Ecological Citizenship

Very much draft

More on Ecological Citizenship. Looking into the Abyss

“In contrast with those who believe they may live detached from nature, environmentalists recognise that they are part of a community made of multiple relationships – both biotic and abiotic. This is an ecological concept: ecology explains that all organisms are connected in a network which makes what is called an ecosystem. Interconnection is a touchstone of ecology; everything that occurs in any given part of an ecosystem will affect the rest, many times in unexpected ways.

According to the environmentalist and physicist Barry Commoner, the principle that ‘everything is connected to everything else’must be considered the first basic law of ecology. While it might be more intuitive to trace those connections at the local scale, they are not less strong and real at the global level.” (Armiero and Sedrez, 2014: p.1).

Marco Armiero and Lise Fernanda Sedrez (eds) 2014 A History of Environmentalism; local struggles, global histories, London. Bloomsbury

Here is a very important point about the ecological citizenship ‘movement’. It is not the case that the various thinkers, from Leopold and Naess onwards, want to make modern humans ecological citizens. As the quote about intimates, humans are always and inevitably ecological. Of course we are – through the food we consume, the energy we consume, the water we consume, through the waste we produce, the atmospheric gases we consume and exhale. We are also ecological in terms of the fact that our bodies are not pure manifestations of a singular, self, but – quite literally – a biotic community of bacteria and other organisms.

So the challenge of the ecological self is not to become ecological – we are ecological. It is to recognise the ecological basis of our being that has been denied to us, hidden from us, by a range of ideological trajectories . To return to the above quote, to recognise the connections/processes (meshwork Ingold) we are embedded in utterly and moment by moment, and – as far as possible – the consequences of those connections. That means, at present (trying to) look into the abyss that separates culture (modern humans) from nature, and the consequences there in.

This throws up a number of significant challenges. But these can be divided up as follows:

Firstly, the unknowability of the (modern) ecological self. The nature of modern life – globalised, consumption based, highly complex technologically and economically – means that the networks we are in – ecologically – are extraordinarily opaque, complex, long and entangled. It is almost impossible to genuinely confront this. The mobile phone, for example, contains such a complicated ‘foot print’ of rare metals and other resources that the understanding of how these are derived and processed is daunting. The same applies to everyday activities such as shopping in a modern supermarket.

Movements such as ‘Follow the Thing’ and ‘Fair Trade’ are worthy interventions in this kind of challenge in which the consequences of at least some forms of consumption actions are traced. But as modern citizens, living lives based upon very high levels of very complexly produced consumption, it is very hard to engage with the full implications of one’s ecological footprint.

Secondly, the other equally challenging thing is that at present, the modern human’s ecological ‘footprint’ is – collectively – simply devastating. Even if one’s own ecological footprint is to some extent unknowable I don’t feel it is hard to get some sense of consequences. I feel a sense of this can be felt with just some effort of imaginational shifting. For example, go to a large supermarket, walk down the tinned fish isle, and then imagine all the other supermarkets and shops in the entire world, and the huge infrastructures delivering this – and the consequences. Linking this to some knowledge of the overfishing of the seas and ecological consequences thereof, obviously helps.

What is knowable is that collectively, modernity is the bringer of ‘ecocide’ as defined by Guattari in 1989. Although it is difficult to trace out – and act upon – the particular connections we are bound into, the aggregate results of modern society are only too clear. Climate change, the crashing of terrestrial and marine biodiversity are THE BIG stories of our age.

So to become self-aware in terms of ecological self is to put oneself in a very ethical and emotionally challenging position. Of course one can live as ‘greenly’ as possible, but as citizens or subjects (tax payers) we are bound into the capitalist, militarised nation state system which is very had to step outside of.

Thirdly, to become ecologically self-aware (as far as is possible) and to confront the challenge of this, should sit with a commitment to try to adjust one’s life to a more ecologically benign / creative footing. If one has to have political and spiritual ‘foundations’ these are good reasons why this should be it. This is not a new claim. It is akin to the point of the Deep Ecology platform item.

Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an obligation directly or indirectly to participate in the attempt to implement the necessary changes.

and feminism’s profound assertion that “the personal is the political”. In other words there is no private and public in politics and flows of power and responsibility stream between the body and the body politic.

In relation to the above I add these further observations. Becoming more ecologically AWARE (which is what ecological citizenship rests upon) might put a strain on personal relationships. I am lucky enough to have a pretty good community and family life. But taking part in my community puts me into many positions where I am witnessing people, who I respect and have affection for – who are not – at present – concerned with their ecological embeddedness. They are interested in their social, cultural and consumption embeddedness in society – e.g. their lifestyle, their cars, their holidays, their homes. Of course, I am interested in all that too. But at present many of those I witness are practising liberal capitalist, consumption based, self-becoming. Many are very kind and thoughtful – but like most enlightenment souls the ecological basis of becoming and its consequences is pretty closed off to them.


One thought on “Ecological Citizenship

  1. Stumbled upon your work here…. Yes – I hear you on this last observation…. “Becoming more ecologically AWARE (which is what ecological citizenship rests upon) might put a strain on personal relationships”, and the last paragraph in general. …. it creates quite the disconnect. Some people don’t want to know or hear about eco-logical nature (or nurture, for that matter). Sadly, it’s a taboo topic.

    It’s good work your doing – cheers from the west coast of Vancouver Island in Canada.


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