Two Types of Environmentalism—Paul Kingsnorth on limits vs. progress

Paul Kingsnorth was once an environmental activist, passionate about fighting climate change. Though he's still full of passion and certainly no climate skeptic, Kingsnorth calls himself a recovering environmentalist. He's become increasingly become aware of two divergent types of environmentalism at play with fundamentally different assumptions about the world and our place in it.

An environmentalism of limits was popular in the early days of the green movement when proponents like Wendell Berry wrote about the centrality of limits imposed by nature and our bodies. This environmentalism is no longer in style, Kingsnorth writes: "The greens today are very much a part of the global techno-machine which seeks to use technology to overcome the problems that technology has created."

In a wide-ranging interview with Rod Dreher, Kingsnorth gives voice to his concern about the green movement's romance with progress:

We are desperate to believe that humanity can build paradise on Earth. … We are a species which has caused a mass extinction event, changed the climate of the whole planet and turned half of the world’s ancient forests into tables and toilet paper: all in pursuit of ‘progress.’ We can create marvels, but we are not in control of where they take us. We are now at a point where we cannot stop the runaway train.

But we hate hearing this! If the modern West has a religion, it is the religion of Progress — the faith that things will continue to improve for us all as a result of our cleverness: that the arc of history bends not only towards justice but towards endless material improvement. I genuinely do believe that we have an almost spiritual commitment to this notion. Questioning it, in that context, is virtually blasphemous. It infuriates people, and they call you all sorts of names. Without progress, what do we have left?

Check out the full interview to learn about Paul Kingsnorth's journey toward Christianity and his new novel Alexandria. He's also the co-founder of Dark Mountain, a collective of artists and other folks who are "walking away from the stories ... that prevent us seeing clearly the extent of the ecological, social and cultural unravelling that is now underway."

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