3 Reasons I’m Quitting Environmentalism

You probably arent going to like this. I know I dont. Thinking this way is uncomfortable, frustrating and sad. It challenges something that has been part of my identity for a long time. Maybe yours, too. But staying silent make me feel worse than saying it…

Environmentalism, as we’ve known it, is obsolete. Sound crazy? Here’s why.

1. Environmentalism failed.

Sure, there have been some victories. Over the past 50 years, we’ve changed some regulations, punished some polluters, blocked some dams, and protected some species. But it isn’t enough. It’s the opposite of enough. It’s not even a drop in the bucket compared to what we should have (and could have) done. Environmentalism, as a movement of so-called concern and activism, has failed to change what matters: human attitudes toward the planet and our place on it. We thought way too small. We allowed ourselves to be sidetracked by “green” consumerism. We convinced ourselves that reuseable bags and energy efficient light bulbs would save the world. They can’t.

Even if every person in America started living a “sustainable lifestyle” tomorrow, it wouldn’t turn back the damage done by decades of fossil fuel consumption, chemical pollution and calloused resource depletion. We’ve already reached and blown past the climate tipping point. We’re in uncharted territory, and the only place to go from here is down. The Earth future generations inherit isn’t going to look or function like this one. Many of the most beautiful parts will be gone. Things we take for granted–water, energy, food–will become scarce, accessible only by those with money and power. And trust me, no one’s going to be talking about “going green” when the water is black and the Earth is brown.

2. Environmentalism is self-serving noise.

This is the truth that strikes close to home for me. For years, I’ve written lots of blog posts about how people can reduce their carbon footprint. Shared lots of tips for living a low-impact life. Celebrated many an Earth Day. There were moments when I thought: “Does this really matter? Even if people are listening, is it really going to change anything?” The answer, as we can plainly see, is no. Terrified of being seen as “radical,” environmentalists spent 50 years coaxing people to carpool and switch off lights. We reduced, reused and recycled our little hearts out. We patted ourselves on the back for doing so. “Small changes make a big difference!” we droned. We silently judged those who did nothing. Meanwhile, the big changes were ignored, left to be addressed someday. And someday never came.

3. Environmentalism distracts and divides.

My least favorite thing about the greenwashed, consumeristic frenzy of modern environmentalism is that it plays right into the social inequality that’s killing us. As I wrote in Sharing is Good, the green economy still operates under the assumption that we can buy ourselves out of this mess. It still excludes those who lack the time, money, skills and space to “save the planet.” While we were quibbling over non-toxic cleaners and singing the praises of organic produce, the powers-that-be were fracking, drilling, burning, hunting, bombing and poisoning the planet into oblivion. We won some battles, but we lost the war.

What now?

When I finally came to terms with these failures, I was despondent. I felt pointless. Like my passion was futile. Everything I’d been doing, and telling others to do, was nothing more than a giant ego stroke. Sure, I felt like I was doing something, stopping something, saving something, but I was really just making myself feel better while ignoring reality. Talk about an identity crisis. Who am I, and what am I to do, if we can’t actually save the world? Should I just give up and start chucking my cans in the trash?

This conflict raged until I read a really long article about two activists (real ones) who had a similar epiphany. They are Paul Kingsnorth and Dougland Hine, and they too think environmentalism is obsolete. In fact, they realized it a while ago. Something Hine said in the article jumped off the page. Like a tiny flashlight that gives just a glimpse of the path ahead.

“People think that abandoning belief in progress, abandoning the belief that if we try hard enough we can fix this mess, is a nihilistic position,” Hine said. “They think we’re saying: ‘Screw it. Nothing matters.’ But in fact all we’re saying is: ‘Let’s not pretend we’re not feeling despair. Let’s sit with it for a while. Let’s be honest with ourselves and with each other. And then as our eyes adjust to the darkness, what do we start to notice?’”

I’ll tell you what I noticed: people. People who, though they may not look, talk or live like me, are JUST like me. People who aren’t prepared for what’s coming. People who, despite living in a world of lies, negativity and inequality, are full of love and optimism. The planet will be fine. It existed before us, and it will exist after us. It doesn’t need saving, we do.

So, instead of being an environmentalist, I’m just going to be a human. A human who’s doing the best I can. A human who embraces each and every opportunity to be a source of compassion and knowledge. A human who doesn’t know it all, who can’t change it all. To live a life that gives more than it takes. To be aware and ready, and help others do the same.

Isn’t that really what environmentalism has been working for all along?

Image via Thinkstock

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Carrie-Anne Brown
Carrie-Anne Brown7 months ago

thanks for sharing

Warren Webber
Warren Webber10 months ago

What a sad & pathetic article. It sounds more like the author DID put too much of her ego, feel-good-about-oneself, into environmentalism- a bad mistake from the start- & now feels distraught at the inevitable heartbreak.
I don't think feeling-good-about-oneself should be a direct goal in any activity, but be treated as an after-effect, a perk, in activities of goodness. (And egos- arrogance- ought to be tossed aside as useless things. Confidence, though- which unfortunately is often made synonymous with arrogance- is what you initially & automatically have without other people's or things' help.) But, direct goals in activities like environmentalism should be unselfishly doing the good thing itself, not ego-boosting.

Environmentalism is a tough gig, but so was- and is- abolition of slavery & inequality! Do you think they despair & say, "Oh well, no matter what, someone will have chains on them! And we may just be doing to feel good about ourselves."

Amy L.
Amy L.about a year ago

Well said Janice T.!

Janice Thompson
Janice Thompsonabout a year ago

I am only one person, but I am one person.

Clear C.
Clear C.1 years ago

I'm not sure that there ever was a movement. Certainly there are many nonprofits with different objectives. Humans are not destined to rule forever and despite our brain capacity, our ability to solve significant problems is less than obvious. So lead a good life and hope to reap the rewards that the earth has provided without harming it for those who come after us. You have the right idea.

Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeld1 years ago

Lynda H.,
Nice post. He also said, “Take this climate matter everybody is thinking about. They all talk, they pass laws, they do things, as if they knew what was happening. I don’t think anybody really knows what’s happening. They just guess. And a whole group of them meet together and encourage each other’s guesses,” He takes issue with those who ignore scientific facts in favor of preconceived beliefs. His other issue is the attempts by the environmental movement to enforce "green" programs that are detrimental to the poor, both in developed and under-developed countries. This is viewed as lacking in compassion. What good is saving the earth, if countless people suffer throught the process. Maybe this adds to Beth's concerns. There is no reason to think that we cannot be both environmentalists and humanitarians, although I have read more than one poster called for massive reductions in the human population.

Lynda H.
Lynda H.1 years ago

Beth Buczinsky, I admire you greatly for the courage you have had lately to express your most controversial feelings and experiences. While there are a lot of angry reactions there are also words of support and understanding, and I hope you feel good about what you have written.

The writer of the Gaia Hypothesis, James Lovelock, recently said about the environmental movement; “It’s become a religion, and religions don’t worry too much about facts.” I think that sums it all up.

Of course we should do our best to minimise our footprint and continually seek cleaner, better, more sustainable methods and materials; we would be stupid not to. But ‘we’ are billions of people, with differing needs and priorities, plus differing capabilities of comprehending ‘the greater good’ and the importance of a healthy, biodiverse environment. Others will get there, but it is counterproductive to ‘encourage’ them by force or badgering them with guilt and blame. There are few people as obnoxious as a smug environmentalist. Zealotry is never pretty, or effective.

Do what you can, take pride in your efforts, lead by example and acknowledge and praise the efforts of others. Don’t ruin your own precious gift of life by expecting too much of others.

‘Ring the bells that still can ring;
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything:
That’s how the light gets in.’
Leonard Cohen “Ant

Michael T.
Michael T.1 years ago


I've got my Hitchhikers Guide in my back pocket.

Shan D.
Shan D.1 years ago

@Michael T.: Think she'll remember her towel?

Michael T.
Michael T.1 years ago

Thanks Shan, as usual I enjoyed your comment and response about the next passing spaceship.