Corporate Eye

Are you a neo environmentalist?

“I am not a big fan of the prefix “neo”,” writes James Murray, editor of Business Green

“It makes me think of Nazis…

“Marxists …

“and Keanu Reeves in the Matrix.”

Granted, anything which reminds you of Keanu Reeves is generally worth avoiding, the Matrix doubly so because it’s got Hugo Weaving’s clodhoppers all over it as well.  He was a rubbish Elrond, period.

But I digress.

These words are the opening of a rather long editorial James Murray published in October last year.

In it he examines an outpouring from the long established environmentalist Paul Kingsnorth in which he rounded on “neo environmentalists” who believe that man can “act as Gods” and save the world through interventionist science and business practices.

It’s an interesting debate but I’m not going to knife and fork both articles .. it’s enough to note that James Murray gives as good as he gets with talk of “unreconstructed” sections of the environmental movement.

However, taken together, both articles raise five serious questions which will, at the very least, give you pause to ponder your own place on this new environmentalist spectrum.

What’s your take on ecology?

Ecology is all about the existence of a series of interlocking systems none of which fully controls the others and although it was initially coined as a description of the natural world it can easily be applied to human society of the machinery of business.

The crucial thing is that it’s not hierarchical … no one system bosses the others.

So, do you see business as an ecological construct or a purely hierarchical one?  Traditional business is definitely hierarchical, with its narrow flows of investment, goods and services up and down supply chains.  But is this the way business in the future should be conducted?

Is business always the bottom line?

A hoary old chestnut which is still as relevant now as whenever it was first proposed: should everything have a commercial outcome and be measurable in monetary terms?

The answer to this will probably be one of the major divisions between “neo” and “unreconstructed” environmentalists.  If you believe nothing can be managed unless it has a financial value you’re likely in the “neo” camp, but if you think it’s impossible to price all things of value you’re likely as not “unreconstructed”.

Should we sacrifice long term goals to escape short term crises?

A classic example of this is nuclear energy which is seeing a worldwide resurgence in an attempt to cut carbon emissions, despite the fact the world was previously moving away from nuclear power because (short of firing the stuff into space) no known way has been discovered of disposing of the waste.

Is that really acceptable?  Or short the response have been “well, we’re going to have to put up with less electricity from now on”?

Are you a technical optimist or a cautious realist?

In other words, can we consume precious resources now in the hope that future technologies will be able to cope, or should we wait until we know that solution is at least on its way before consuming any more?

Renewable energy is an excellent example of this.  It may produce less carbon emissions than fossil fuel solutions, but at the end of the day it still involves digging up a limited and hard-to-process finite mineral supply.  Should we conserve that supply as much as possible, or use it up as quickly as we can in the belief something better will be invented later?

What’s your elephant in the room?

Most people have one issue they’re passionate about which they believe everyone else is missing the true significance of.  I know mine is population: I get frustrated at the view that having a lighter environmental footprint is an end in itself when efficiency reductions of (say) 20 percent will be followed in short order by a consumption increase of (say) 40 percent.

It helps, yes, but the net direction is still in the wrong direction.  For me the ultimate question is not “how can we use our resources to serve our booming population” but “how can we ensure our population does not run out of these limited resources?”


It may come as no surprise to you to discover I fall more into the “unreconstructed” cautious realist camp than the “neo” technical optimist one.  This is mainly because of two observations:

1) if Man thinks he knows everything about everything he’s either very blinkered or very foolish.  So I believe in systems greater than my own experience and do not believe that everything (whether of value or otherwise) can be boiled down to simple coin;

2) it’s difficult to see anything in recent history which can be classed as progress.  Growth, yes.  Innovation, occasionally.  Progress?  A rise in living standards for sure, but at the expense of commercial freedom and cultural diversity.  I’m not a Luddite, I don’t want to “go back” anywhere.  But forwards in this direction doesn’t look appealing either.

What about you?

Picture Credit: Mr Anderson / Christian Paparcuri / CC BY

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A former CTO, Chris has a broad and varied background. He’s been involved with blue chips, consultancies & SMEs across a wide variety of sectors and has worked in Europe, the Middle East and Australia. In 2007 he decided to combine his knowledge of business and IT with his passion for all things sustainable and has been busy writing ever since. However, his greatest ambition remains to brew the perfect cup of coffee.