It’s Not Environmentalism Unless It’s Anti-Capitalism.

Image courtesy of: Ecologise.in http://www.ecologise.in/2016/11/07/flashback-on-global-warming/
By Rojas Oliva & Esperanza Chairez

        Two-thirds of water consumption comes from corporations [1]. In response, Eco-Reps, the school’s paid sustainability leaders, have installed small green plastic timers inside our dorm showers to help us shorten our showers. Dumps, incinerators, and other corporately owned waste disposal facilities disproportionately poison communities of color [2]. In response, Green Games organizers tabled in Val, handing out plastic baggies, encouraging us to minimize our non-compostable and non-recyclable waste. The President of the United States is preparing to withdraw from the Paris Climate agreements [3].  In response, student athletic groups have plastered posters all around campus boasting their commitments to the environment: “We pledge to stop driving to practice,” one sign reads.  

        Amitav Ghosh captured all these “responses” to our generation’s violent environmental crisis succinctly in the title of his latest book, The Great Derangement. He argues that a focus on individual actions, which is the extent of our school-sponsored environmentalism, rather than collective mass mobilization, is frankly delusional. Rising sea levels, drought, ocean acidification, mass species extinction, refugee crises, and climate change will all continue to worsen whether or not we commit to taking five minute showers. But even more radical groups like Divestment, a now defunct activist group on campus that urged the Amherst College Board of Trustees to withdraw their investments in the fossil fuel industry, lacked a vision of broad solidarity and structural change. Divestment, composed primarily of white students, did not address the underlying mechanisms of our economic, political, and social systems. In fact, the tactic of divestment again reinforced the idea that we are nothing more than consumers who reflect our moral values through money, not action.

        If our goal is to mitigate the terrifying reality of climate change and ensure a habitable planet for future generations, then we must move beyond feel-good environmentalism and engage in politics that seek structural change. If we understand that our North American way of life is not simply unsustainable by a matter of degrees, and that an ethical way of life is not simply a matter of personal choice, then we must combat the central driving force of environmental degradation—capitalism. The fundamental function of capitalism is to maximize profits through competition in the free market. This organization of resources leaves no room for limits to growth, ethical distribution of resources, or an understanding of the unequally distributed consequences of resource extraction. Put simply, capitalism has no means of holding itself accountable for environmental destruction. Our economic system is fundamentally incompatible with sustainability. Campus politics have failed to address this. What is more troubling, however, is how this failure mirrors a national political failure on the mainstream left to challenge capitalism.

        Although it acknowledges the problem of climate change, and the need for government regulation, the Democratic Party still sustains a capitalist economy and therefore cannot be trusted with our futures. Despite Obama’s commitments to curtail carbon emissions, and address global climate change, he still allowed Shell to drill oil in the Arctic [4]. Despite Hillary Clinton’s verbal commitment to renewable energy, the oil and gas industry financially contributed twice as much to her campaign than it did to Trump’s [5]. More fundamentally, however, the Democratic Party sees further economic growth as the answer to climate change. These capitalist politics have enjoyed a surge in popularity with the rekindling of the Amherst College Democrats. Following Donald Trump’s election, students received a rousing call to political arms, and in search of an outlet for their moral disgust, turned to the existing leftist establishment. Settling for the Democratic Party closes the door for the radical restructuring of our political and economic systems that true climate change action requires. Luckily, alternative organizations exist that more closely align to the change we need in our dying world.

        The International Socialist Organization holds weekly meetings at UMass, intended to raise political consciousness through anti-capitalist analysis of contemporary issues and to organize mass mobilization efforts. This week, on Wednesday, April 19th, professor and journalist Chris Williams will be giving a talk connecting ecology and socialism from 7-9pm at the Student Center. In addition, The Pioneer Valley Worker Center has biweekly meetings in Northampton (Parlor Room, 32 Masonic Street), where committees organize to fight for wage theft legislation and other protections for working class labor and to create rapid response networks to support undocumented migrants during ICE raids. If you are interested in a true ethical relationship to changing the conditions of our planet and its inhabitants, checking your individual consumption will only help so much, and joining the Democratic Party is sure to be an ecological failure.

        Despite our disapproval of the Democratic Party, we are grateful that the Amherst Democrats have organized transportation to the March for Science, happening this Friday (You should go! Help us make signs in the WAMH studio this Thursday from 10-12pm). Similarly, we are grateful to our fellow students who are attempting to call attention to our unsustainable consumption habits. However, there is too much at stake to limit our political responses to establishment politics and changes in individual consumption. Now, more than ever, is the time to create an explicitly anti-capitalist environmental movement on our campus, in our country, and in our world.


[1] “The Conservation Gateway | The Nature Conservancy.” Corporate Water Use. The Nature Conservancy, n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.

[2] Tsao, Naikang. Ameliorating Environmental Racism: A Citizens’ Guide to Combatting the Discriminatory Siting of Toxic Waste Dumps. 

[3] Holland, Steve, and Valerie Volcovici. “Trump Advisers to Debate Paris Climate Agreement.”Scientific American. N.p., 17 Apr. 2017. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.

[4] Randerson, James. “Obama’s Approval of Arctic Drilling ‘undermines His Climate Message’.”The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 01 Sept. 2015. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.

[5] Toh, Michelle. “Hillary Reportedly Raises ‘Twice As Much’ From the Oil Industry As Trump.”Fortune. N.p., 7 Sept. 2016. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.