Confusion as a State of Grace: Climate and Kinship in 2021
Installment 2 - Greenwashing: The Lure of Eco-Capitalism
Cara Judea Alhadeff
Photo by the author ~ Click image to enlarge
The mold had not only seeped into the fibers of our clothes, sheets, pillows, it infiltrated the hinges of my eyeglass frames, the space between the bed mattress and headboard, every piece of wood, leather, textile, even impervious petroleum-plastic.
I have found that one of the most unwelcome positions is to ask self-identified liberal activists to question their habitual assumptions—convinced they are already doing “the right thing.” We likened the mold that permeated every crevice, every surface of our home to the entangled histories of colonization and indoctrination that penetrates the psyches and bodies of even the most “progressive”/ “radical” subcultures—predictably white-dominated ecovillages. Mold-consciousness breeds impotency by reinforcing the normalization of the “urban-industrial-vehicular-commercial-technological-pharmaceutical-electronic-information spectator” society —Foucault's internalized fascism. Foucault warns us of “...not only historical fascism, the fascism of Hitler and Mussolini [...] but also the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism…[that] causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us.”
Because our socio-political child-rearing perspectives clashed with many parents in Earth Haven Ecovillage, we were asked to leave Hawk Holler neighborhood, and moved instead to Medicine Wheel—a welcome shift in social-justice consciousness and ecological-ethical action, still within Earth Haven. The mold, of course, followed us. Just as it's relentless consumption of innocent objects became our full-time preoccupation, so did our resistance to the community's hegemony of required obedience: any questioning of normative behavior became an opportunity for public humiliation. Obedience was essential to inclusion, while an enthusiastic desire to share alternative ideas, experiences, and perspectives were an invitation for alienation and exile.
After two years volleying between alternative lite/ eco-yuppie white-dominator culture and the vast unrealized potential of living capitalist critique, continuous work to install and de-install our LoveBus (physically and emotionally) in the midst of engulfing mold with torrential rains and flooding, we said goodbye to the community, and hit the road; it was a rough departure only to find ourselves skirting hurricanes, sink holes reminiscent of the Grand Canyon, confronting massive ant infestations, relentless technical/ electrical/ mechanical contortions, and eventually—the rampant fires as we drove through Colorado, California, and Oregon. We were another variant of climate justice refugee, and did not identify with the current Nomadland trend. Yet again, we were in search of a community focused on radical ecological-social justice living.
Greenwashing: The Lure of Eco-Capitalism
We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis...We live in a strange world, where no one dares to look beyond our current political systems even though it's clear that the answers we seek will not be found within the politics of today.
—Greta Thunberg, referring to climate crisis
In order to confront hyper-normalized over-consumptive-industrial-waste capitalism, we who choose to live as members of an ecovillage must persistently frame our questions and actions within the context of greenwashing: eco-capitalist strategies that preserve environmental racism and green colonialism. The roots and implications of perceived solutions to climate crisis may unintentionally perpetuate ecological devastation and global wealth inequities, actually diverting us from establishing long-term, regenerative infrastructures. Greenwashing includes the spurious “renewable” energies movement. As we transition to carbon-free electricity, we must be attentive to the ways in which we unconsciously embody the very hegemonies we seek to dislodge; we must be cautious of the greening-of-capitalism that manifests as green colonialism through a new dependency on what is falsely identified as “renewable” energies.
In climate crisis discussion, too much attention is on institutional band-aids, technological fixes, and consumer distraction (frequently disseminated through greenwashing). Too often, ecovillages employ this diversion from real, sustainable change. Renewable energy is a raging example. On the surface, it appears to offer critical shifts toward an ecologically, economically, and ethically sound society. If fact, such alternatives perpetuate the violence of waste and destructive infrastructures—capitalist “solutions” to a capitalist problem. Perhaps temporarily abated, they ultimately conserve the original crisis.
We don't have to travel far in our cross-cultural histories of non-violent resistance and civil disobedience to learn from world-changing union strikes, boycotts, expropriation, infrastructural sabotage, embargoes, and divestment protests. Yet, most contemporary transition movements, including ecovillages, are founded in the very system they are trying to dismantle. Our perceived “resources,” alternative forms of energy proposed to power our public electrical grids, are misidentified under the misleading misnomers: labels such “renewable”/ “sustainable”/ “clean”/ “green.” How is “clean” defined? “Clean energy” easily gets soiled when it is implemented on an industrial scale. Neoliberal denial of corporeal and global interrelationships instills complicit laws of misconduct that continually reload the toxic soup in which we live.
Below I address technologies falsely identified as “renewable” energies that actually reinforce the very problem they are trying to solve.
1. Solar/Photovoltaic and Wind Technologies: Given proposed solutions using industrial solar and wind harvesting, Western imperialism will continue to dominate global relations. Solar cell and storage production and disposal infrastructure (mining and other extractive industries) as well as industrial wind farms (turbines and their infrastructure) use exorbitant resources to produce and implement. Wind and solar energies require vast quantities of fossil fuels to execute them on a grand scale. As we have seen throughout California and China (two examples among many), massive solar-energy sites/solar industrial complexes strip land bare—displacing human populations and migration routes of both wildlife and people for acres of solar fields, substations, and access roads—all of which require incredibly carbon-intensive concrete. Consuming massive tracts of land, 100-1000 times more land area is required for wind and solar, as well as for biofuel energy production than does fossil-fuel production. This is a prime example of replacing one hegemony with another.
2. Hydro-Power Technology: Large-scale dams for hydro-power have historically had cataclysmic effects on indigenous peoples and their lands. Although macro-hydro, like fracking, has finally been recognized for its calamitous consequences, perversely, it is still proposed as a viable alternative to fossil-fuel economies.
3. Battery Technology: According to the Union of Concerned Scientists and their Climate Vulnerability Index (CVI) in California, fine particulate pollution harms African-American communities 43% more than predominantly white communities, Latinx 39% more, and Asian-American communities 21% more (21). As if tailpipe emissions are the only humanitarian catastrophe, one “clean solution” is the electric vehicle for public transportation and for personal consumption. Completely ignoring embodied energy, this perceived solution displaces the costs of environmental racism—once again exported out of the US into the global south—in this case to Bolivia where lithium (essential for battery production) is primarily mined. The Renewable Energy Movement claims that our global addiction to oil (“black gold”) should be replaced by lithium (“white gold”). What we are not considering is that extracting lithium and converting it to a commercially viable form consumes copious quantities of water—drastically depleting availability for indigenous communities and wildlife, and produces toxic waste (that includes an already growing history of chemical leaks poisoning rivers, thus people and other animals). Cobalt, also essential for battery production, is mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Like lithium, cobalt’s environmental and humanitarian costs are unconscionable, perpetuated by wanton corruption—including habitat destruction, child slavery, and death.
Solar technologies and battery e-waste are dumped throughout Asia, South America, and Africa.
Rarely considered are the fossil-fuel sources used to supply the electricity for private and public electric vehicles. Too frequently, the poorest US populations work and live near coal mines/ power plants/ fracking station sources.
Furthermore, these “renewable” energies are low-power density: they produce very little energy in proportion to the energy required to institutionalize them.
Is a community's commitment to ecological living defined by the vastness of their solar arrays? Too often, interrelated infrastructures—architecture, child rearing, transportation, food production/ consumption/ disposal, and waste management—are ignored. Solar cell and storage production and disposal rely heavily on extractive industries—ranging from minerals used to produce panels and batteries to incredibly carbon-intensive infrastructures. Human and natural-world habitat destruction are implicit in the mass production and disposal infrastructures of most “renewables” (solar, wind, hydro, biomass/biofuels, geothermal). Given that we now know that “renewables” on a mass scale (such as industrial solar harvesting) are not viable alternatives to fossil-fuels, how can an ecovillage define itself as an international “model of sustainability” when its sustainability practices are based on specious renewable energies. Sustainability then, even in ecovillages—so-called beacons of responsibility—refers not to sustaining the biocentric integrity of our ecosystems, but rather to sustaining our anthropocentric energy-addictive lifestyles.
Biocentrism means we do not invest in colossal infrastructure that supports our current energy consumption even if it is allegedly "renewable." The main character of Zazu Dreams: Between the Scarab and the Dung Beetle, A Cautionary Fable for the Anthropocene Era, a biracial ten-year old boy, confronts this precarious irony. He reflects: “We have this crazy idea that anything ‘green’ is good—but we know that there is no clear-cut good and evil. What happens when the very solution causes more problems than the original problem it was supposed to fix?” (47). How we measure our ecological footprint and global biocapacity is often riddled with paradox—particularly in the face of greenwashing. The litany of our collusion with corporate forms of domination is infinite within the Anthropocene Era (increasingly characterized as the Plasticene). Whether living in conventional suburbia or a rural ecovillage, disinformation campaigns spread by fossil-fuel interests deeply root us in assimilationist consumerism. We must expose the social and environmental costs of subjugating others through both fossil-fuel-obsessed economies and their supposedly “green” replacements.
Vaclav Smil warns us of this “miasma of falsehood.” These energies (I don't call them renewable because they are not renewable and not carbon-free), like fossil-fuels, are rooted in barbaric colonialist extractive industries. In Deep Green Resistance, Lierre Keith reminds us: “We can't consume our way out of environmental collapse. Consumption is the problem” (27). Even within the 99%, consumers are capitalism. Without convenience-culture (mass consumer-demand), the machine of the profit-driven free-market would have to shift gears. We can’t blame oil companies without simultaneously implicating ourselves, our communities, holding our consumption-habits equally responsible. How can we require government and transnational corporations be accountable, when even in our ecovillages, we refuse to curb our purchase, use, and disposal habits? Paul Hawken's phrase “renewable materialism” counsels us that this hyper-idealized shift from a fossil-fuel paradigm to “renewable” energies is not a solution.
In order to engage root-cause analysis, we must question societal norms deeply embedded in our calamitous trajectory toward global ecological and cultural, ethnic collapse: “Even if we find great alternatives to fossil fuels, what if renewable energies become big business and just maintain our addiction to consumption? (...) Replacing tar sands or oil-drills or coal power plants with megalithic ‘green’ energy is not the solution—it just masks the original problem—confusing ‘freedom’ with free market and free enterprise” (Zazu Dreams 26). We must now act on our knowledge that the renewable “revolution” is dangerously carbon intensive. And, as the authors of Deep Green Resistance remind us: “The new world of renewables will look exactly like the old in terms of exploitation” (236). Only when we acknowledge the roots of our Western imperialist crisis, can we begin to decolonize and revitalize all peoples’ livelihoods and their environments.
In contrast with austerity, corporate-bailouts, and increased profits for Big Pharma, Big Banks, Big Ag, Big Oil, Big Telecom, an energy democracy within an ecovillage necessitates co-creative infrastructural design and implementation. We must resist our intentional communities from becoming glorified suburbias rooted in Western industrial-waste capitalism. I am not suggesting that ecovillages do not utilize “alternative” energies: my family drives a used electric car and we utilize second-hand solar panels for our DC fridge (we use no other electricity in our converted-school bus-tiny home). We use second-hand batteries for our solar-energy storage, and also benefited from a micro-hydroelectric system for our community's needs.
I am suggesting that second-hand, shared, small-scale alternative energy is only the first step to collective resiliency. Usage needs to converge with technological investments that aim to eliminate global environmental hazards and human rights' infractions that are currently implicit in the production, storage, and disposal of so-called renewable energies. When we talk about “practical” steps, practicality often implies how the situation can adapt to our needs rather than how we can shift what we think we need. We must ask: How can we inspire, educate, mobilize, and most importantly, learn from collective eco-action among peoples of diverse backgrounds, one that does not reproduce the very challenges we are attempting to overcome?
Drawing attention to institutional misinformation, that many ecovillages have internalized green-economic falsehoods, we begin to understand how we can transform our individual and collective habitual behaviors (local communities to transnational corporations). Ecovillages could become working models, not rarefied bubbles. Such intergenerational models of community and empathy (co-implication/ co-responsibility) could generate regenerative infrastructures. This ecoliteracy commitment could shift our production/ consumption/ disposal habits—offering non-violent, symbiotic solutions that average citizens can adopt as we transition from our petroleum-pharmaceutical-addicted cyber-culture to an economics of solidarity.
 Marty Glass, Yuga: The Anatomy of Our Fate, 330.
 Chloé Zhao's, 2020 Academy Award film, Nomadland.
 The “we” and “our” to which I refer is addressed to those who actively participate in dominator cultures: “Dominator civilizations are characterized by people who don’t recognize that their own well-being depends upon the well-being of the communities in which they live. As a result of their sense of alienation, people within those civilizations seek to control and dominate others, usually through social structures that wield power from top to bottom” (Martin Adams, LAND).
 “Blenders in the sky” devastate migrating wildlife—bats and birds critical to healthy ecosystems, some of whom are endangered species.
 Concrete has an extremely high embodied energy.
 The air and sun are renewable, but industrial-scale wind and solar installations are not.
Martin Adams, Land: A New Paradigm for a Thriving World. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2015.
Cara Judea Alhadeff, Zazu Dreams: Between the Scarab and the Dung Beetle, A Cautionary Fable for the Anthropocene Era. Berlin: Eifrig Publishing, 2017.
Marty Glass, Yuga: The Anatomy of Our Fate, Hillsdale, NY: Sophia Perennis, 1999.
Felix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze, Intro. Michel Foucault, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, New York, NY: Penguin Classics, 2009.
Derek Jensen, Lierre Kieth, and Aric McBay, Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet, New York, NY: Seven Stories, 2011.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cara Judea Alhadeff, PhD, is a scholar/activist/artist/mother whose work engages feminist embodied theory, and has been the subject of several documentaries for international public television and film. In addition to critically-acclaimed Zazu Dreams: Between the Scarab and the Dung Beetle, A Cautionary Fable for the Anthropocene Era (Eifrig Publishing, 2017), her books include: Viscous Expectations: Justice, Vulnerability, The Ob-scene (Penn State University Press, 2014) and Climate Justice Now: Transforming the Anthropocene into The Ecozoic Era (Routledge, forthcoming). She has published dozens of interdisciplinary essays in eco-literacy, environmental justice, epigenetics, philosophy, performance-studies, art, gender, sexuality, and ethnic studies’ journals/anthologies. Her pedagogical practices, work as program director of
Jews of the Earth, parenting, and commitment to solidarity economics and lived social-ecological ethics are intimately bound. Her photographs/performances have been defended by Freedom-of-Speech organizations (Electronic Freedom Foundation, Artsave/People for the AmericanWay, and the ACLU), and are in numerous collections including SanFrancisco MoMA, Berlin’s Jewish Museum, MoMA Salzburg, Austria, Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, and include collaborations with international choreographers, composers, poets, sculptors, architects, scientists. Cara is a former professor of Performance & Pedagogy at UC Santa Cruz and Critical Philosophy at the Global Center for Advanced Studies. She teaches, performs, parents, and lives a creative-zero-waste life. She is always eager to collaborate with other activists, scholars, and artists from other disciplines. If you are interested please contact Cara via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via her websites, Cara Judea and Zazu Dreams. See also this article: Social ecology pioneers return to Nederland.