PUTTING A PRICE ON ENVIRONMENTALISM: A STUDY OF MAINSTREAM ENVIRONMENTALISM, CONSUMERISM, AND CLASS
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In this thesis I argue that within Canadian society, mainstream environmentalism has been constructed as a consumer-based activity that fundamentally excludes low income households and serves to support a capitalist economy. Historically, humans’ relationship to the environment has been based on economic benefit and so people readily accept this construction of environmentalism as it conforms to established social norms. Contemporary research has shown that eco-labeling is one of the primary marketing tools that give the impression of social structural change while keeping capitalism intact. This thesis critically examines documents from three Canadian sources: the Toronto Star newspaper, the David Suzuki Foundation website, and the Canadian Government. By applying the theories of social constructionism and representation, I show that these documents and articles have multiple levels and meanings about environmentalism that favour the capitalist agenda. This analysis also identifies four main ways in which these sources contribute to and reinforce the exclusion of low income families from Canadian mainstream environmentalism: 1) sources primarily promote ‘green’ consumables and disregard the associated cost of these goods, 2) sources do not acknowledge the constraints associated with level of access to non-consumable green resources, 3) sources shape environmental problems as economic issues by focusing on corporations, and 4) increased time commitments associated with green behaviour are not acknowledged. These three sources would suggest that the current form of environmentalism, as a consumer based construct, exclude low income household in mainstream Canadian society. By illuminating some of the problems with the current construction of environmentalism, it becomes possible to construct new perspectives on environmentalism that are both effective and inclusive.