Performative Environmentalism

Sustainability vs the Mason Jar Aesthetic

I guess the point of this lengthy ramble is a complaint that the aesthetic of sustainability is actually more popular than actual ethical sustainable practices. Too many people are concerned with looking like they care, but don’t actually want to get into the nuance of things. And I get it, I do. It’s nice to feel like you’re doing something good. Who doesn’t want to feel like they’re taking responsibility for their time on this earth and being the best version of themselves?

But it has to require thought, and method, and looking beyond the narrow scope of your own four walls (metaphorical or otherwise) and what that one person on YouTube said, while merely swapping one form of consumerism for another because it looks and feels ethical, but not actually exacting any kind of global change.

And that’s the difference between using a mason jar to drink out of, and the Mason Jar Aesthetic. Being aware of your impact on the earth and doing what you can within your limits and means (and respecting the means of others), vs wanting to be seen as such. And it’s an important distinction and one that requires self reflection and a great deal more thought than buying into an aesthetic.

This is some good writing.

Here is a true story, which I promise is related.

In the Spring 2018 semester I taught an upper-level seminar about the intersections between culture and the environment. I set up the course to examine the main issues involved from multiple angles, but the conclusion of all of the scholars and analysts we read was more or less the same: An overwhelming majority of people around the world are extremely concerned about environmental issues and are strongly in favor of “greener” public policy. Unfortunately, the reason these desires are not accurately represented in the policy enacted by many governments is because the laws that direct what these governments can do and how they can do it were written in historical eras with vastly different concerns than our own, and it is not in the interests of the people who are already in power to change these laws. (The Electoral College system in the United States is a representative example of what I’m talking about.) Therefore, before we can change public policy, we need to reform the laws that shape the scope of our national governments.

For fourteen weeks, in class after class after class, we talked about how local governments, media producers, citizens’ groups, and individual people are already quite environmentally conscious, and we also talked about why policy regulating the vast majority of pollution and resource management needs to be enacted at the national level. Individual actions regarding the environment are important and meaningful, of course, but the harmful excesses of global neoliberal capitalism are larger than any one person can combat on their own.

So, at the end of the semester, I got a course evaluation (which is basically a standardized form that students can use to give the university feedback about a class and its professor) from a student that said, in all caps: THE PROFESSOR PRINTS OUT THE WEEKLY QUIZZES ON PAPER, THIS IS VERY WASTEFUL AND DISRESPECTFUL TO THE ENVIRONMENT.


On a completely unrelated note, I’m really interested in what this writer is doing with her Patreon.

“Patreon” is one of the three words I’ve muted on Twitter (along with “cishet” and “yall”) because I’m uncomfortable with the growing trend of everything on social media becoming a transaction, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still trying to figure out a way that a system like Patreon can work ethically and without commercializing personal relationships.

All that aside, it’s always good to see a writer with a successful Patreon. Based on the small handful of other popular Patreon sites managed by authors that I’ve encountered, the secret to success seems to have something to do with monster fucking.

This might be a good thing to keep in mind for the future.