A TreeHugger's Dilemma: Is 'Doing Something' Doing Enough?

battery powered electric mower photo

Nice electric mower, but why the lawn? Image credit: Sami
Environmentalists Could Always Do More, But Should They?
When I wrote about Coke's giant recycling sculpture on Monday, a commenter (rightly) took me to task for misrepresenting the debate between those wary of greenwashing, and those championing corporate social responsibility, as simply being an argument between "purists" and "pragmatists". As usual, the truth is much more complex than that - there are very real, and very major, benefits to corporate giants taking significant steps toward sustainability. But equally, the idea that a major piece of public art and some funding for recycling bins is enough to counteract the massive environmental impact of a company like Coke is pretty far fetched. All this got me thinking about parallels in our own lives - because while each of us is doing something to green our impact, it's almost certain that we are not doing everything we could. The question is, should we?
Take my own life, for example. I've moved to the country to keep bees, grow mushrooms and compost on a massive scale - yet my rural green living has a large footprint. I've put up solar panels but am only just getting a clothes line. I'm learning how to use a solar cooker, but I still eat some meat. So far, so obvious - no matter what we do, there will always be more that we could do.

But that's not really what's got me thinking - what I've been thinking about is should we do all we can do. It's clear to me that I could slash my own carbon footprint by, for example, moving into a yurt, becoming a raw food vegan, or pledging to never visit my family in the UK ever again. And presumably, the more folks that took pledges like this, the closer we'd get to sustainability. And yet it seems futile - because the further I went down this road, the less chance there would be of others following. And unless we all adopt green living, then there is little hope for sustainability to ever become, well, sustainable. (I see little hope for a hardcore of greenies saving enough emissions to offset the consequences of 'business as usual' for the rest of us.)

I know from my own life that the very real and significant steps I have taken toward greening my impact have awakened interest in friends, family and acquaintances who have in turn made their own small steps toward green living. But I also know that my own efforts - be that peeing outside, practicing the selective flush, or taking a navy shower - have been heavily influenced by the more hardcore greenies I know that are living in the woods, building their own straw-bale houses or pledging to never fly again.

So, this might be a typically sit-on-the-fence conclusion, but it seems to me we need the hardcore tree dwellers AND the Prius-driving recyclers. We need the anarchosyndicalist anti-capitalists AND the CSR gurus. The more we can see the green movement as an ecosystem of different actors, and not as a collection of 'rights' and 'wrongs', the more chance we have of creating lasting, significant and collective change. Now we've just got to figure out how to make it happen fast enough...

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