A colleague recently pointed out a seeming contradiction.
He observed the fact that the leftist environmentalists, represented by the producer of Story of Stuff, decry "consumerism" and admonish us to conserve, recycle, and sacrifice our material happiness for the sake of their deity, the earth. On the other hand, the other left, represented by the Obama administration, are doing everything in their power to actually increase "consumerism" by inflating the money supply to keep interest rates low to encourage borrowing (a policy which also increases consumption at the expense of saving), defending and propping up Fannie and Freddie to encourage more leverage and borrowing (as this shocking video makes obvious), threatening banks into lending more to consumers, tax credits to encourage first time home buyers to go into debt, new credit card rules that will make it easier for people who can't pay their bills to continue to use them, pursuing "price gouging" witch hunts against gas station owners and oil companies with the alleged goal of keeping gas prices lower, etc.
(Furthermore, their policies which tend to destroy capital formation have the further effect of reducing productivity, which not only reduces the real wages of workers but has the effect of encouraging resources to not be used as efficiently. For example, consider how much a given unit of farmland can produce today compared to a hundred years ago and then consider that any policies which reduce technological progress by reducing productivity impede this process throughout the economy and leads to a much less efficient use of labor, and natural resources.)
In the same way, observe that the greens attack corporations, technology, and capitalism for despoiling the wilderness and encouraging consumption and profits through advertising while at the same time Marxist union workers in Europe are rioting, vandalising, and "bossnapping" in response to layoffs and cutbacks by the same corporations.
Is this a contradiction? How can businesses continue to exist and employ workers while at the same time not making profits, not advertising, and not reshaping the earth? Does one wing of the left desire economic prosperity while one wing opposes it.
This is not a contradiction. What both desire is egalitarianism - just at different levels of absolute misery.
Egalitarianism means belief in the "equality of all men". Properly, "equality" means equality before the law under a system of individual rights. However, egalitarianism means something entirely different. It means that individual should receive equal outcomes regardless of their effort or ability. Quoting Ayn Rand:
They turn the word into an anti-concept: they use it to mean, not political, but metaphysical equality—the equality of personal attributes and virtues, regardless of natural endowment or individual choice, performance and character. It is not man-made institutions, but nature, i.e., reality, that they propose to fight—by means of man-made institutions.
Since nature does not endow all men with equal beauty or equal intelligence, and the faculty of volition leads men to make different choices, the egalitarians propose to abolish the “unfairness” of nature and of volition, and to establish universal equality in fact—in defiance of facts. Since the Law of Identity is impervious to human manipulation, it is the Law of Causality that they struggle to abrogate. Since personal attributes or virtues cannot be “redistributed,” they seek to deprive men of their consequences—of the rewards, the benefits, the achievements created by personal attributes and virtues. It is not equality before the law that they seek, but inequality: the establishment of an inverted social pyramid, with a new aristocracy on top—the aristocracy of non-value.
Note that both the environmentalists and the Obama's seek just this type of egalitarianism. The environmentalists do not value human achievement, progress, and technology. They wish each person to live at the level of a caveman eking out bare subsistence while minimizing his "carbon footprint". Similarly, the Obama's do not value human achievement, progress, or technology either. Their every policy is not designed to protect individual rights, encourage profit seeking, or increase productivity which is required for economic growth. Their motive is to effect an injustice - the injustice of throttling the productive and redistributing their earnings to anyone else who has not earned it.
What fundamentally unites them is the evasion of the law of identity as discussed by Rand in the above quote. Environmentalists wish that man could exist as a non-man who does not need to remake the earth in order to survive. The Obama's wish that the consequences of a non-productive man's non-action would be equal to the consequences of a productive man's actions.
A minor distinction between the environmentalists and Obama is that, as a pragmatist politician, Obama must seem like he is concerned about the economy to get elected. Therefore, his egalitarianism is cloaked in the pseudo-economic theories of Keynes and Marx which have mainstream credibility with the masses as policies that might "work". Practically speaking, all that distinguishes these two factions is the absolute level of misery to which they desire to reduce mankind. The Obama's wish to reduce every man, regardless of his ability, to the level of a K-Mart shopper who can afford shampoo, toothpaste, and anti-depressant medication, while the environmentalists wish to reduce every man to the level of a caveman who subsists on berries and bark. In fact, since the environmentalists wish to depopulate the earth, their version can be regarded as an even higher level of egalitarianism: The equality of the dead.