Gernot Wagner from the New York Times just recently wrote an editorial titled Going Green but Getting Nowhere. Starting of by saying – provokingly – you can go as green as you want, “just know that it won’t save the tuna, protect the rain forest or stop global warming.”
His main point is that refusing a plastic bag at the shop does not make sense for two reasons:
- A) at the same time you are still driving there by car or whatever other thing one could critize about you and
- B) it is not you who should change but the policies.
Now, I have come across A) a lot in my life. People telling me: Yes, you are a vegetarian but you eat fruit which comes from tropical countries. Or: You use your bike but then you fly far away to study. Well people: YOU ARE RIGHT. But fact is, I am not eating meat AND fruit from far away and I am not driving a car AND flying to study abroad. Rather, I am trying to do whatever I can to reduce my impact and I am aware of where I can improve, are you?
As far as B) goes, I agree. Even if you “try to become no-impact man. You would, in fact, have no impact on the planet. Americans would continue to emit an average of 20 tons of carbon dioxide a year; Europeans, about 10 tons.” And yes, even if half of Europeans and Americans can be convinced to reduce a little, it might not yet be enough. Besides, it is not likely to happen. “It won’t change until a regulatory system compels us to pay our fair share to limit pollution accordingly.” It is true but we should show the politicians that this is what we want. Because that is actually the idea, that they act upon our wishes, right?
Wagner concludes with what he calls “the ultimate inconvenient truth: getting people excited about making individual environmental sacrifices is doomed to fail.”
Wagner at least sees that there is a problem. Another editorial, this time by Washington Times’ Keith Lockitch goes quite another direction: “We must acknowledge that it is the essence of human survival to reshape nature for our own benefit, and that far from being a sin, it is our highest virtue. Don’t be fooled by the cries that industrial civilization is ‘unsustainable.’ This cry dates to at least the 19th century, but is belied by the facts.” This is why he argues that there is no need to go green – titling accordingly “Environmental Angst“. Does he mean consumerism and distruction of our nature are our highest virtue?
Finally, I would like to quote Nobel physicist Robert B. Laughlin who says: “‘The Earth Doesn’t Care If You Drive a Hybrid!’ Or recycle. Or eat organic food. Or live in a green house powered by solar energy. Or squander commodities. The Earth just doesn’t care how much you waste.” But his do not get him wrong (and have a look at the article), he does not mean that we do not have a problem. All he wants to say is that it might already be too late and that we have to go bigger to save the planet.
All these critiques might be right or wrong but personally, the No (or low) Impact lifestyle is a philosophy which gives me an alternative to the distructing way of living I see out there in the world. It is a personal choice without illusions. Besides, the week showed me, I am not alone with my ideas. Maybe we had no impact with our experiment, but that I could have told you from the title.
Picture by scary toy clown, gracias!