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Stop trying to save the planet, says ‘urban ranger’ Jenny Price

jenny price
KCET

Environmentalists and green marketers are always talking about “saving the planet.” Buy this car, this laundry detergent, or this light bulb and you will help save “the planet” or “nature” or “the environment.” Jenny Price, for one, wishes they’d stop.

Price is an activist, historian, and self-appointed Los Angeles urban ranger. When she’s not trying to inject a little humor into the generally unfunny world of environmental preaching with her satiric blog Green Me Up, JJ, she gives tours of the concretized L.A. River. She’d be happy to tell you why she loves the river, why it is every bit a part and parcel of “nature,” and why she thinks that places like this have got to be at the core of the environmental movement.

When it comes to rhetoric about “saving the planet,” she has two main beefs: First, it encourages a “greener-than-thou” form of preachy consumerism that does not encourage real change nor help those most in need. Second, the rhetoric clings desperately to the historical notion that nature = pristine wilderness, obscuring the muddy, mixed up reality visible in places like her beloved L.A. River.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy

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Nature, revised: In a brave new world, we write the rules

“Eat this brand of yogurt and you’ll help save the planet,” the label on the carton intones. Um, really?

Maybe not, but the stories we tell ourselves about our choice of yogurt, or soap, or hybrid car nonetheless say a lot about how we, as a society, view ourselves and our relationship to the world around us.

Professor Ursula Heise, eco-critic in Stanford University's English department, spends her days untangling these narratives. She looks at everything from that yogurt carton to the Book of Revelation, dissecting how words, language, symbols, and discourse influence how environmental science is communicated, how the science itself is done, and how societies seek solutions to problems such as mass extinction and climate change.

Along the way, she says she’s found that some of our stories have become tired (i.e. the “end of the world” narrative first told in Revelation) and others at times delusional (see your grocery list). She also has a few new storylines to suggest for environmentalists and others who are serious about salvaging some scraps of the natural world.