A Debate on Environmentalism


Over at Jacobin Magazine, first Alex Gourevitch:

I come from the minority on the Left that is skeptical of environmentalism. This is not skepticism of the science, but of the politics and ideology of environmentalism.

Consider the difference between Hurricane Mitch, a Category 4 hurri­cane, and Hurricane Andrew, a Cat­egory 5.

1992’s Andrew was a more power­ful storm than Mitch, but Andrew hit Florida, where it killed about 80 peo­ple and left about 125,000 temporarily homeless. Due to the wealth and social organization of the region, most people had a place to take refuge, and nearly everybody had found a new place to live within a year.

Mitch hit Central America – mainly Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua – in 1998. It was catastrophic, killing 11,000 people, with just as many miss­ing, and it left 2.7 million people home­less. The economic devastation led to a cholera outbreak.

Why the difference?

The answer lies with Central Amer­ica’s poverty and underdevelopment.

Max Ajl, Peter Frase (both also in Jacobin) and Chris Bertram (over at Crooked Timber) respond to Gourevitch. Bertram:

No doubt Alex can find plenty of instances of people mouthing the sentiments and opinions he condemns. But the trouble with this sort of writing is exemplified by the endless right-wing blogs that go on about “the left” and then attribute to everyone from Alinsky to the Zapatistas a sympathy for Stalinist labour camps. Just like “the left”, people who care about the environment and consider themselves greens come in a variety of shapes, sizes and flavours. Taking as typical what some random said at some meeting about the virtues of Palestinians generating electricity with bicycles is inherently problematic. Alex argues in the piece that “the Left” should support the industrialization of “the Global South”. Well, it might be right that some countries should industrialize more. But countries don’t all have to go through some developmental phase involving smoky factories. What’s important is that people in the Global South should, where possible, have the benefits of a modern infrastructure, well-built houses, secure energy supplies, decent transportation, and so forth. Industrializing might be one way of getting those things, but it is hardly the only way.