Sunday, December 6, 2009

On the importance of collective action

If just one person starts to care about the environment today and starts recycling, and she tells her friends, and they tell their friends... we'll still all die horribly. That's the interesting message from Mike Tidwell today (via Yglesias). Basically, individual greening campaigns in which we try to guilt ourselves and our friends into environmentally responsible actions won't do crap, and they may make things worse by convincing people that the problem is being dealt with, which it isn't. The only way massive public problems get dealt with is through government action:
Look to the history of the civil rights struggle. After many decades of public denial and inaction, the civil rights movement helped Americans to see Southern apartheid in moral terms. From there, the movement succeeded by working toward legal change. Segregation was phased out rapidly only because it was phased out through the law. These statutes didn't erase racial prejudice from every American heart overnight. But through them, our country made staggering progress. Just consider who occupies the White House today.
Tidwell's advice: Take the time you'd spend installing compact fluorescent bulbs and instead use that time to lobby a member of Congress about the environment.


MJ said...

What would Tidwell say about de facto segregation today?

And since climate change isn't something to be referred to in Latin, wouldn't it be better to install the CFL light bulb AND lobby government?

Seth Masket said...

Well, part of his argument is that personal efforts to install CFL bulbs are actually counter-productive -- they give people the false sense that something positive is being done about the environment. Thus the people most likely to be lobbying their elected officials are sitting back complacent because they took care of their little corner of the world.

Robert said...

Re: "the false sense that something positive is being done about the environment." Consider that installing a CFL light bulb in your house to stop global warming, as one person among 300 million in this country, is akin to trying to empty the ocean using a soup ladle.