It’s not easy being green, as Kermit the Frog says. In a world of long-distance travel and consumption, the pursuit of consistently green living may seem downright quixotic. What is the point of cutting down on plastic and cycling to work if, in one transatlantic flight, you can cough out the equivalent of a year’s worth of car emissions?
The point is not to subside helplessly into our god-granted role of eco-predator, nor is it to advocate a hard puritanism that is neither practicable nor desirable. There are other advantages to not using plastic or getting a slice of cardiovascular exercise every now and again, even if the spectre of climate change looms over us all. But it helps to understand the costs of how we live our lives, in every possible way. I’ve struggled with this for half of my life, and now I’m making a concerted (and public) effort to reconcile my contradictions the best I can.
Thinking about how we do what we do in everyday life is a good place to start. Some of our ideas are well-formed, others are half-baked, and we may also be plain misinformed. We are the sum of this motley crew of thoughts, and we act on their contradictions, rationalizing after the fact. Our personalized chains of thought and action, too, are consequences of our education and experience. Just as your fingers chime out familiar patterns every time you seek news and opinion online, your perception of local and global problems comes glancing through the lens you are accustomed to. In that worldview you share across shifting Venn circles, it may well be that you will come to think Left good, Right bad, or merely the other way around: ne’er the twain shall meet.
In the aftermath of the Trumpocalypse, I set myself to wondering – how significant was it that I cold-shouldered conservative news outlets? Could it be that the liberal havens of The Guardian, The New York Times, Slate and Salon were completely misguided as to broader public opinion? Or simply that they accepted their elitism as the cost of their (and their readers’) moral superiority? True, liberal outlets all agonized about how they might have got it so wrong, with The Guardian linking to alternate news sites it considered acceptably different. But their coverage has not changed; nor have I appreciably shifted away from my own news staples since.
Considering how to go about consolidating my environmental thinking, I wanted to get an overall sense of the philosophy underpinning an environmentally responsible lifestyle. Philosophies, that is – there is no unified field theory in place. And in beginning to work through the tantalizing trail mix of nature writing, mountaineering accounts and dystopian fiction that stacks my bookracks, I spent some time poring over Roger Scruton’s Green Philosophy: How to think seriously about the planet.
Its conservative slant surprised and intrigued me, but it provided plenty of talking points that infiltrated conversations I had over the course of 2016. What did Brexit mean for the environment, for instance? Could we really presume that the European Union, through its penchant for regulation, had the environment’s best interests at heart? If the EU was seen to be overtly pushing for reduced emissions through the Paris Agreement, in turning “climate ambition into climate action”, what of its Common Fisheries Policy (which, Scruton claims, has eroded sovereign rights over coastal waters, leading to a tragedy of the commons) and the Common Agricultural Policy (which favours large landowners and absentee agribusiness in its subsidy regime, and destroys small-scale farming)? Could it be that its bent towards the Precautionary Principle, in forbidding everything with an element of risk, ends up permitting everything, and stifling innovation?
Equally provocative is Scruton’s dislike of left-leaning, undemocratic, internationalist non-governmental organizations whose actions, he feels, advocate a “geography of nowhere” and do not properly consider localized contexts. Ground realities, he feels, are best understood by those living there, which is why locals need to form “little platoons” (after Edmund Burke) and act to ensure the sustainability of the landscapes and townscapes they love.
An abiding affection for one’s home, then, which Scruton terms “oikophilia”, lies at the heart of his conservative conservationist ethic. Green Philosophy forced me to reconsider my vaguely lefty leanings, and ponder what approaches might best suit my own beleaguered home, the eco-bog that is Kathmandu. It’s not difficult, of course, to recognize that Soviet-style internationalist socialism has been disastrous for the environment; it’s slightly more uncomfortable to bring it on home and admit that armchair leftism sits at odds with the elite networks I have access to in the Nepali capital, at the nexus of the developmental state. In short, should an effective, equitable Nepali environmentalism derive from the people living in threatened environments or would it rely on top-down, donor-friendly strategies, and what hybrid forms might fit the bill?
Day 25, Veggie Raj