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Wild Green

Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.

Beaches, Babes, and Conservation: What’s Wrong With That?

 by Keith Goetzman

Tags: sex, activism, Nature Conservancy, swimsuits, beaches, journalism, environment, Folio, Gilt City, Keith Goetzman,

Swimsuit model 

The Nature Conservancy is taking a new stripped-down approach to environmental protection: The green group is teaming up with the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and online luxury retailer Gilt to raise money for beach preservation in an unholy mashup of sex, commerce, marketing, publishing, and environmentalism.

Why the green tie-in? “Because everyone benefits from pristine tropical beaches. Especially when they’re occupied by gorgeous women in bathing suits.” That’s according to promotional prose about the partnership on the Gilt website, in an announcement that is no longer posted. (Though you can still buy a $1,000 ticket to a New York launch party where you can hang out with the swimsuit supermodels.)

Gilt will be selling Sports Illustrated-themed swimsuits, surfboards, photos, and other merch on its site, with all ecommerce sale proceeds going “to preserve the beaches SI features in its pages,” reports Folio magazine.

Not everyone is sold on the mission. “What’s next for The Nature Conservancy?” wrote a commenter on Folio. “Partnering with porn sites?”

I understand the writer’s sentiment. The Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue has long been an overhyped exercise in sexual objectification and anorexia induction, and I’m not sure why The Nature Conservancy thinks it will benefit from hitching its green message to the marketing machine that cranks out this cheeseball, throwback brand of softcore year after year. The association seems to risk putting off every potential supporter who doesn’t think Mad Men is a look back at the good old days.

Environmental writer Derrick Jensen of Orion already saw this sort of thing coming, having penned a prescient column in the current issue titled “Not in My Name.” Go ahead and call him a killjoy, but I think he pretty much nailed it:

Let me say upfront: I like fun, and I like sex. But I’m sick to death of hearing that we need to make environmentalism fun and sexy. … The fact that so many people routinely call for environmentalism to be more fun and more sexy reveals not only the weakness of our movement but also the utter lack of seriousness with which even many activists approach the problems we face. …

Unfortunately, the notion that activism … has to be fun and sexy pervades the entire environmental movement, from the most self-styled radical to the most mainstream reformist.

Sources: Folio, Gilt Groupe, Orion 

Image by Mark Sebastian, licensed under Creative Commons.