|Brad Pitt was named in the Observer's eco power list for his |
work funding and building 13 new green homes in New
Orleans, after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina
And the chief executive of Ford, because he has just unveiled an electric Ford Focus (sadly he didn't simultaneously veil the gas guzzlers he continues to market). Much of the list was a catalogue of rich and powerful people who have now added green – or some nebulous semblance of green – to their portfolios.
But I'm less concerned about the contents of these lists than the principle. To me, eco and power occupy different spheres. The environmentalism I recognise is a challenge to power. It confronts a system which allows a handful of people to dominate our lives and capture our resources. The fame, the extreme wealth, the disproportionate influence celebrated by power lists stand in opposition to the values and principles that green thinking espouses.
But that's not the only problem with these lists. They are invidious. They extract a few characters from a vast collective effort: generally those who are skilled at taking credit for other people's work.
An eco-power list is even worse. First, it reinforces the story, endlessly told by those who hate environmentalism, that it is the preserve of toffs and princes (Prince Charles, inevitably, features on the Observer's list). It is true that some of its most prominent spokespeople are rich and famous. But they are prominent only because this tiny, unrepresentative sample is celebrated and fawned over by the media, while the millions of other people in the movement are ignored.
|Prince Charles "protecting" the environment|
Worst of all, it represents yet another attempt to tame and package this movement. As Paul Kingsnorth puts it:
"Capitalism, always so effective at absorbing and defanging dissenters, is transforming an existential challenge into yet another opportunity for shopping."
Environmentalism is one of the last hold-outs against celebrity culture. It's not untainted by this plague, but more resistant to it than any other sector. If the papers have their way, they will trivialise and capture us, just as they have done to everything else that once had substance.