I’m not an environmentalist
Today I saw a chart of the percentage of Americans who self-identify as environmentalists (40%), and I realized that as much as climate is a core piece of my work & identity, I don’t use the label environmentalist for myself. The term brings to mind 1970s environmentalism, that in my eyes was focused on conservation and preventing development. But perhaps I’ll come around to the term.
Even though my values rest firmly on the environmental side, the way I think about solving climate now brings me to solutions diametrically opposite those from that generation of environmentalism. We need to build, and fast, using the smartest versions of our brains thinking as far ahead as we can manage. We need housing, carbon-free energy, carbon removal, bike lanes, EV chargers, heat pumps, desalination plants, electrical transmission, electric planes, electrofuels, we need it all. We will never get to our livable, equitable future by stopping future destruction; we must actively transform (read: electrify) our built environment in the image of our livable utopia. It’s an act of creation & transformation, not prevention. It’s for a vision, not against another one.
Simultaneously, we must conserve nature. It’s an integral part of having an ecosystem worth keeping habitable. Not only for the brilliant innovations we’ve always derived from nature, or as a place to remind us why we’re in this fight, or to keep us healthy, but because we will never have the understanding or technology to replace what the ecosystems we inherit do. (If you don’t feel passionately about this yet, the two books that convinced me are Half-Earth Socialism and Under a White Sky.) The traditional environmental movement was right about this, but it must be addressed in a more globally-aware way: preventing an apartment building from being built to save a specific patch of forest doesn’t make sense if those people then move out into suburban homes covering more land elsewhere.
Yet I wouldn’t be surprised if over my life, I identify increasingly as an environmentalist. The previous paragraph is evidence I’m already on my way.
When I was first coming out, I identified myself as queer and avoided identifying as gay. Part of unpacking that was realizing the part of “homosexuality” I didn’t identify with was male-ness, and coming out as non-binary clarified why. Identifying as gay lumped me in with a community I didn’t feel at home with—the one I’ve encountered in the Castro or on Fire Island, with men being creepy/exploitative toward me, a community with the ugly results of DL culture or a need to police & project a certain (masc) image still toxically embedded in its fabric. Queer to me felt like the new generation, where we could drop those stigmas, live out & proud, allow for a more nuanced identity that embraced expansive gender and didn’t force us all into a gay male box. And I describe myself primarily as queer. But over time, I’m increasingly fine with gay—even if it’s not the primary word I reach for personally, its community is not the one to shun. The queerness we have today exists as a direct result of the triumphs of the queer communities prior, as climate work today rests on the Silent Springs & Earth Days—and the Inconvenient Truths—of the prior decades.
(Note: I would reply “strong environmentalist” to a poll on the topic.)
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