Ethics & International Affairs Volume 19.3 (Fall 2005): Articles: The Irony of Environmentalism: The Ecological Futility but Political Necessity of Lifestyle Change [Abstract]

Nov 11, 2005

Environmentalists argue that we need to reduce population and consumption to protect the environment, and that this is something we can all do by individually choosing to have smaller families and buying fewer products. This article questions the ecological effects of such choice. When people have fewer children or reduce their consumption, they save money. What they then do with this money is crucial to the consequences of their actions. If they place it in conventional financial mechanisms, such as banks or stocks, they merely shift the locale of environmental harm since these mechanisms, within a capitalist economy, redeploy savings into further investment and productivity. For individual lifestyle choices to make a difference, environmentalists must find ways of linking such choices to efforts aimed at changing the nature of capitalist economies. If we had effective public policies that redistributed income, forced polluters to pay for the harm they cause, mandated more environmentally friendly technologies, and reduced the workday in the richer parts of the world, we could alter the way we live our material lives.

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