Our failure at Copenhagen represents a turning point for activism. It was, after all, a nostalgic gesture – a last attempt to revive those heady days when swarms of people locked down Seattle streets in ’99. But the past decade has seen the alterglobalization movement become increasingly predictable and pacified. And while we’ve been considering our weakness to be born of organizational deficiencies or the failure to keep on top of the newest activist technologies, we’ve been oblivious to the shifting ground beneath our feet. The fact is that the green movement has been appropriated by the elites. If activism wishes to maintain its edge of resistance, it must turn blue.
Ever since the ex-vice president of the US became the poster child of the climate change movement, the environmental movement has lost the momentum of history. Old enemies – bureaucrats and technocrats, capitalists and industrialists – have taken our rebellion and turned it into their pet project: a managed capitalist world. The goals at the Battle in Seattle were to disrupt the flows of capital and to show the big bankers that we knew about their posh meetings and were pissed. By Copenhagen, however, we’d become some sort of cheerleading force. Everyone’s talking points agreed: climate change is a major threat and we must do something about it. Hearing bigwigs mouth platitudes about the urgency of the situation, we let our movement fall into their hands. They played as if they were still scared of our signs and shouts, even arrested a few of us for fun, but the joke was on us.
With the capitalists in control of the green movement, dictating global agreements and defining what constitutes a legitimate projection of the future, the future looks bleaker than ever. Some have voiced the valid concern that climate change will be used to justify increasingly authoritarian means of guaranteeing consumerism continues. Others have suggested that ecology is the new opiate of the masses: a unifying narrative that, if spun correctly, can justify any totalitarian corporate behavior. The very forces that brought us to the brink of catastrophe have opportunistically appropriated climate change. The capitalists love it because it has opened up a new market: “green” products. The state loves climate change because a schizophrenic nature is the ultimate terrorist and – as became apparent in New Orleans – militarized police will be needed.
Instead of trying to resuscitate the green movement, it is time to move on. Let’s remember that our concern was never about the physical environment alone. Take Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, for example. The book, which many consider the seminal text of the environmental movement, began with a short story called “A Fable for Tomorrow” in which an idealized, pastoral town succumbs to an evil curse. The rich biodiversity of the imagined Eden disappears and the silence of death reigns. Carson’s prose suggests that trickster spirits or malevolent gods are to be blame. But she ends the story by pulling back from fantasy and pushing toward science: “No witchcraft, no enemy action had silenced the rebirth of new life on this stricken world.” She concludes that, “The people had done it to themselves.”
Carson goes on to talk about the accumulation of pollutants in our physical environment, positioning environmentalism within the domain of science alone, but one must also wonder whether a different path could have been possible. What if Carson had spoken about how the disappearance of birds was accompanied by the appearance of flickering screens in every home? What if she had drawn a connection between the lack of biodiversity and the wealth of infodiversity? Or the decrease in plant life and the increase in advertised life? To do so would necessitate a new worldview: a blue worldview that acknowledges the interconnection between mental pollution and environmental degradation, spiritual desecration and real-world extinctions.
The green movement failed because of its overemphasis on a secularized, materialist conception of activism. It tried to change the world without confronting the multi-billion dollar advertising industry that skews our desire and distorts our imagination. It is time to shift the green movement toward blue, to throw ourselves into the work of building an insurrection of the mental environment. Ending consumerism, and having the courage to clean up our mental environment by taking control of our public spaces, is the only way to avert imminent catastrophe.