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Environmentalism – It’s the revolution, stupid!

Having rather spontaneously accumulated quite varied a background that saw me moving through numerous circles within the environment field throughout my career, I have found myself frequently encountering a certain type of green professionals and self-proclaimed environmentalists. People in various sectors of the field but sharing a common pattern of thought and world outlook. Agents of what I have come to call State Environmentalism, a certain kind of mindset and environmental activism distinguishable by a set of characteristics: 

It never questions power, it relegates the political framework governing and resulting in environmental injustices to a footnote as it industriously reports on aspects, impacts, and mitigation methods.

It dismisses the righteousness of the struggles of communities like Dab’ah, Faris, Sebaeya, Idku and instead debates ‘neutrally’ over economic cost, competitive advantage, national interests, and CSR obligations.

It looks for the answers to environmental problems in capitalist models, in commodifications of natural resources and commercializations of rights, in CDM projects and capital sponsored conference halls.

It will always try and work from within the State, because it aspires to be part of it.

And the problem with this kind of activism is that it perpetuates the existing socio-economic systems. The very same systems that have created the current unjust structures of economic vulnerability and environmental degradation, the inequities in resource sharing and in vulnerability to environmental damage that it should be fighting against.

It does so because it works to sustain the power cycle of exploitation by occupying itself too much with patching up the impacts rather than with breaking this cycle in the first place. It is never ahead, always barely catching up. It never proactively shapes policies and directs strategies, but rather recommends policy reforms or condemns this or the other decision.

And while this kind of environmentalism can sometimes be effective and should not be totally dismissed, it is not at the root of a deeper environmental movement, or spearheading grassroots struggles against environmental injustices. But these struggles exist, and they have been and are being fought. Fought by community members who not always speak good English or have twitter accounts or access to mainstream media; affected people who demand in no simpler or less apologetic terms their rights to sustainable livelihoods, to clean air, water, and land, their rights to be consulted, to decide, justice.

It is only when environmentalists realize and accept some essential truths about the nature of these struggles that we can truly label ourselves actors in a real environmental movement. To me, the following are some of those essential truths, indisputable facts about the nature of the many struggles for environmental rights:

The environmental movement is a class struggle: only the poor and marginalized have a stake in shaking the existing socio-economic structures, it is only they that can disrupt the capitalist exploitation cycle. The environmental struggle is that of those carrying the brunt of the environmental burden of the capitalist world against those benefiting (hugely) from the status-quo – a struggle of the poor against the rich, of the marginalized against the powerful.

The environmental movement is anarchist: in demanding just and equitable sharing of resources, the environmental movement is effectively promoting community autonomy by acknowledging and standing by communities’ rights to manage their own resources, including energy. It will hence always be  demanding and driving for more transparency, more freedom of information, more participation in the decision-making process, more self-determination; thus challenging and undermining some of the key foundations of centralized governance. By reversal, and drawing from other societies’ experiences, it also recognizes that diluted government structures and greater community autonomy essentially lead to better resilience to environmental degradation and fairer management of resources.

The environmental movement is post-modern: it seeks models of growth outside the box of ‘western’ modernity ideals and development concepts, growth that improves the quality of living for more while leaving a smaller environmental footprint, growth that challenges consumerism rather than chase after its fake standards, a growth less following global market dictations and more tailored to sustainably meeting communities’ needs.

The environmental movement is feminist: in that it is the struggle of the un-humans against state patriarchy, the struggle of those members of society whose equal humanity and co-citizenry is still open to debate, whose basic human rights to the least amounts of fair self-determination and dignified existence are suppressible for the ‘greater good’ and ‘national interests’. In that sense it finds reflections and natural allies in the movements and struggles of women, the indigenous, the queer, the occupied.

This is the environmental movement that needs more attention and deserves more exposure, it is this movement and the level of discourse it creates that I want to be part of: avant-guarde not reformist, radical not neutral, confrontational not apologetic. This is, in my view, the only kind of movement that can bring about the needed drastic changes in power structures. The only kind of movement that can ensure a just and sustainable sharing of resources and equitable resilience to impacts of environmental degradation. The kind of movement that shapes national development plans and economic directions to correspond to its model of decentralized local-scale sustainable solutions. The kind of movement that empowers communities against the injustices and corporate-bias of state policies and practices of its cronies.

But before we can achieve all that, we must first recognize and embrace our environmentalism for the socio-anarchist post-modern feminist it is.

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About Reem

Reem is a researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR). She examines and works on driving forward environmental and climate justice issues in Egypt. Most of the content published here is part of her research with EIPR; views posted here are her own.

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