Nudge nudge, think think
On the heels of my New Year's resolution, I'm still pondering the big picture. You could argue, however, that my 2010 pledge represents nothing but small-picture myopia.
And if you're Alex Steffen, you probably would make that argument. Lately I've been reading a bunch of Steffen's old Worldchanging posts criticizing "light-green" environmentalism—the notion that by taking small steps like shopping with reusable bags and buying organic cotton sheets, we can somehow get ourselves out of the huge mess our planet is in—and the experience is not unlike taking a cold shower: extremely unpleasant at first, but ultimately invigorating.
"In the developed world," Steffen writes in this post from 2006, "even those of us who have committed ourselves to change, consume more resources and energy than our sustainable share.... Most of the harm we cause in the world is done far from our sight, created through ... vast systems whose workings are often intentionally hidden from us, and over which we have very little influence as single individuals."
Ouch, that smarts, doesn't it? If you, like me, are indeed committed to change, it's not fun to be told that your green actions don't amount to a hill of beans. (Especially if you, um, happen to write a blog about how individuals can make a difference through strategic consumption.) But there's no denying the truth in those statements, and it's good to have a reality check.
I know that in my daily life, I spend a fair amount of time looking inward at my own habits and those of my family. So do other people I admire, like Colin Beavan (a.k.a. No Impact Man) and Beth Terry of Fake Plastic Fish. It would no doubt behoove me to put more focus on bright-green efforts I can engage with.
But I don't agree with Steffen when he writes that "Consumer-based approaches and 'simple things' lists tend to reinforce our sense that the only sphere in which we can act is our own little private lives, and that isolates us."
Au contraire. For me, anyway (and undoubtedly for Beavan and Terry, too), making an effort to live more consciously is all about forging connections. Because I'm interested in sustainability, I naturally meet other people who are too. They turn me on to efforts, issues, and resources that I find fascinating and therefore pass on to yet more people. It's an ever expanding process, and one that the internet and digital tools make more and more expansive.
Furthermore, while it's true that you cannot buy a better future, by supporting companies that are doing things right, we help put out of business companies that are doing things wrong.
"You quite literally cannot shop your way to a one-planet footprint," Steffen writes. "The best you can do is nudge the market in that direction."
I say, let's keep nudging—and let's not stop thinking.