The Problem with the Current Era of Popular Environmentalism: Part 2

97542505 The Problem with the Current Era of Popular Environmentalism: Part 2

Get a room!

How pop-environmentalism hinders governmental response to environmental sustainability.

“Greening without justice, without equity, will not sustain the Earth or our
future”  – Noel Sturgeon

The micro-level concerns outlined in part one of this blog dealt with concerns over individual responsibility in the quest for environmental sustainability.  We discussed how the “warm fuzzy” element of the most recent era of pop environmentalism may hinder its longevity and ability to normalize itself into popular culture.  To some, however, this debate is irrelevant.

Some culturally focused environmentalists consider individual environmental efforts inconsequential in the grand scheme of environmental sustainability.  One of these people is Noel Sturgeon.  Noel Sturgeon is a professor of Environmental cultural studies at the University of Washington.  In her book “Environmentalism in Popular Culture: Gender, Sexuality, Race, and the Politics of the Natural “,  Sturgeon stresses that popular culture has recently shifted environmental responsibility onto the individual and away from governments and corporations who, she believes,  cause the most ecological destruction.  To Sturgeon, it doesn’t really matter if our aforementioned pop environmentalist John Doe retains his environmental efforts as environmental sustainability can only be achieved from top-down efforts.  Essentially Sturgeon is stressing the importance of macro-level responsibility in the quest for environmental sustainability. Part two of this two part blog will  provide an analysis of recent examples of macro-level response to the current era of pop environmentalism.

By “Macro” level I mean governments, corporations, or any other institution with considerable environmental impact or policy leverage.  The policies and regulatory decisions of these powerful institutions have considerable impact in dictating the direction the world goes in responding – or not responding – to concerns over environmental sustainability. The Problem with the Current Era of Popular Environmentalism: Part 2

An alarming example of  such a response is Ontario’s Green Energy Act, a step that I wouldn’t argue is in the wrong direction,  but that fails to consider certain realities surrounding Ontario’s energy grid and the state of  green energy technologies. The shortcomings of Ontario’s green energy act have already begun to surface.   As reported by Keith Leslie in the Waterloo based paper The Record, “It’s not easy being green”. On Canada Day of this year,  the government began adding an “eco-fee” onto thousands of household products.   By the end of July the Liberal government was forced to withdraw the fee due to mass complaints from businesses and consumers who felt the fee was economically crippling and that it came with little warning.  To make matters worse, the funds accrued throughout the “eco-fee’s” brief implementation are now being used to re-tool the program rather than to dispose of harmful chemicals, a sign that the government too realizes the act has thus far failed.

The botched Eco-fee has not been the only bump in Ontario’s road to going green.  Also on Canada Day, the government announced it was rolling back 27% of the already controversial guaranteed payments promised to ground-mounted solar energy projects: another sign the rushed energy act was implemented simply to please a specific demographic rather than to commit to environmental sustainability.

Criticism for the act and its recent disintegration has come from both the left and the right.  From the right, Progressive Conservative Lisa McLeod remarked,
“We warned them when the Green Energy Act came in that the liberals were going down the wrong road,  and it was going to cost Ontario tax payers enormous amounts of  money.”

From the left, the NDP dug a little deeper, suggesting that  the Ontario Liberal party, “wants to look green but they don’t put t The Problem with the Current Era of Popular Environmentalism: Part 2he thought into it that’s needed,”
The NDP criticism of Ontario’s Green Energy Act hits the nail on the head, exposing a government caving to pressures from this new era of mainstream pop-environmentalism  A government that quickly etched out an Energy Act that pleases all the aforementioned John Does of Ontario. An act that looks good, gets a few green votes, and gives Dalton Mcguinty his very own case of the “warm fuzzies”, but ultimately does very little to generate environmentally sustainable energy production in Ontario.  At the time it was a pretty face for the Liberal government to put on, as well as a lurid attempt to please a growing population of pop-environmentalists who salivate at anything green-washed without putting much thought into it.  Perhaps we should have seen this coming when the Liberals promised to shut down Ontario’s coal power plants by 2007 but then pushed the plan back to 2014: always trying to look like environmental pioneers,  but never actually following through with any of their promises.

The issue here isn’t politics, environmentalism, or green energy.  Renewable energy is undoubtedly the way of the future.  However, it has to be implemented in a realistic manner that isn’t purely influenced by the desires of the mainstream.  Efforts to go “green” need to consider the present while trying to create a more  The Problem with the Current Era of Popular Environmentalism: Part 2sustainable future.   Widely ignored in the act is Ontario’s already established, but now financially stressed, emission-free nuclear power plants.  Nuclear energy provides nearly 51% of Ontario’s electricity.  Over the last 50 years nuclear energy has been wrongly stigmatized as a dirty and dangerous source of energy.  Ontario’s nuclear power plants are safe and economically sound while remaining free of carbon omissions.  How does this not make our pop-environmentalist John Doe salivate?  Because nuclear isn’t part of pop-environmentalism’s vernacular.  Liberal support of nuclear energy wouldn’t give them the hip “green” image they so desire. With simply attaining a green image as their motivation, the Liberal government has denied refurbishment funding to Ontario nuclear power plants, and instead poured money into still-unproven intermittent energy sources, which at their current technological development can merely provide supplementary energy to Ontario’s power grid.  But they sure look hip, don’t they?

If Noel Sturgeon and others of like mind are correct in stressing the importance of a top-down approach to environmentalism, Ontario is in big trouble when it comes to environmentally sustainable energy.   The failure of major policies, like the Green Energy Act, hinders real change in that it wastes vast amounts of time and money on a project that, some would say, was destined to fail.  Despite their described intentions, the Green Energy Act seems to be doing more harm than good when it comes to establishing environmentally sustainable energy production in Ontario.   It reveals that governments are, at least in this case,  just as susceptible to fads as the general public.  The environment is important,  renewable energy is important,  but the implementation of poorly thought out “green” policies only works to impede progress and demerit the green movemen The Problem with the Current Era of Popular Environmentalism: Part 2t.  Secondly,  what happens when the fad dies? If the fad does die down, will government interest also die?  When our pop-environmentalist John Doe drops his green lifestyle for the next big thing, does the government tear down it’s wind turbines?  Governments should be above and beyond fads.  If the our planet’s only hope is from the top-down, we are going to need governments and institutions that are less susceptible to jumping on bandwagons and more concerned with achieving realistic ends.

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One Response to “The Problem with the Current Era of Popular Environmentalism: Part 2”

  1. [...] McGuinty’s controversial energy policies.  Considering its many failings this summer – botched Eco-tax implementation, misuse of funds, granting mass surplus allowances to energy industries, and general public [...]

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