The Green Movement is elitist and that’s gotta change
The time has come to move beyond eco-elitism to eco-populism. Ecopopulism … To change our laws and culture, the green movement justice, political solutions and social change.
Van Jones, in The Nation, Volume 287, p. 54
I get in trouble for saying this, of course. Passionate Greenies — and I am one, believe me — have very specific ideas about how the world should go green. And they’re actually right. All the things they want to change need to be changed and their ideas are good — as long as you have money.
And before you suck in a breath to protest — hear me out.
Young people think folks my age were richer than we were when we were their age. They point out quite accurately how cheap food, housing and education was “back in the day.” And to an extent, they’re absolutely right. But they’re also falling for comparisons that just won’t fly because while it all cost less, we earned so much less, too. My first job as a keypunch operator paid me the princely sum of $370 a month. Taxes and other deductions left me $280 a month for everything — food, rent, any other expenses. Even in 1972, that wasn’t much, trust me.
By 1975, I was a mother and a whole 19 years old. I figured for my baby’s first year, I’d best just stop everything and be her mama — after all, that’s not time you can get back and if they could pay for bombs, they could pay for babies. So I went on Welfare. Thank mercy my daughter was breastfed — it allowed me to eat, too. Then my parents inherited money and offered to pay my way through school, so I won’t lie — I had help. But it wasn’t luxury, either. A good living, then, was about $1000 a month — enough to get a nice apartment and eat well and do a few things. We lived on half of that.
And once I graduated, it proved far harder to find good work than I expected. Part of it was sizeism — nobody wanted to hire a fat woman for much, despite qualifications. So I wound up part of the working poor, laboring as a clerical for the state for the princely sum of $600 a month in take home pay. By the time I paid rent, utilities and food, I had nothing left at all. For perhaps the first week, my daughter and I both ate. By the third week, I was eating pretty lightly — mostly beans and rice or cheap mac ‘n’ cheese — and leaving the quality food for my daughter. By the last week, she ate and I just took a few bites off her plate to stop the shaking. Ironically, I gained weight on this.
The point is, I understand at least this country’s version of poverty. We had a decent apartment and a good-enough car (that broke down endlessly, but still), but we got our clothes from the free box and my daughter’s second grade teacher humiliated my daughter by telling the kids they were waiting to place their Scholastic Book Club order until I got paid.
So I look at the solutions that are put out there and I love them, but I will always and forever remember those days and I analyze everything with those memories in mind. And what I see is that most working or poor people won’t be able to afford it.
Eat organic and vegan? Great! Have you looked at the prices? Get an electric car? Fantastic — they’re so cool! Do you think your barista can go out and just buy one, especially if she’s a single mom paying $1200 or more for childcare, $1800 for an apartment and that’s not including utilities, on minimum wage? (Honestly, I suspect too many women are doing sex work on the side just to survive.) They won’t be buying a new electric car or even a used one any time soon. Plus, not everyone will have the means to charge one up. I am now retired and I am barely clinging to being lower middle class — if I put in a charging station, I would have a house fire. Do you have the $8,000 I need to rewire my place? Or the $10,000 or so I would need to put solar paneling on my roof, which would probably need some strengthening to do it.
The truth is, most of the Green Revolution is incredibly expensive. If you’re like I was in my early days of single motherhood, you won’t be buying the expensive, ethical, green, organic, pure foods. You’ll be trying to figure out ways to feed yourself and your kids that still allows you not to be homeless. Need clothes? Wouldn’t luscious organic cotton or hemp be nice? Sure, if you don’t mind paying $40 for a t-shirt and $135 or so for a pair of jeans. People without money are just looking to cover themselves and still eat.
The truth is, the way we have things set up, the Green Revolution is about as elitist as it gets. And if people have to choose between Green and their kids going hungry or unclothed or even homeless — guess what they’re going to choose?
I think that most thinking people are on board with going green. I sure am. But unless there is also a concerted effort to make sure it’s within reach of the average working person, it just isn’t going to happen — and it has to. It simply must. The consequences are too huge.
If you’ve read much of my work, you’ll know how I feel about the orange parasite in the White House, but he did one thing that really worked. He appealed to working people, presenting himself as one of them. How they fell for this when he lives in a gold-plated apartment (when he’s not grifting us over golf games) I do not know, but it worked. It worked because these people do with so little and if they get sick or old or have a baby on their own or any number of ordinary events and catastrophes, they do with even less. The skinny executive mommy in expensive jeans picking over all the delicious organic food, for whom money is no object, is as alien to these people as a being with blue-green skin, scales and antlers.
I do, of course, have some ideas:
- Government subsidies of organic farming to put the prices within everybody’s reach.
- Programs to help people buy electric cars but for those who can’t even manage that, hemp biofuel sounds promising and will allow people to run what they have cleanly until the old combustion engines can be phased out.
- Government energy programs to subsidize solar panels and tax breaks for the green businesses that install them so they can pass those price breaks on to the customers.
- Increase green busses to rural areas and make them convenient enough — at least one per hour — and ubiquitous enough and with a late enough schedule that people will be willing to ditch their cars a lot more.
- Light rail between cities and increasing our railroad infrastructure so that fewer trucks are on the road.
- And retraining for all the people whose jobs will be devoured by this great ocean of change because people who are told they will lose everything will most certainly balk.
If you have any good ideas to add, please do. We need global brainstorming here and real solutions because if we don’t, we’re done.
It’s really that simple.