly, it helps all of us, regardless of what goes back and forth and what we see in our lifetime.I believe absolutely that you can rest assured of that. We are all at-one! (despite appearances). A work in progress for sure. 😉 See you there, eventually, along with ALL the rest!

  2. A nice post, Jeremy, and a beautiful thought, however I don’t think it gets to the heart of the matter. Your whole blog is about post growth economics and that, I believe, is where the nub of the issue lies. We need environmentalism because we have put in place a system (market economics) that has automatic drivers towards environmental disaster. As you rightly identify, the system requires (and naturally stimulates) growth with checks and balances that don’t always work until after tipping points have been reached. This is particularly true for common, un(der) valued goods such as clean air and fresh water. Even if all of us, as individuals, love the natural world it won’t stop us destroying it as a group without a conscious effort. This is especially true of large companies which I despair to see being attributed human characteristics such as ethics and compassion (or malice, for that matter) when they are, in fact, just machines whose emergent properties may appear anthropomorphic but have very different, and often little understood, causes. I don’t even know if market economics is a natural and inevitable system or if it could feasibly be replaced with something else (large scale attempts have not been encouraging!) but it is probably safe to assume that we will not change this system within a time frame that is useful so far as either our lifetimes or climate change are concerned. Therefore, given a flawed system, perhaps the best we can hope for is to achieve some sort of consensus as to which market failures are important, what needs to be preserved and how best to preserve it. And that is environmentalism.

    1. Hi Nat – I wish to agree entirely with your ending two sentences. But companies become machines if not properly governed. The ’causes’ you speak of are not often little understood. Some do not understand, many do, Some things including companies (the world is a big company), start of well intention (‘anthromoporhic)’ and end up with a bad force. Some start with selfish intention. and end with good ones. All comnaies become machines when not properly governed. We can govern this global compnay better than currently – environmentalism is trying to, as you more or less state. We may find something better in due course as Jeremy is currently considering.i resonate with him indeed but, I have no fear, anxiety, concern, or oyur ‘despair’, and I know there are many resonatin/vibrating the same way. This is what i want Jeremy and others to know too. In fact, we are all virating together and soon enough (not for some though!),it will settle and create harmony.

    2. You’re right, that environmentalism is necessary as a counter-force to a system that is ultimately destructive. It’s just frustrating that environmentalism is presented in opposition to other things, as if we can choose between them, when we always need both. We need a healthy environment, and we need market systems that provide the things we need.

      But then we have oppositional politics, so I suspect that is where it comes from. In a more cooperative political system, that wouldn’t be so acute.

  3. Environmentalism is a neat box in which environmental problems get put.. .like climate change. Hence ‘normal’ people, not environmentalists, don’t have to bother about the issue…like climate change. But climate change is NOT (just) an environmental issue; it is affected by, and in turn will affect, all other things; economics, politics, social care, equality, health etc etc.
    Thus I agree that getting rid of the box labelled ‘environmentalism’ would be very helpful, as everyone would then have to confront climate change, loss of pollinators, tree diseases, coral bleaching and all the rest.

  4. (Probably posting this in wrong place -sorry). Went, (and joined in), to a great show tonight in Machynlleth ‘ Three Acres And A Cow.- History of land rights & protest (mentions, of course, of land tax and CAP ). i thought of you Jeremy and wrote your site down for them in the comments book.

    1. Just seen Dave Sanderson’s point. This (sometimes devious) use of names for things was also mentioned at the show ‘Three Acres And a Cow’ so even more resonating with you Jeremy.

  5. If you are going to persuade people who don’t share your values or thinking you need to frame it in a way that appeals to them not to you. Environmentalists have been making this mistake from day one and are yet to understand it. Talking about saving the planet, the forests etc forces many conservatives to dig their heals in; it would have been far better to be have been talking about jobs, competitiveness, protecting wealth and natural capital etc. A technological supremacy race in renewables and societal sophistication and planning. Talking about loving nature will just make some want to wreck it more.

    1. Simon, this is how I respond to your message: –

      Trouble is Simon, As George Monbiot has just pointed out ‘It’s love that drives us and not money’. You Simon, or others, may likely reply to this with ‘So it is with the ‘others”. But, some recognise that the natural environment is the only way we get a chance to continue to learn how to love each other for a longer period of time, for, without our environent being preservered we are all.dead. However, meanwhile more people suffer more hardship when we continue to take the earth from their very feet and their own entitlement to an equal part of it. So, from here, we can choose which side to take- financial growth or sharing things better in the first place before we leave some TOTALLY without their own means, and brought to their painful state and often death earlier than the rest of us. So, those of us who do recognise this point would certainly not encourage the ‘others’ on their own grounds. You may say but we are learning how to make better use of the environment so that the human population can grow. We would say but meanwhile we’re killing and causing suffering to those already on it, so let’s create equality before we do anything else and if we have more children than the earth can cope with we will learn our ‘own’ lessons of hardship through lack of resources, rather than continually making ‘others’ pay for our ‘own’ wanting more things than we need without ‘our’ minor hardships. This is sufficient for many but the argument can go further still, but, so as not to labour it, I’ll tell you that ultimately it boils down to dealing with today’s fundamental problems before looking at most of the ‘things’ which could help us to do better tomorrow. We must first try see that no-one dies from lack of clean air, water and food. THEN we can look at the next thing in the right order (like shelter and health which can come direct from the earth). So it begins with equal rights to our own means of existence – land, (and we’ll all share with our nearest neighbour if he can no longer do for himself). This means that we need to stop taking from the earth for the things of tomorrow and see to the things of today, first and foremost.

      Hope you get the point as it’s a bit long-winded, but, not as long as it could have been!

      1. I wouldn’t be expecting them to be converted rather be nudged in the right direction. You are still framing things in terms that doesn’t appeal to their mindset so its a non starter. There are heaps of articles on the psychology of climate change denial which shows why arguments like your own just makes things worse. Facts when framed by people they don’t respect or in ways that don’t appeal to their values just encourages psychological defense mechanisms. Granted we are mainly talking about Anglo conservative elites in places like the US Canada and Australia -I’m not sure even Cameron comes anywhere near Harper or Abbot- but at least in the US and Australia you could work on broader appeal to the things that get you near where you want to go if you concentrate on long term jobs in industries and practices that have the same impact as policies framed by people with our values.

        1. Thank you for continuing the conversation Simon because it has thrown some more light, this being that you have misunderstood what I was trying to achieve by replying to your comment. Let me try to explain further please, even though it shows we have a different thing in mind.

          You have come back with ‘I wouldn’t be expecting them to be converted rather be nudged in the right direction. You are still framing things in terms that doesn’t appeal to their mindset so its a non starter.’

          So, in reply, I’ll explain this – You see Simon, I’m not setting out to convert or nudge anyone in my direction regarding political matters. I’m not trying to appeal to ‘their’ mindset. I was trying to SHOW YOU that where the motive of love is pursued beyond ones own views of right and wrong, we get to the real principle of love. At this junction, we need not appeal to the POLITICAL mindset of others. I was not attempting to appeal to anyone’s political mindset. I was trying to explain to you where the mindset frequently originates in those who want to share fairly, (ie equally and justly, eventually on a global scale), which incorporates the concept of growth but only within the terms of a just fair and equal view, and this true foundational aspect of freedom, releases the desire to change anothers POLITICAL mindset, and therefore those who do actually fit this mindset which I was attempting to explain, would most definitely not take up your policy of wanting to promote any concept originating in the grounds of economic growth.

          Hence, you current reply does not apply to my explanation to you. No worries though, if you have still not seen my point. It does show our difference though. But, we are all one in love, never-the-less. It will be great when we all know this as there will be no issues, like this one, or Jeremy’s title, from which this conversation has arisen – We do not need economic growth in the manner currently pursued by POLITICAL thoughts and governments.However, it will occur and some will engage with it temporarily).

          I won’t be surprised if i’ve lost you by now! (Apologies for any missed grammar/typo’s -you’ll get the gist if not understand it).

        2. Sorry Simon, to avoid possible confusion, i ought to have finished with We do not need to try to nudge political thought in your manner, we can just state our own ideas wthout resorting to their ways of thought. Maybe it’s merely a ‘white’ tactic you are suggesting and maybe that’s acceptable, I’ll have to think further as you suggest, though, i often find that my thought has already dealt with this. We’ll see 🙂

          1. Got there SImon! Your idea is part of a circular process. We are already showing by speaking of a love of nature, especially Jeremy’s blog, that to care for ourselves we need to look for more sustainable economics. We need to care for nature for our economic survivial, as we do on a global scale. ‘They’ who do not yet see the point will get there and us encouraging ‘their’ mindset in any way (such as how you suggest), will not get us all there faster, in fact, it is quite possible that it may elay it. Whatever, it will get there and back to fundamental justice,(fairness, equality sharing), and the love I speak of, in DUE course, whatever method we choose. It does not matter.

          2. Dichasium thanks for the considered replies but I do still stand by what I said earlier. In a similar vein one does not need to love our fellow human to care for or respect their basic human rights. One need only act in a way that this is the end result. & if we delve into the psychology of different mind sets I would imagine it is near impossible to convert people, and rather the best thing we can do is nudge them. With due respect I just don’t think your approach in any way practicable.

            BTW the business as usual or even green growth people will eventually realize that at this stage of our development continued growth is a pipe dream; and even appealing to green growth is a false narrative. Bu I think it is still a necessary one before we move to circular or steady state economies or in fact degrowth. Its asking too much of their world views to go from growth to degrowth in one hit. In the end we will get there but IMO if we don’t nudge to something that appeals to them we will just hit the wall and pick up the pieces.
            Kind Regards

          3. That’s good Simon, we’ve now touched on our common ground. I too think we must do our best to supply our fundamental needs to one another with a view to keeping us alive. However, i do not know how we’ll ever do that globally until we find our common need and common answer. As far as not nudging others. I think I’ve discovered that nudging others towards the over-riding principle is my main aim for those who are asking questions in that area. The reason I came to the comment that it actually doesn’t matter is that we can go down your road and it will get us somewhere quicker (!), but if this detroys even more of nature we are likely to actually work against the fundamental aim of keeping as many alive as possible and still not find the over-riding principle which just means the cycle begins again. So, like your thinking my way would also mean we have to pick up the damage, so i think yours will bring us no further ahead with achieving the ultimate aim. However, my concession was that it doesn’t matter because in reality we must each get there for ourselves and the over-riding principle WILL do the rest, whatever you and i think, whatever all of us does.That is no doubt why i think bringing others to the over-rding principle directly is better (if we are to choose for ourselves), than playing their own game only to go through it all again. It seems lto me that we may get them caring for nature by your method but if they don’t know why, it will all start again. What i know for sure is that whatever way we choose we must allow others their freedom to do the same and in that vein we can nudge in whatever direction we are happy with. I’m sure you’ll agree totally on this, and what’s more, those who take you on board, you will have also nudged 🙂

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