For the majority of my life, I have loved the relatives of the air, land and water. For the last ten years or so, I have worked on an academic path that helped me become a more conscientious, grounded advocate for all aspects of life, viewed by many through a narrow lens called environmentalism. The more important work of my life, however, has been my personal journey into understanding my identity as Anishinaabekwe and working toward an understanding that has healed and strengthened my reciprocal relationship with my more-than-human relatives including the air, the land (aki) and the water (nbi) – not just who live on, in and around. Today, my relative migiziwag (Osprey) made herself visible by sitting on the fence post right outside my back door. Chi miigwech migiziwag.
I do not call myself an environmentalist anymore. Especially after having read “Breakthrough: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility” by Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger. It’s a controversial book, but their premise essentially calls out the failures of the environmental movement to build bridges that strengthen our relationships, both with each other and with our more-than-human relatives.
“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
William Shakespeare – “Romeo and Juliet”
Oh, would that were true.
I stopped referring to myself as an environmentalist, mostly because the ‘movement’ allowed itself to be compromised and away led from the principle of honoring the sacredness of our responsibility to the reciprocal relationship. But also partly because so many people took the mantle of ‘environmentalist’ and weaponized it as a symbol of supremacy. Especially moral and intellectual.
There are many who use the name environmentalist, and yet, think nothing of what happens when we pollute the land, air and water in pursuit of the economics of so-called bridge fuels. The word environmentalist is tainted by the actions of people who pick and choose what their responsibilities are in relation to our more-than-human relatives. They lack the moral compass to be able to think critically about the impact their words and actions have on the whole of our community. They look at things through very narrow lenses, unable to let go of their chosen rhetoric and will defend that rhetoric to the detriment of human thought development. More than anything, though, I have come to see that many who call themselves ‘environmentalist’ have a deep crack in their ability to have true reciprocal relationship with that which they only see as ‘other’ or as necessary simply for aesthetic or recreational benefit. I have taken to calling them ‘environmental-ISH”.
An ‘environmental-ish’ is someone who has bought into the green-washing of industry, while allowing that industry to continue to behave irresponsibly and dishonestly in their treatment of the environment. An environmental-ish only cares about their community and is blind to the long-term impacts that other communities suffer under the heavy hand of irresponsible and dishonest industries.
I want to be clear – there are certain choices that must be made in our modern day society. I am by no means innocent or blameless in the choices I have made. I choose to drive a car powered by fossil fuel because that has been the most economically viable choice available to me. I choose to live in a house powered by natural gas, because that is also the most economically viable option currently available to me. However, I understand that I must use these choices wisely. I know what costs have been paid by my relatives who live near fracked gas projects. And I am sorely regretful and humbled by the harm my choices have caused them.
While I understand how I am complicit in the destruction of my more-than-human relatives, I also believe that our consumption and use of these minerals and resources does not have to be driven by profit decisions. I believe that better choices are available to us, becoming more and more available, if schemers and speculators will get out of the way and allow egalitarian use of technology, finance and innovation to unfold.
To atone for my complicity, I choose to stand up to the irresponsible and short-sighted approaches to energy development decisions made by industry and facilitated by government agencies. I choose to hold them as accountable as I hold myself. I choose to continue to find pathways that will get me to a better choice in a vehicle and energy use in my home. I also choose to model the pathway to healing and strengthening the reciprocal relationship so that our more-than-human relatives are no longer viewed simply as resources.
Rather than call myself an environmentalist, I prefer to refer to myself as an ever evolving competent human being, in the spirit of Dr. Henrietta Mann’s exhortation. While the name may not seem like an important distinction, I certainly hope that the scent I exude is more fragrant and comforting than that of an environmental-ish.