It's Easy to Be Green

Curator's Note

During the last several years, there has been an explosion of “green” media in the United States that aligns with (and capitalizes on) increasing concern about climate change, environmental degradation, and overconsumption. Everything from blogs to documentaries to TV shows are offering advice on how to be “more green,” including the Sundance Channel’s “The Green” and NBC’s “Green is Universal.” Both offer a diverse array of programs for viewers with varying degrees of activist commitment—including The Lazy Environmentalist—but each taps into discourses about individual consumption, lifestyle, and social change. Here, I focus on Eco Trip: The Real Cost of Living hosted by “eco-adventurer” David de Rothschild, who is featured traveling (by airplane) to the various sites of production for especially fraught and environmentally damaging products (like chocolate and cotton t-shirts) in order to reveal the product’s “eco journey” and its resulting environmental, social, and health effects.

This clip from the “chocolate” episode exemplifies Eco Trip’s commitment to a particular lifestyle that combines “green” with “luxury” to constitute the ideal ethical consumer citizen—one who is able to properly consume according to the disciplinary standards of the show. This is not an environmental politics that centers people (the workers are largely ignored on the show), but rather, lifestyle consumption that is inaccessible to most. Eco Trip’s emphasis on expensive consumer alternatives thus dictates who can be considered “environmental,” thereby constituting a racialized and classed counterpart who is lazy, apathetic, apolitical, unhealthy, and unethical. As Vosges owner and chocolatier Katrina Markoff demonstrates, there is even a correct way to consume one’s ethical chocolate—after yoga, accompanied by a glass of red wine.

Because the show features white people as the innovative problem solvers (who are therefore the “rescuers” of both the planet and the racial other) to problems largely created by white people, Eco Trip remakes a colonial model of whiteness under the auspice of ethics. Although most of the show’s concerns are actually environmental justice issues—the mining of gold on indigenous lands, the proximity of pesticide- rich cotton fields to neighborhoods of color, the exploited racialized and gendered workforce in the food and agriculture industries—they are never framed as such, nor are environmental justice activists ever featured. The show effaces all connections to racism and imperialism and instead, produces an environmental ethics that is bound up in luxury consumption.


Thanks for this great post Allison! This post is a "great pairing" with Sara's post on wind and visibility. It seems the ways to interrogate the representation of the environment in the media is considering what is/is not being made visible. In the case of this show, the host and guests are taking great pains to make us aware of some hard-to-see health issues ("crazy free radicals," the benefits of antioxidants, etc.) while effacing the things you mention like people of color and issues of labor.

Indeed, it looks like 'invisibility' is going to be a big theme across the entries this week. The other major invisible piece of this clip is any notion of a broader politics of possibility that extends beyond individual consumer habits, or, at the very least, connects individual consumption to a more extensive agenda for environmental/labor policy change.

I'm fascinated by the way in which being "environmental" here is aligned particularly with the human body/bodily consumption and nutrition. This clip not only showcases (as you point out , Allison) a kind of ethics of luxury consumerism, but it also seems to promote a purely anthro-centric environmental ethics (well, if we can even call that an "ethics"). In the process, then, it tends to teach that being environmental is "good" because it helps white, upper-class humans, and not because it is "good" for the earth.

Thanks for the comments, all. Yes, a politics of individual consumption frequently ignores any possibility of connecting to larger struggles. In this case, it is so tied to the production of whiteness and exclusivity, wherein "good" eco-citizenship is yoked to whiteness and choice (and thus there is a racialized and classed other who is "unhealthy" and not green/environmental). It's also significant that Eco Trip is on the Sundance Channel (and is thus hailing a particularly affluent viewer). Re: your important comment, Sara, I think Eco Trip is absolutely anthro-centric for its reliance on luxury consumption as the "solution" to environmental problems. One of the important early contributions of the environmental justice (EJ) movement was its re-definition of "environmental" to include both people and a recognition of the "urban" environment as just that--an "environment" and thus a worthy environmental concern. Whereas Ansel Adams removed people from his photographs, and a politics of conservation (e.g., the Audubon Society, Sierra Club) focuses on preservation of the land, EJ seeks to expand the category "environmental" (which in turn makes inner-city toxicity and the pollution of neighborhoods of color visible as environmental issues). I'm sort of intrigued by what new work on post-humanism and within critical animal studies might add to this conversation.

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