Deceptively inviting, Stop Saving the Planet! An Environmentalist Manifesto (affiliate link) looks like a bathroom book. This fun little volume is formatted as a couple different lists, with lots of cute icons thrown in. In Price’s second list, about what you should do, each point is printed on a separate page that’s half blank (“Scribble Zone: write, draw, ponder…”). It’s partially ironic but also deadly serious.
Price’s lighthearted approach coats the pill of assumption-busting with enough sugar to help the medicine go down.
Her language ranges from snarky to mildly fed up and can be summed up by Point #30, “Tell a Frickin’ Joke.” Price puts fun to good use to puncture the gloom and self-righteousness of much environmentalism. “Seriously: funny can be a lot more powerful than yelling & lecturing–especially when the other side is screaming & ranting.”
It matters not just because being self-righteous and lecture-y has made environmentalists unwelcome at dinner parties. More important is that the movement to save the Earth has failed to stop people from destroying it. “More than half of the 1,340 Superfund sites have been listed for 30-40 years,” Price writes. “The air in thousands of communities across the U.S. remains exceptionally dangerous to breathe. And can our climate-change policies even begin to save Miami?”
A lot of the problem of traditional environmentalism is the belief that big problems like climate change and toxic pollution can be solved by small personal lifestyle changes like buying a Prius or Tesla or recycling more.
Yet, as Price say, nobody thinks that you can solve the Middle East crisis from your kitchen. So why should we act this way about the environment, and especially about global heating, which, by definition, is a worldwide problem?
Price has a few theories. First, the real polluters like oil and plastics companies have successfully deflected blame from themselves to consumers (“We’re all in this together!”). Second, too many environmentalists live in a white suburban middle-class bubble, ignoring the everyday impacts of dumping and pollution on people of color in low-income communities like Cancer Alley in Louisiana. Third, too many of us also wrongly believe that the “environment” is something “out there,” unspoiled nature found in protected or untouched wilderness like Yosemite but far away from the places where we live and work.
Trained as a historian, Price is an interdisciplinary public intellectual–artist, activist, birdwatcher and writer. Her previous work includes a book on how nature and civilization are intertwined, Flight Maps: Adventures with Nature in Modern America, and a not-quite advice column “Green Me Up JJ.”
In Stop Saving the Planet! Price reminds us that humans are part of nature, and that environments (plural) are found everywhere, including big cities and suburbs, and inside our homes and offices. Humans cannot help but alter their environments. Price wants us to dump the assumption that the best or most sustainable way of running the economy would be to be as hands-off on the environment as possible.
Instead, she wants us to recognize the awesome responsibility that comes with changing our environments and then to embrace the goal of changing them well, not badly. That means making the economy clean, cutting out pollution anywhere and everywhere (but especially cutting pollution near people of color who are affected most) and ensuring social equity.
In the end, says Price, there’s no conflict between the environment and the economy. A successful economy must do more than make a few people richer while the rest of us just limp along financially and have to suck up the pollution. She supports a Green New Deal and suggests a bunch of alternate names that show the many reasons why it’s needed: The Toxics Be Gone New Deal, the War on Greed and Pollution, the Huge Fat Initiative to Massively Rethink a T Shirt, or the You Shouldn’t Have No Choice but to Work in Jobs That Are Ruinous to People and Environments Great New Plan.
To help readers make a real difference, as opposed to doing things that feel helpful but really aren’t like buying a Prius, Price does actually offer a few personal life changes, like buying less stuff or buying higher quality stuff at lower quantity. But most of her ideas are about thinking differently about the environment–such as Redefine Economy or even Redefine Extremism (greedheads, not environmentalists, are the real extremists). Or getting active in public policy–from the strikingly simple “Vote!” to “Join up locally–government & economy R us.”
A welcome corrective to the trend of years of published guides that boil down to “X Easy Ways to Save the Earth that Won’t Threaten the Rule of Polluting Corporations and Other Greedy Rich People,” Price’s book welcomes the reader with a smile but strikes hard against bullshit from PR flacks for oil drillers and plastics makers all while standing up for climate justice as the only way to really save the climate.
Until Cancer Alley is clean, then no place is clean. That’s just what Americans need to hear right now.