How ‘Green’ is the Occupy Movement?

Occupy protestors

Occupy protestors being sprayed with pepper spray, University of California

The “Occupy Wall Street” movement has begun to spread around the world. The United States is in dire financial straits and the demonstrators claim this is due to the mismanagement by companies and government of a system that favors 1% of the population over the other 99%. It is a movement that was bound to come and it has found resonance around the world, in London, Tokyo, Seoul, Cairo and elsewhere.

But just how ‘green’ is the movement? Many demonstrators have sought to minimize their energy consumption and clean up their waste at the demonstrators, efforts that include bringing in bicycle generators to power laptops and lights. But that is just one side of the question.

The main question revolves around whether the Occupy Movement’s demonstrators are calling for or encouraging efforts to push companies and government to clean up their act, to seek cleaner ways of doing business, including ways to cut down on the pollution and destruction caused by industry, including mining, drilling and the logging of forests.

Occupy Wall Street is a ‘green event’

Matthew McDermott, writing in a late September Treehugger blog post, explains why environmentalists should care about the Occupy Wall Street protests. McDermott says the protest is a “green event.”

Even if ostensibly about economic issues more broadly construed, many of the protestors’ articulated aims in the occupation have environmental implications, for the better.

McDermott says it should be no great secret to anyone following the news that the US is in some pretty dire financial shape. Poverty is at record levels, with great spikes along racial lines and for young families with children as is wealth inequality.

Though it’s not entirely accurate to say that living an environmental aware life is more expensive than not doing so, the make do and mend version of frugality is perhaps one of the greenest virtues out there, when your entirely financial life is in tumult for all but the most committed person there are more immediately pressing concerns than the environmental welfare of all, he says.

Not to mention that once personal wealth hits the astronomical levels of those 400 Americans owning as much as some 150 million of their fellow citizens, by virtue of your spending and lifestyle habits your carbon and ecological footprint tends to shoot through the roof.

He points to examples of lobbyists for the corporate polluting class subverting the democratic process in the United States. From the activities of the Koch brothers lobbying octopus in opposing any environmental constraints on business, to the vast subsidies the oil industry maintains even as profits are at record levels, to dirty tricks lobbying against meaningful climate action.

Companies pull the government strings

McDermott notes that the US government in 2011 is fully in the hands of corporations, at times bordering on the unification of corporate and government interests embodied in fascism – at least in spirit if not every single platform point as outlined three quarters of a century ago.

“Beyond the connection to wealth inequality made above, pervasive joblessness is a byproduct of the systematic dismantling of the American manufacturing base under the ideological pretext of free market absolutism and neoliberal globalization, an economic system disconnected from place and person. Re-localizing, re-regionalizing our economies, focusing on domestic needs first and export needs second, whether in so-called developing or developed nations (both inadequate words) is key factor in making our communities more environmentally resilient, more climate resilient, and in supporting local economies and jobs.

“Besides the destructive environmental consequences of war, the United States outspends the entire world in its militarism. And it is bankrupting this nation. If this nation’s military spending was just cut back to doubling its nearest rival, China, it would free up funding for domestic environmental programs, job creation programs, and programs to directly help people at home.

“From another angle, if the US wasn’t so utterly dependent on fossil fuels it would not have to spend so much money supporting the national and corporate goals of ensuring that the oil keeps flowing, in the process supporting despotic regimes, even supporting friendly governments trying to peddle their environmentally destructive oil as a better alternative to those regimes, and de facto supporting rampant environment destruction in some of the world’s poorest regions.”

McDermott points to an important issue, the troubled link between oil and security. Clean energy may not bring an end to war, or an end to international economic conflict, he says, but it will end the need to protect oil and natural gas fields around the world.

(Bio of Matthew McDermott at Treehugger.)