Taking Shorter Showers Doesn’t Cut It

Written by Adrian

Topics: Oil

share this story
facebook twitter email stumble upon
Get Energy Alerts

I just read a fantastic article by Derrick Jensen in the Orion that I wanted to share with you.

About once a week – on comments on the Understory, or in conversations that I have with friends – I hear someone make a remark that fits into a common theme:

I’m glad you organized this protest, but did you drive cars to get there? Burning oil destroys the earth.

Recently, I wrote an Understory post about the recent Chevron court ruling in Richmond, California – and amongst the many comments that people have posted in response, there have actuually been a number of people who are pro-Chevron, who’ve made arguments along the same lines (these are actual quotes):

Some of these people responding here … think they are protecting the people, they drive gas powered cars, drink from plastic bottles and all the other stuff thats soooo bad for our environment.

Come back to the real world… do you drive, watch tv, use a microwave, drink from plastic bottles! I am sure your kind [environmentalists] do NOTHING to harm the environment.

This way of thinking about environmental change has bothered me for a long time. And in an article in the latest Orion, Derrick Jensen tears it apart better than I ever could.

The problem, as Jensen points out, is that environmental destruction is systemic – it’s rooted in a culture of environmental exploitation that is hard-wired into our economy, culture, and politics. As Jensen points out, it’s great to take shorter showers – but in a society where 90% of water consumption goes to industry and industrial agriculture, it doesn’t really make much of a difference as long as those folks keep on using water the same way they always have.

Likewise, it’s great to drive less, and/or buy a hybrid car. I’m an anti-war activist as well as an environmental activist, and often when put gas into a car I think about the images of destruction I’ve seen from the Iraq War, and I wonder if anyone died to get this oil to me. But here again, the real problem is the powerful alliance between oil companies and the automobile industry – who have continued using petroleum-powered internal combustion since they were first invented in 1885 – and who bought up and shut down many of the light rail transit systems in the U.S. in the 1950′s, replacing them with General Motors buses.

I’m not saying that it’s not important to try to make changes to your lifestyle in order to reduce your impact on the environment. Personally (and I mention this at the risk of sounding like a holier-than-thou environmentalist), I still don’t own a car, don’t eat meat, do my best to recycle and compost, eat locally grown and organic food, bring my own bags to the grocery store, etc., etc. And I’d encourage anyone else to change their lifestyle in ways that will reduce their carbon footprint, and otherwise help the planet.

But I also realize that all that isn’t really going to change the world – at least, not by itself. We live in a world where corporate executives make decisions based on quarterly profit margins and shareholder earnings – not on the impact that their decisions will have on the next seven, or 700, generations. We live in a world where politicians are more beholden to the industries that fund their campaigns than to the planet that provides them with food, water, and air. And until we change that world, our planet will continue to suffer as it has for the past 200 years.

Of course, Jensen puts it better than I ever could:

An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption—changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much—and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet? Even if every person in the United States did everything the movie suggested, U.S. carbon emissions would fall by only 22 percent. [...]

Part of the problem is that we’ve been victims of a campaign of systematic misdirection. Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance.

And that’s why I work for RAN. To me, the answer is taking on the corporations whose practices are destroying the planet – and whose practices, as consumers, we have no power over. But as a movement, we can force them to make the changes that our planet – and everyone and everything that lives on it – so desperately needs.

6 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. I disagree sir. I encourage everyone to read this article: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8149334.stm

    Sustainable green solutions like these are more attractive to our embattled business executives that might struggle to keep things up. Combining the noted industry, business executives, and green solutions will surely save the planet.

  2. Alee Karim says:

    Thanks for sharing, Adrian. Jensen is one of those great modern minds like Cornel West that shatters all illusory dialectics.

  3. Adrian says:

    Couldn’t agree more.

  4. Hilary says:

    This touches on a really important point- one that applies to almost any example of oppression: injustice persists through systemic mechanism with a very real intention to remain out of “the people’s” control or awareness.

    Jensen called for “organized political resistance.” While I can’t complain about that idea, I think it carries more weight to say we need *strategic* organized political resistance. I know I’m not wowing anyone with this not-so-novel idea, but bear with me.

    It’s time this “movement” put some (more) brain power behind finding a middle ground between the lifestyle changes (taking less showers, buying green products, and yes, even protesting) and the overwhelming idea of climate change/corporate control.

    Why is the lifestyle approach so popular, even to the point where corporations are getting in on the action? Because it’s easy. When I say it’s easy, I’m not discounting the act of living lighter or consciously. By easy, I mean that people get it; those are very tangible things everyone can do.

    So where is the bridge?

    Let’s look at the UN Conference in Copenhagen this December, for example. This has been built up to be a milestone event for the climate justice movement. It is also the epitome of a wooly and distant issue– outside of public everyday life concern. I agree with Adrian that challenging corporate practices is essential, but I also think it’s useful to bring corporate accountability into everyday life, perhaps even with a local face… “meet your neighboring Chevron lobbyist, who will also be traveling to Denmark this winter”

    Whether I conveyed this or not, I thought it was worth noting that there are some serious gaps in organizing/acting for the “movement,” however defined. If we are working to challenge the systemic mechanisms that got us here and continue to keep us in a disabled state, we better start generating some relevant theory about what we are doing and how best to do it.

  5. greg says:

    OK, since no one here even bothered to show up for econ 101 (not even to sleep through it), I’m going to point out one very simple fact. Oil refining is a business. What does a business need? What stops a business? If you drop the demand for pet rocks, then retailers will stop stocking their shelves with pet rocks. If people stop buying hula hoops then retailers will stop stocking them. If you stop using hydrocarbon based products, then the oil companies will stop refining oil. Are you people really that dense? Is critical thinking outlawed in schools? Why aren’t any of you people even trying to think about what causes the “evil oil companies” to try to kill off all life on the planet? How can you study cause and effect when you only pay attention the effect?

  6. Adrian says:

    Did you read the article, Greg?

Leave a Comment Here's Your Chance to Be Heard!

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.