Is Eco-Trendy Actually Eco-Friendly?

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Illustration by Alyssa Long

Arianna McDonald

Editor in Chief

Most of what we think we know about the environment and its preservation is actually wrong. 

I ask you to think critically about your sources of information as it pertains to climate change and the solution for the dire predicament we’ve put our environment in. Where did your knowledge come from? What is it trying to lead you to believe? 

A lot of my own foundational knowledge about saving the planet comes from grade school, where we were taught with friendly graphics how to conserve resources with various methods such as turning off the faucet while brushing our teeth, turning off lights when not in use, and recycling cans and bottles. Now I realize the education system in America is just another integral component in the capitalist agenda. 

What we should really be limiting is our use of capitalism and the concessions afforded by huge corporations. Instead, why were we not taught we should be dismantling capitalism and eating the rich?

“Our actions do matter and directly affect the environment around us, but they pale in comparison to the big decisions which are being made in rooms we will never be allowed into.”

Take a look at certain trends like zero waste, eco-fashion (not to be confused with eco-fascism), and sustainability. Who is backing them; is it unbiased consumers or major corporations themselves? As a former proponent of zero waste and subscriber to greenwashed sustainability, I urge you to seek other sources of information about how to actually fix the problem of climate change. Zero waste or making eco-friendliness a trend is harmful and counterproductive to the solution we seek which is an end to capitalism. “The Anthropocene Myth” by Andreas Malm and “Rethinking Scarcity: Neoclassicism, NeoMalthusianism, and NeoManrsm ” by Julie Matthaei are great places to start the process of discovering the truth about the causes of climate change and its substantive solution. 

Malm first describes to us what the Anthropocene is, and then why it is a complicated term. The phrase is used to describe the age of man and our impact on the Earth. It suggests that climate change is a result of human activity, and thus we humans are culpable in the Earth’s demise. However, we do not all contribute equally to nor do we benefit equally from the effects of climate change. Instead, there are those who are significantly more liable than others for the damages done, and those individuals are Western countries and major corporations. “The 19 million inhabitants of New York State alone consume more energy than the 900 million inhabitants of sub-Saharan Africa.” 

Yes, our actions do matter and directly affect the environment around us, but they pale in comparison to the big decisions which are being made in rooms we will never be allowed into. “Advanced capitalist states … [are] always attuned to the interests of capital, hardly ever consulting their people on these matters.” Malm summarizes the complexities inherent in the idea of the Anthropocene by ending with, “If everyone is to blame, then no one is.” It’s not that we humans are not altogether responsible for climate change; it’s that we are not equally responsible and therefore not equally accountable in rectifying our wrongs.

For example, take Lauren Singer and her business, Package Free Shop. She is popular on Instagram and is probably most well known for making zero waste trendy with her singular mason jar filled with six years worth of trash. Her entire brand is centered around eliminating waste and conserving resources, and her shop features many tools with which to accomplish this goal of “zero waste,” such as metal straws and cloth bags. This idea is problematic, however, because it is impossible to eliminate all waste, especially while living a Westernized way of life, which is Singer’s primary consumer base. Can we eliminate energy waste even if we need to get to work every day? What about the energy it takes to produce said metal straw, and then to recycle it when it reaches the end of its life? And even if it was possible to eliminate all waste, in the grand scheme of climate change and impending doom, how much difference would one less plastic straw or bag actually make? 

In “Rethinking Scarcity,” Matthaei breaks down the idea of scarcity and the structure which enforces it. The system of capitalism convinces the public that they need more, more, more in order to thrive and be happy, and that we must work to earn these things, thus perpetuating the idea that life is a race to see who can obtain all of the scarce resources first. She proposes that scarcity is merely a social construct, which can be abolished with structural economic change. 

“Our capitalist economy is not the solution to scarcity, but rather lies at its root. The solution is a qualitative restructuring of our economy,” she said. It is not a matter of not having enough resources or production capacity to go around, it is simply a matter of allocating them efficiently and equally. She leaves us with this hopeful opportunity: “Society has within its reach not only the end of scarcity but also the potential for elevating the human condition as well as reaching a new harmony with the natural world.”

Brands like Package Free Shop, Reformation, and other trendy corporations all present themselves as sustainable alternatives to certain material things we perceive to be necessary to our way of life. On the contrary, however, what they actually perpetuate is scarcity and therefore capitalism. Package Free Shop encourages us to buy more, in order to waste less. Doesn’t this sound counterintuitive? Reformation advertises itself as the second most sustainable clothing option, next to being naked, but conveniently ignores the clothes one might already own or garments which already exist in the waste cycle. The problem is that these corporations are all a form of and participant in capitalism. They are businesses, whose bottom line is to make money, not actually eliminate climate change.

In moving forward in your day to day as a citizen and consumer, I encourage you to thoroughly examine the information being presented to you about what decisions are right for the environment and who is behind them. Search out reliable approaches to climate change and legitimate solutions. Evaluate who is actually to blame and what we can do together moving forward. 

Arianna McDonald
Arianna McDonald is a third-year Political Science major and Education minor. She joined The Line her freshman year simply because she liked making videos, and has since become the video editor. In her free time she enjoys working out, surfing, and listening to music.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I think you are absolutely right – these people are making money from selling the ‘trash’ that contributes to the destruction of the planet in the first place.
    nobody needs the shit she touts to be frank – use what you have at home.
    if you really cared about the planet – you wouldn’t push people to buy more – end of story.

  2. Are people indifferent to the term “environmentally friendly”? What does this term mean to those who really protect the earth compared to those who think they protect the earth and the environment around us?

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