Environmentalism, Space and The Spin-Doctor

I generally avoid environmentalism as an issue on my blog because I fear the power of fatigue and denial: Everyone in the world who hasn’t been living in a skinner box for the past thirty to sixty years is suffering from some kind of fatigue and living in some level of denial about sustainability, pollution, global warming and the mind-buggeringly vast array of potential issues that flock with them. You think you’re not fatigued by them or in denial about them? Convince me that your whole life really is zero-impact then, go on. Convince me that you still stop and read every piece of news you can get your hands on regarding global warming (to pick one single issue) and the political machinations that go with it. Then, having done that, tell me how your plans take into account the actions of the rest of humanity in order to guarantee a safe and happy future for yourself.

The fatigue and denial are natural things. It makes me a little sad to see people like Jeremy Clarkson becoming actively hostile in their denial, but it doesn’t surprise me, and I don’t hold it against him: This kind of reaction is inevitable.

I would usually like to think of myself as an environmentalist (to some extent) and a communist (likewise), but readers will note that this blog has a marked lack of references to The Revolution or The People (except in jest). This is because, while I think Communism is an archetype of the ideal government, I fail to see:

  • A practical way to get there from here, right now.
  • A complete or consistent model for how it’s going to be made practical.
  • A sufficiently large or urgent demand for radical change.

Instead, I have leanings: I like to encourage communal organizations and economic structures where they crop up. I am always careful to vote with socialist leanings in mind. I try to foster an interest in others in concepts like how industrialization makes the agrarian work-ethic increasingly inappropriate. I frequently tout Iain M Banks’ “Culture” novels (or Ursula Le Guin) to friends. 🙂 I avoid even mentioning the strong left-wing papers or classic Communist writers for the same reason that sane modern Chrisitians don’t like to talk about Jack Chick or carry a bible for the purpose of quoting it. Why is it, do you think, that in a world where open-source software is a vast and growing industry, so fe people know or care about Richard Stallman and the FSF, who arguably started it all? People get tired. People especially get tired of being told that their hard work, their glories, their achievements and their luxuries, generally earned in good faith, are wrong and bad, and must be given up or undone. In fact, I think people get tired of being told that anything is bad and wrong in a generalised or dogmatic kind of way.

Wow! Long rant. Apologies for the fatigue, folks. 🙂

My point in all of this is that environmentalism, arguably one of the most important causes in human history, has really bad spin. I never really understood what spin was until I met my first expectation manager

Businesses that Sell something usually aim to achieve Customer Satisfaction. i.e. ensuring that the Quality of the Product meets The Customer’s Expectations. All the obvious parts (the parts any business wants us, the public to see) of said business are about ensuring the Quality of the Product. You know; making sure that the product lives up to expectations. The secret part is that this is a two-way process. Roles like Marketing and Sales are tinged with it, but only the role of Expectation Manager is really frank and honest about this part.

An Expectation Manager is someone who ensures that the buying public’s expectations are kept on a par with what the company actually makes. This is not about selling the product as the be-all and end all, but it’s not about negativity either. It’s about finding the strengths in what you have, and elaborating on them. The customer has never felt the need for a hard-drive in their pocket before, but having their own music collection to play wherever they go, that’s cool. How did they live without it?

So, how do we spin environmentalism? Same way you spin anything.
(warning: may contain traces of sarcasm)

  1. Environmentalism is not hard. It’s easy.
    (Marketing and Engineering can worry about making this true, or making it seem true).
  2. Environmentalism is not boring, sad, or angry. It’s fun.
    (State-of-mind stuff. Sell the whole package right, and it will be true).
  3. Environmentalism is not nerdy, fringe or elitist. It’s cool.
    (Say it loud enough, often enough and it becomes true. Brainwashing is your friend).

As long as Environmentalism takes the form of trying to punish the naughty consumers for buying stuff and using stuff, to berate the naughty companies for making a (profitable) mess, it will continue to have all the sex-appeal of a jail term. To sell it, it has to be a positive thing. It has to look easy, fun, and worthwhile. I’m not being defeatist or cynical about this: maybe mankind does possess enough wit to react intelligently to a threat like global warming, maybe it doesn’t. The odds are that such a reaction will be late, half-hearted, and involve euqal parts bitterness and suffering. For certain though, humanity knows how to follow trends and learn new tricks. We know how to rise to technical challenges, to manage impossibly expensive things like the space race. We know how to suddenly start using radios… and telephones… and TVs… and mobile phones… and eBay… and iPhones… and… and…

Environmentalism (maybe under an assumed name, the old one has cooties) just needs to be the next killer product, or products. How? That’s engineering’s problem. 🙂

For example, we could be Colonizing Planet Earth.

Oooh. I ranted. Sawry…

7 thoughts on “Environmentalism, Space and The Spin-Doctor

  1. Are you sure ‘communist’ is a best fit for you? You refer (in a positive and approving way I assume) to open source software but that kind of concept (as I understand it) is much more anarchist than communist. There is no politburo telling you (on behalf of society) how to program. Would you say that (with environment as with programming) it is better to make our own constructive contribution to things or better to have someone tell us what is best? Or both?

  2. If you ever get a chance, have a read of Cradle to Cradle, a book which is pretty much identical in theory to your post and works to implement ‘sexy’ environmentalism.

  3. Daniel,
    (mini blog-post follows:)
    My former boss Cam once called me a fascist over a drunken business-trip dinner where I had ranted at length about what was wrong with Kennett. At the time he was technically correct: I held a bunch of unexamined dogmatic views about the ‘hows’ of communism that amounted to fascism in several nasty ways. I like to imagine that I know better now.
    As I said above, I no longe know *how* you have viable communism. I concur with the mainstream that communist Russia was a disaster, and communist China embodies a number of grotesque mini-disasters, mostly resulting from details of implementation which led to a ‘communist’ state behaving in a very fascist way.
    To put it with more hand-waving and trite fluffy generalities, I tend to think that the good parts of comunism are in the economic sharing, but the existing models all tend to bring in a lot of fascism-like social controlling aspects, which suck. I still think communism is the way to go, but I am left clutching at straws like Iain M. Banks’ technological untopias when it comes to *how* we have Real Communism. In the mean time, I’ll settle for as much democratic socialism as I can get.
    Regarding free software, no, you’re totally wrong. Things like Linux are breathtakingly communist. Have a read of the first few paragraphs of the GPL, the fabric of much of the Free Software world. (don’t read it all: it’s a vast, boring legal document, and will cause brain cancer!)

  4. Okay! Time for a laugh! The only way to greet Jack Chick these days is with a full on “phloooehy!” Over at http://www.316now.com are a bunch (like 11) short films based on ACTUAL Chick Tracts. Like word for word! Blow off some steam and go “phlooooehy!” to Jack Chick and all he stands for!@

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