Monday, April 11, 2011

We cannot wait

I do not intend this post to be in any way discouraging. Rather, I hope it lays out, to some extent, why it is that matters need to be taken into our own hands, yes, yours and mine.

I had a wonderful day today, which was spent talking with Patrick about the issues raised because of individual action and the arguments for it. One of the major questions that has come up during this past months is, Why focus on individual action? Getting organisations that have impacts much larger than my own to decrease their environmental impact by even 0.01% will dwarf anything I have been able to do over the past fifty-four weeks. I agree. That would be wonderful to do, and I encourage all of us to continue our efforts to do so. The obvious way to get such organisational change is government policy. People might think that we should focus our efforts on getting some national or regional policy passed. Yes, we should, and I encourage all of us to continue our efforts to do so. People have told me that there need to be "incentives" to change behaviour, or at least some policy that pushes people to change their behaviour. Yes, that is needed.

However, my questions in rebuttal are these - Who is going to get the government to enact policy, and what exactly is the nature of that policy? What ethical (and consequently legal and economic) foundations are those changes in behaviour going to be adopted on? Any change that stands a chance at truly addressing the nature of the problems that face us will necessarily require a fundamental rethink of our ethical structure. Furthermore, "incentives" are introduced all the time in our country, and are as quickly taken away - take for example production tax credits for renewable sources of energy. Given the magnitude of the issues that face us, "incentives" that have the potential to be taken away are in some sense a waste of time in trying to get passed, particularly how the sausage factory of the government is adept at watering policies down to be mere lip service. The changes that are required in our society need to be durable.

As I have written about previously, any durable change (here, here, here) that comes can come from nowhere but from our own lives. It is our choice. It is through the collective projection of our lives outwards that we currently allow the existence of ecologically destructive organisations and governments. Also, I highly doubt that a large fraction of people in the US will be willing to do something because the government forces them to, particularly when it comes to the environment. As Professor Andrew Hoffman said, "There’s a segment of the population that sees environmentalists as socialists, trying to control people’s lives."

It is clear to me that not everyone thinks that environmentalists are trying to control people's lives. What that means is that each one of us can be that example, to these people, at least, that shows that making the meaningful changes in our lives is not only necessary, but also doable.

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