It is probably narcissistic to think that the last paragraph of Owen’s recent Guardian piece is due in part to a conversation we recently had when he was visiting Nottingham, but during that conversation I talked to him about the importance of a militant urban ecology for facing the current ecological crisis. In truth I shouldn’t say crisis, because in a time where there is nothing but crises and crises that the capitalist system feeds off of we risk losing our bearings, we risk distraction, and the kind of hysteric worry that comes when one is assured that there is no real hope of coming through the crisis. This is not a crisis, it is but a spur, a spur to think more rationally, more humanly in the generic sense, towards a kind of disinterested, unalienated earthly humanity. So what follows is a bit of a note on Owen’s piece in an effort not just to combat the usual stupidity of the comments that litter CiF, but the stupidity of the “green” movement itself. That stupidity that thinks the answer to the ecological crisis is hair shirts, apologies to Gaia for being human, and the working towards the death of millions in the name of some kind of “respect for nature”.
The good news of ecology, like that of Spinoza, is that “everything is natural”. “The-Natural” (here using Laruelle’s symbolization to indicate a kind of hallucinatory authority that hobbles the human and thought) is no longer a source of evaluation, no longer does the proximity of something to the-Natural indicate some kind of divine analogy that places it above other entities. The “green” movements, at least as given voice by the confused Luddites posting on Owen’s piece, are only green in some pathetic pastoral sense. Thinking that somehow the green grass of the shire, so pleasant to a certain kind of middle class European aesthetic, indicates that the countryside will always be more natural than the city. Everywhere there are human beings, for these naive pastoral reactionaries, there is grey and what is grey is not green, or so they think. But nature is not pastoral, or more precisely nature is not just pastoral. An ecological understanding of nature shows us that wherever there is an exchange of energy between the living, the dead, and the never-living there we will find nature for there is an ecosystem. If we were to make the mistake of placing nature merely within the pastoral we would create an endless war between ecosystems, we would aim to kill other viable and healthy ecosystems in the name of a green image. In short, the naive pastoral reactionaries have no respect for nature, they have an undue hatred for unpleasant nature – they would have us kill the red and brown desert in the name of an ecological imperialism begun by their European ancestors centuries before (see Crosby‘s Ecological Imperialism).
Those pastoral reactionaries are have hijacked ecology, they have distorted its message of peace, that everything is natural, and remain completely uncritical of their own middle class aesthetics. Some comments on Owen’s piece rightly point out that a low-carbon footprint is not the only criteria for an ecologically resilient and productive human dwelling in an ecosystem (what is usually meant by the obscusifatory “green” label). I suspect the implication the commenter was trying to push was that city’s are inherently not green because they encourage a disconnect between humans and nature, when you’re in the city you don’t think about Gaia like you’re supposed to. This is, in the strongest Deleuzian sense, stupid. The city is an ecosystem, it can even be a healthy ecosystem (though we need to work at that, which involves more social dwelling together in public transportation, dwellings, and like, not less of the social). The reality is that the human is never not in touch with nature, how would that even be ecologically possible? What Owen’s article leaves out are other reasons, unrelated to carbon footprint, for why bigger and more concentrated cities are more ecologically resilient than some Gordon Ramsey fantasy of everyone escaping to the countryside to grow their own food and kill their own animals. In short, that sort of life is not sustainable for human beings, unless you want to see millions of human beings die, and mostly those human beings who are already in the global south living in massive amounts of poverty, then you must have an ecological policy that sees ecologically resilient cities as important, as the lynch pin, for a more eco-rational dwelling on the earth.
When you separate yourself out from the rest of humanity in the interest of being “more natural” you only show yourself as one who has a hatred of nature. If humanity is to survive and, more than that, if humanity is to live ecologically, you should pull up stakes and buy a flat or become a farmer that works for the commons, that is to produce food for the rest of humanity. Otherwise you just repeat a kind of pathetic American dream of self-reliance, a desire to live unecologically. In short, there is an unacknowledged alliance between those petulant middle class thinkers of darkness, who reveal in the illness and sores of humanity, and the middle class greenies who create an environmental ideology separate from ecology. An environmentalism without regard for the poor, without a place for those living the slums, a place where animals are respected in so far as they, and not some asshole in a kebab shop, knew who they were.
If you’d like to read more on the technical nature of how an urban response to resilient ecological dwelling can happen I’d suggest Lipow’s free on-line book. If you really care about the environment, of which human beings are a part as a place of exchange of energy, please put down your Wendell Berry and get on the subway. Cities, as a site of the commons, are kind of a big fucking deal.