Buying Green & Good Intentions Won't Even Slow Climate Change Down


Photo: Capitan Giona via Flickr/CC BY-SA

And here comes an economist from the Environmental Defense Fund writing in the New York Times with a message that 95% of devoted "green" lifestyle-livers won't want to hear: Your ethical consumer spending habits, your Prius-driving, your organic diet curation, your diligent efforts to dial down the A/C -- none of that is making even a teeny tiny dent in addressing climate change or the biodiversity crises wracking our fragile world. In the grand scheme of things, you may as well be doing nothing at all.

But ...First, the Times:

"YOU reduce, reuse and recycle. You turn down plastic and paper. You avoid out-of-season grapes. You do all the right things. Good.

Just know that it won't save the tuna, protect the rain forest or stop global warming. The changes necessary are so large and profound that they are beyond the reach of individual action."

But ... but ... but ...

I know! I know: I don't own a car. I ride my bike. I make sure not to buy GMO foods or unsustainable fish. But here's what all that does for the environment, in toto:

[ ]

As in, nada. But here's what all that stuff does do:

It makes me feel good. (Or at least it'd make me feel good if I weren't such a perennial cynic in the first place). And, in making us feel good, it reduces our personal imperative to enact meaningful change:

If I already buy organic carrots and drive a Prius, why should I bother going to the anti-tar sands protest too? I mean, I totally have a dinner party already planned for that day (but don't worry it's all vegan), and it's, like, so much effort. Plus, protests are lame; they're soooo 60s. This is why Zizek thinks conscious capitalism is a pernicious joke.

The point the EDF is making is a sound one, a scary one, and a totally uncomfortable one: If we actually want to halt climate change, some ethical consuming ain't gonna cut it. Not even close. One way or another we need to reorganize our entire economic system so that it's in everyone's best interest to not emit greenhouse gases, to not spew pollution, to not overfish, etc. This is an almost unimaginably difficult feat, but it's one that the young people of today are going to have to tackle if they want their kids growing up in a world with a stable climate.

We need collective action -- so yes! write your Congressmen, organize your local community, demonstrate, protest (and yes, keep buying local and all that, too!) -- we just can't stop at isolated individual good deeds and pure intentions. Tick, tock!

Join me in the good green fight. Follow me on Twitter, and check out The Utopianist.
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