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.