You are not Changing the World.

One week after the No Impact project I am finally facing the critique. Does going green make sense at all?

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!

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2 thoughts on “You are not Changing the World.

  1. Great Banksy artwork.

    Gernot Wagner is an economist, so sees change from a macro perspective. He sees little benefit in changes made on the micro level because of their relatively smaller impact, and yet he himself is a vegetarian and does not drive a car. Why should he bother to do these things? I think it is because macro change may be caused by collective micro actions. He implies that macro change is possible only though transformation of policy, but I would argue that without transformation of people any macro change is doomed to fail. When governments attempt to force large change upon populations, the populations resist. We have seen this in many societies. In many cases governments must use military to enforce such changes, and in time these desperate measures inevitably fail. This is why the environmental movement must be won by many people adopting positive change, moving together towards a bright future. This will lead to new policy reflecting the change already in place.

    It is important that the environmental movement stop portraying the future as an apocalypse, and instead portray the future as one in which we all live happy, sustainable lives. We must work towards something positive, not work away from something horrible.

    • I agree that it is important to picture sustainable living in a positive light, but I cannot see how you could avoid stressing that it is important to change. Also because of – like you say – the policies which will mirror people’s choices. Great comment!

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