Going green and getting EVERYwhere

If you want to change the world, turn that finger around...Last week the New York Times ran an op-ed piece titled, “Going Green but Getting Nowhere“. It was one of the most finely packaged pieces of eco-snobbery I’ve ever seen.

I’m at a place in life where I see it as possible to experience at least some level of personal growth from any paradigm or opinion I encounter…no matter how contradictory it may be to my current thought processes.

The exception to that viewpoint, is when the paradigm encountered is one of dogmatism.

And dogmatic is exactly what that NY Times op-ed piece is (and yes, you CAN write an op-ed piece without it).

Every step DOES matter

The gist of the the NY Times piece is that it doesn’t matter whether you recycle, ride your bike to work, use reusable bags, make energy saving adjustments to your thermostat, or even go completely off the grid, your individual actions won’t make a difference in global climate issues.

Here’s the thing…maybe you don’t care if they do.

Maybe you’re just trying to go greener in the things you’re already passionate about in an effort to preserve….the things you’re already passionate about. Or maybe being greener is an accidental result of your passions. I commute on my bike 2-3 days a week because I like riding my bike, not because I’m trying to save the planet.

But hey, maybe you are trying to make a difference in the fight against climate change, pollution, health decline, or whatever gets your endorphins going. And I’m here to tell you that every step DOES make a difference to that end.

Legislation is NOT the answer

The penny drops when the contributor of the op-ed piece says,

Every ton of carbon dioxide pollution causes around $20 of damage to economies, ecosystems and human health. That sum times 20 implies $400 worth of damage per American per year. That’s not damage you’re going to do in the distant future; that’s damage each of us is doing right now. Who pays for it?

We pay as a society. My cross-country flight adds fractions of a penny to everyone else’s cost. That knowledge leads some of us to voluntarily chip in a few bucks to “offset” our emissions. But none of these payments motivate anyone to fly less. It doesn’t lead airlines to switch to more fuel-efficient planes or routes. If anything, airlines by now use voluntary offsets as a marketing ploy to make green-conscious passengers feel better. The result is planetary socialism at its worst: we all pay the price because individuals don’t.

It won’t change until a regulatory system compels us to pay our fair share to limit pollution accordingly.

I’m not anti-government, but I think the majority of behaviors that are supposedly motivated by legal mandates are actions that, ideally, should be natural for us as human beings in general. It’s not really in anyone’s best interest to murder, but people do it. Guess what, it’s against the law to commit murder…but it still happens countless times every day.

Legislation isn’t the answer…or maybe it’s more accurate to say that legislation isn’t the best answer. Doesn’t it make more sense that we keep the planet in a condition in which it can support human life (because the planet doesn’t really need saving) by taking individual steps that add up to a larger collective, rather than try to unsuccessfully mandate the collective?

…or am I just dancing around a “chicken and the egg” conversation?

[Photo: bookgrl/Flickr]

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About Jeffrey Davis

Yo, I'm Jeffrey, founder of and editor in chief here at Eco-Snobbery Sucks. I live in Nashville, TN and am a writer, personal trainer, web designer, and wookie hugger. I hang out on Twitter some but you can find me more active on Facebook. Enjoy the site!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1134043076 Debbie Johnson Davis

    We don’t need more legislation…people can be legislated to INaction. It takes a person WANTING to do something to make the environment better. Once that happens, that person will be more than willing to take steps…even baby ones…toward that end. A person getting passionate about something is what begins changing the status quo.

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  • http://profiles.google.com/digigirl Valerie Tate Williams

    It is kind of a chicken and egg discussion because even if no meaningful change will happen until legislation goes through, legislation will never go through until enough individuals make it clear that this is a priority and must be done.  No individuals = no legislation just as much as no legislation = not enough impact.  So, the individual is STILL key to the whole process.  

    Besides, I’m sorry, are these people saying that even if every single person on the earth starting being more responsible and living a more sustainable life that it wouldn’t make a dent?  That’s ridiculous.  And the only way to get to every single person doing it is to start with a few.  And they tell two friends, and they tell two friends….. :)

    • http://www.EcoSnobberySucks.com Jeffrey Davis

       Excellent points Valerie! I couldn’t agree with you more!

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  • http://plantedcity.tumblr.com/ Plantedcity

    I cycle, take transit, live in a walkable neighborhood, grow some of my food, shop with cloth bags, use a refillable water bottle, compost, recycle, talk green issues with fam & friends, write politicians and newspapers, battle climate change deniers online, and more. 

    BUT, climate change is the issue that has the potential to overwhelm the ecosystems and economies that we all depend on. Avoiding runaway climate change requires changing our energy system and how much fossil fuel energy we consume as a global population. In a very small window of time. Legislation is required to change the energy system. That is why I am increasingly coming to the conclusion that it will take people power to force governments to enact the necessary legislation to make this change.

    Cloth shopping bags and composting admittedly feel good, but they aren’t going to get us anywhere we need to go within the context of a rapidly growing global population, a limited resource base, and a shrinking time horizon. The sooner we all come to that conclusion the better our chances are and will be. 

    There are things we can do that have some impact like how we get around, the food we eat, and where we live, but citizens are only one part of the economy. There are also large vested interests in maintaining the fossil fuel economy as long as they can. We can’t lose sight of the need to change our energy-economy. 

    Finally, I realize this may not be a happy thing to read. I wasn’t happy when I studied the energy system and learned that there are lots of things that we are doing, thinking we are having an impact, when it’s largely symbolic.

    I will close with a couple of resource that I think will provide some food for thought and positive action: 

    1) A new book from the Union of Concerned Scientists (‘Cooler Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living’, http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/what_you_can_do/practical-steps-for-low-carbon-living.html) that shows, “the most effective strategies for reducing your global warming emissions, and how to take action at work, in your community, and politically.”

    2) A short YouTube video (‘How Many Lightbulbs?’, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UR8wRSp2IXs) featuring UK physicist, David Mackay.  It’s based on his excellent book, ‘Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air’.

    Steven (‘Planted City’, http://plantedcity.tumblr.com/)