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July 10, 2010 11:08 PM   Subscribe

Forget Shorter Showers. Why personal change does not equal political change.
posted by mondaygreens (177 comments total) 59 users marked this as a favorite

 
interesting point, but this doesn't really offer much substance in terms of ways of effecting real political change.
and the phrase 'animal humanity' is poorly thought out
posted by es_de_bah at 11:19 PM on July 10, 2010


It took until the start of the second paragraph for me to realize that this wasn't the Onion...

I just assumed it was an article making fun of DIY hipster types

don't judge me
posted by lisawin at 11:20 PM on July 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


This is correct, and in no way discourages us from taking shorter showers before dropping in for a morning of phone-banking for the candidate who will fight for bigger change. Do both; they're compatible.
posted by gum at 11:21 PM on July 10, 2010 [16 favorites]


i engage in personal change not to change the world, but to change me. there's something to be said for refusing to be a continued part of the problem.
posted by nadawi at 11:23 PM on July 10, 2010 [85 favorites]


Ditto what nadawi said.

Several years ago when we were coming into really severe drought conditions, I made a personal change: I cut my hair for the first time in 5 years. I went from hair so long I could sit on it, to hair above my shoulders. My reason? So my showers were shorter. (Also, I donated the hair after the fact.)
posted by strixus at 11:25 PM on July 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I must be missing something here. Is there anybody suggesting that people in the US taking shorter showers will help people in Africa have more access to clean water? Is this actually something that's being said?
posted by Pants McCracky at 11:27 PM on July 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


there's something to be said for refusing to be a continued part of the problem.

Warm, self-satisfied fuzzies, mostly. Er, entirely.

Changing your personal habits can be good for you. But it's basically the same problem as with Fair Trade coffee; the problem is not that third-world farmers aren't getting enough for their goods, but rather that they're locked into a system where their economic wellbeing is dependent upon exporting their goods for sale. You can consume less and pay better, but you're still locked into a system which is exploitative and oppressive, and no amount of washing your hands will change the fact that you're wading through a sewer.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:28 PM on July 10, 2010 [76 favorites]


It's a really important point - and one that various green-washing companies, advertisers, and carbon-polluting interests are keen to obfuscate: Personal action in no way compensates for political action. It sounds counter intuitive but probably the most important thing you could do for climate change at the moment is to call up your local member/s and tell them that climate change action will be your number one vote-casting priority, and to keep doing it, and tell everybody else to as well.
posted by smoke at 11:29 PM on July 10, 2010 [21 favorites]


Take longer showers, while convincing one million other people to take shorter showers.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:30 PM on July 10, 2010 [9 favorites]


I agree with es_de_bah that there's something weird about the language of the article. The sentiment behind it, though, is one that I agree with.

It's also worth emphasizing that, whether or not taking shorter showers (for example) and agitating for political change are compatible, there ARE negative externalities to advocating for individual, consumption based "changes." Namely, if you convince someone that taking shorter showers will help to avert water wars / prevent drought and erosion etc., you run the risk of convincing them that that's ALL they need to do, when of course it's a drop in the bucket (har har).

The obvious objection is that that kind of argument makes the best the enemy of the merely better-than-before, and it that sense it can be carried too far. But the self-righteousness of the "enlightened consumer" can also be carried too far.

An analogous point: If I had to nominate someone for a contest to find out who's done the most political/economic damage to Africa, I'd go with Bono. By framing the ongoing African debt crisis as a matter of charity (something which Good People will undertake out of the kindness of their hearts) rather than as a matter of structural injustice in which resource-cursed post-colonial polities are still being fucked over by the developed world, he's not helping. He's hurting. A lot.

On preview: seconding Pope Guilty and smoke.
posted by a small part of the world at 11:33 PM on July 10, 2010 [18 favorites]


I must be missing something here. Is there anybody suggesting that people in the US taking shorter showers will help people in Africa have more access to clean water? Is this actually something that's being said?

Pants, it's being said all the time, from companies exorting you to "make a difference", to the plethora of products designed to assuage a guilty conscience, to the misdirection that implies you're doing some good for the environment (there, you can stop worrying now) if you buy this, recycle that, wear this rubber wrist band.

This doesn't invalidate these things for what they are - I do most of them myself (except for the wrist band thing, cannot not abide it), but it's a crafty piece of misdirection that vested interests are making a lot of money from.

Climate change - environmental problems in general - is a systemic problem. It needs to be - it must be - addressed systemically. As private citizens just about our only recourse to that is via our elected representatives and the ballot box.
posted by smoke at 11:34 PM on July 10, 2010 [11 favorites]


This was a really well thought-out article, but I felt the author kind of missed the point of personal choices. Each decision you make is really about the entire chain that allowed the product to be created in the first place. That waste that you're recycling is important because of everything that went into creating and distributing it.

The gross violations listed are a direct result of people (individuals) who as a group consume the goods that corporations produce. We demand our store shelves to be stocked, so a freight industry built on diesel guzzling 18-wheelers makes it so. We want food, so agricultural industries water their millions or acres of crops.

He sort of alludes to the problem in this paragraph: [...] acting decisively to stop the industrial economy, is very scary for a number of reasons, including but not restricted to the fact that we’d lose some of the luxuries (like electricity) to which we’ve grown accustomed [...]

But I fail to see why he thinks small changes don't matter (which, again, are not actually that small, they're part of a production chain leading to individual consumers).
posted by spiderskull at 11:34 PM on July 10, 2010 [7 favorites]


this argument comes up about vegetarianism a lot. "even if you stop eating meat, all the problems of the country being too dependent on meat eating keep happening" - yeah, of course. but, i also don't rape and murder people even though i understand that in no way stops rape and murder on a global scale. it might be minuscule to you, you might think i only get warm fuzzies, but i still think there's something to be said for living a life i'm proud of in the end.
posted by nadawi at 11:36 PM on July 10, 2010 [21 favorites]


People don't abstain from raping and killing with the expectation that doing so is somehow world-transforming. Not all of our choices- to act or not act, to do or not do- are made for the same reasons or using the same principles or measures.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:43 PM on July 10, 2010 [9 favorites]


It sounds counter intuitive but probably the most important thing you could do for climate change at the moment is to call up your local member/s and tell them that climate change action will be your number one vote-casting priority, and to keep doing it, and tell everybody else to as well.

Question: I can't vote - I'm ineligible to vote in the country I'm resident in since I'm not a citizen. I can't even vote in my country of birth for the same reason. The only country I could vote in is a country whose politics are often in shambles and which I'm not familiar enough with to really give an informed vote.

What can people like me do?

I have tried to do the local-member-campaigning about issues that affect me (such as the constant changes and unfairness of migration laws in Australia), but since I am non-voting I suspect my voice counts for zilch. Never mind that I still pay taxes but can't get any social services and so on (but that's another rant). I also try to educate my citizen friends about the issues, but since it doesn't effect them so much they don't quite know what to do.

Is there anything I can do to create change politically, since I can't put my vote on the line?
posted by divabat at 11:43 PM on July 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think nadawi's is the best possible argument for why individual choices still matter (briefly, that one ought to want to lead a life that is morally praiseworthy by one's own lights), and of course, they do; the question raised by the issue is where the threshold is: what's morally required, and what's supererogatory (going beyond what's morally required)? An answer that is usually not even considered when that question is asked is something like "mobilizing/participating in political organizing." Instead, it often gets framed entirely in terms of what You, the Consumer, can do to Help the World by buying shinier Eco-Products.
posted by a small part of the world at 11:44 PM on July 10, 2010


nadawi, I take your point, terse as it was. You'll note that at the very outset (and at the end), the author likens the environmental crisis to "Nazi Germany, Tsarist Russia, antebellum United States" - so his entire argument works within that comparison. Whether it's a valid comparison is a different debate, and one that I think is also very relevant here, but if you accept it, then personal change is clearly not a sufficient or even appropriate response. (On preview: this is also why your comparison to vegetarianism doesn't work as a counter-argument; he's simply not talking about changing for those kind of reasons but about a global crisis.)

es_de_bah, note that Orion is, it says on top, an environmental magazine that deals with ethics and values. (It's also entirely reader-supported, FWIW.) I think this particular essay is intended to function more as an argument to rethink our rationalizations, even though it's framed as a call to arms. That's just my opinion though; that's why I posted it here, to see what others think.

So if we do accept the premise, maybe we can even use this forum to brainstorm what real political change might look like?
posted by mondaygreens at 11:46 PM on July 10, 2010


Is this one of those articles that is supposed to make people feel good about not giving a fuck?
posted by pracowity at 11:47 PM on July 10, 2010 [7 favorites]


From the article: Even if every person in the United States did everything the movie suggested, U.S. carbon emissions would fall by only 22 percent. Scientific consensus is that emissions must be reduced by at least 75 percent worldwide.

But isn't 22% a good start towards 75%?
posted by IndigoRain at 11:47 PM on July 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


I honestly hated this article. Our industrial society is pretty much all of what makes life so good in this modern age. The very computer you use to read his article and he used to write and post it would be not even close to possible without our industrial society. I think the key to stopping global warming is to use our innovation and industry to stop it, not kill our innovation and industry. Without our industrial society you are condemning most of the 6 billion people on earth to death through starvation, because industrial scale farming is the only way to produce enough food to feed everyone. This isn't even factoring in the massive benefits of hospitals and medicines, again none of which would exist. I for one don't want to spend my time doing backbreaking labor on an "organic" farm before dying at the age of 40 because I caught the flu.
posted by drethelin at 11:54 PM on July 10, 2010 [34 favorites]


Yeah, just because political change is more important, it doesn't invalidate personal change.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 11:58 PM on July 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


Is there anything I can do to create change politically, since I can't put my vote on the line?

Write em anyway, Divabat, trust me: MPs will have no idea in whether you're registered or not.

I know a letter/email seems like a pathetic offering in the face of something so incredibly dangerous, urgent, and all-encompassing, but to be honest, a lot of our other "choices" seem just as miniscule, and no one with the power to effect real change will even know about them.

Example: unplugging your phone charger save you about as much energy of running your car for one second. The carbon equivalent of a gallon of gasoline, gives you enough energy to leave your phone plugged in for 21 years.

I say this not to abrogate personal responsibility, but to highlight its limitations. Sadly, I think we live in a world where individualism is prioritised - dare I say fetishised? - in most if not all respects. It is the penicillin to modern problems, and individual consumption a valid - if not the best - method of self expression, politically and also socially. Thus our democratic priorities are best expressed through shopping choices etc.

Facing the threat of climate change, we are reaching the limit of that belief, but it's being hidden from us.
posted by smoke at 11:58 PM on July 10, 2010 [17 favorites]


But isn't 22% a good start towards 75%?

No! As always, we must let the perfect be the enemy of the good! This lets everyone off the hook except those dirty bastards who make people feel guilty about buying plastic bags full of plastic containers full of plastic containers for organizing our collections of plastic containers through the ages!
posted by pracowity at 12:00 AM on July 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


I was going to paste this excerpt into the original post, then didn't, so here goes :
I want to be clear. I’m not saying we shouldn’t live simply. I live reasonably simply myself, but I don’t pretend that not buying much (or not driving much, or not having kids) is a powerful political act, or that it’s deeply revolutionary. It’s not. Personal change doesn’t equal social change.
There is no invalidation going on here, I think. He's just arguing against conflating the two.
posted by mondaygreens at 12:03 AM on July 11, 2010 [14 favorites]


Is this one of those articles that is supposed to make people feel good about not giving a fuck?

Nailed it. This is "he'll just spend it on booze or drugs anyway" stretched out to 2000 words.
posted by drjimmy11 at 12:06 AM on July 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


pracowity: "Is this one of those articles that is supposed to make people feel good about not giving a fuck?"

No. It's about re-shifting the responsibility for change to those entities that can effect it.

But yeah, now that you mention it - not giving a fuck feels awesome!
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 12:09 AM on July 11, 2010


His compaints about industry and agriculture ignore the fact that all of industry and ag goes to serving consumers who if they made the personal choice to go vegetarian or consume less will directly effect the percentage of resouces consumed by these resource hogs.

Also pretty sure that if southern California didn't have low water toilets, water restricted shower heads, and the like we would be in permanent drought conditions, and that golf courses would be consuming a lot less of the total.

Moving to solar energy in the long run will mean the grid will be supplied by renewables and the energy needed to build a new panel will come from solar energy. Don't know if the rare elements in solar panels can be recycled but they are mostly silicon at this point....
posted by dibblda at 12:09 AM on July 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I honestly hated this article.

The remainder of your comment is against a straw man, not the content of the article. First of all, he doesn't propose any detailed call to action, let alone the one you hastily assume, which seems to be "destroy our industrial society". What is being suggested -- uselessly vaguely really -- is that we do not accept the status quo and attack exploitative and disproprtionately destructive mechanisms which profit only the very few a the cost of everything else. You may choose to believe that all that is part and parcel with "the industrial society" that confers all good things and that you can't have one without the other, but really you're begging the question from start to finish, and to put it mildly, you've got your work cut out for you proving it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:09 AM on July 11, 2010 [8 favorites]


I must be missing something here. Is there anybody suggesting that people in the US taking shorter showers will help people in Africa have more access to clean water? Is this actually something that's being said?

Yeah that whole argument is stupid. Taking shorter showers helps with drought conditions locally or regionally and also with decreasing the amount of gray water in the system, helping our aging water treatment infrastructure cope a bit longer. It's about saving the delta smelt in northern CA or the few remaining steelhead in Santa Barbara or not having to dam the last free flowing river in your state or whatever your local water infrastructure problem is, not about providing improved access to clean water on the other side of the globe. I've been involved in water issues for the better part of a decade and I've never heard anyone selling it as such.

And it does help. Of course it does. Getting rid of all the f'ing golf courses in the desert and the acres of suburban lawns would help a lot more of course.
posted by fshgrl at 12:10 AM on July 11, 2010 [8 favorites]


I like the idea of personal change (and do it myself) but often it seems to be just another lifestyle choice, made to sell stuff to people in another demographic that might not buy the original stuff.

Like maybe I don't want to swap my 4WD for an environmentally friendlier car, maybe I just don't want a shagging car. And if I could be spared sitting in self righteously local-organic-produce cafes with other smug bastards like me ever again, I would be very deeply grateful.

Offer also applies to dinner parties that invariably turn into how wonderfully non-racist we all happen to be.

/self-hating leftie
posted by shinybaum at 12:18 AM on July 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


First of all, he doesn't propose any detailed call to action, let alone the one you hastily assume, which seems to be "destroy our industrial society".

I dunno--when he characterized electricity as a "luxury" we would lose in order to save the planet, that pretty much implied the destruction of our industrial society.

quote from article: ...acting decisively to stop the industrial economy, is very scary for a number of reasons, including but not restricted to the fact that we’d lose some of the luxuries (like electricity) to which we’ve grown accustomed
posted by not that girl at 12:23 AM on July 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


divabat, don't discount talking to your citizen friends about the issues that affect you. They might not know what to do now, but if and when the opportunity presents itself - as in choosing between two representatives who feel differently about those issues - your voice will count.

You don't have to tell them to go and do something about it; just talking about how it affects you will most likely make this remote issue much more real for them. Most political issues are remote... until they aren't.

Also, what smoke said.
posted by mondaygreens at 12:28 AM on July 11, 2010


Hey look, it's Derrick Jensen. I've read a couple or three of his books. I did a lot of yelling at the page.

Jensen is obviously a smart guy and a pretty ok writer, but what I think this article may not make entirely clear is that he's serious (or at least would like us to think that he's serious) about that whole we-should-just-ditch-industrial-civilization thing.
The fourth problem is that the endpoint of the logic behind simple living as a political act is suicide.
Jensen's intellectual problem, the way I read it, is pretty much that this the endpoint of the logic of his entire position. Also, he spends a lot of time letting you know how much he hates science and technology.
posted by brennen at 12:31 AM on July 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


I liked the article. But I get frustrated with almost every conversation about saving the world when nobody seems to address the issue of adding/netting 70 million more people to the planet, every year.
posted by l2p at 12:36 AM on July 11, 2010 [8 favorites]


Ah, brennen, his Wikipedia entry is very interesting; thanks for the heads up! I could definitely read anarchism in the article; missed the "primitivism" though. I think I'll pick up one of his books... any recommendations?
posted by mondaygreens at 12:37 AM on July 11, 2010


The situation is far grimmer than the article implies.

Without prior limits on population growth, almost all purely personal acts of conservation will only lead to further development and greater ultimate demand for limited resources of fresh water, living space, food, farmland and clean air.

City decreases garbage generated by 20%? Great! Now we can increase population by 25% without worrying about new landfills!

I believe conservation programs in general are implemented by cities mainly to foster growth and development, but that's not how they're sold to the populace.
posted by jamjam at 12:41 AM on July 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


12p, there are a shitload of people out there working full time, possibly even over time some of them, to reduce that figure. Birth control is strongly tied to women's rights and gender equity in general though and right now women's rights are taking a bit of a beating world wide. Support women's rights and access to health care and most importantly education and make less people. Easy.
posted by fshgrl at 12:42 AM on July 11, 2010 [12 favorites]


I liked the article. But I get frustrated with almost every conversation about saving the world when nobody seems to address the issue of adding/netting 70 million more people to the planet, every year.

see, yet another personal choice i've made that can apparently only net me warm fuzzies - i'm not reproducing even though my father and his siblings produced 35 children.
posted by nadawi at 12:46 AM on July 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I believe conservation programs in general are implemented by cities mainly to foster growth and development, but that's not how they're sold to the populace

As someone involved in "conservation program" I assure you gentle MeFitess that this sentiment is utter horseshit. Please do not listen to it. Conservation programs are started by pragmatic people who think the world is a mad place and are trying to instill some rationality to it in whatever small way they can. Also, they tend to be right so you should probably listen to them and not to hyperbolic journalists.

I hate the self-involved attitude that this article portrays and that I increasingly see in real life as well. I will sum it up as: well if I make a sacrifice and the world doesn't immediately change in acknowledgement of it then I really don't know why I even bother. Screw you world!

It's silly.
posted by fshgrl at 12:48 AM on July 11, 2010 [10 favorites]


but what I think this article may not make entirely clear is that he's serious (or at least would like us to think that he's serious) about that whole we-should-just-ditch-industrial-civilization thing.

Yeah, it got by me, and I retract that part of my earlier comment; sorry, drethelin. It's a pity that an article based on a genuinely useful observation carries this kind of poison pill. But it does appear that he's on record as not believing that we will voluntarily optimize our technological lifestyle down to sustainable levels, which leaves him with this scorched-earth approach.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:51 AM on July 11, 2010


At this point, it should be pretty easy to recognize that every action involving the industrial economy is destructive

I am completely with drethelin, due to the above statement (from the article). I suppose we could just quit being industrial and all, but have you ever thought about how much sheer, raw talent it takes to come up with a skyscraper (that actually limits urban sprawl), or an internal combustion engine (that greatly reduced diseases spread by livestock?)

It's about saving the delta smelt in northern CA or the few remaining steelhead in Santa Barbara

We have zillions of steelhead here. We could actually send you some to replenish your stocks, as ours are getting a tad out of hand. I would never have known they were fading away, had I not read this.
posted by deep thought sunstar at 1:03 AM on July 11, 2010


The point of the article is that all the energy around doing something about the environment is being wasted doing effectively nothing about the environment.

It's as if we were really unhappy with the quality of our schools, so we passed a law with a completely unfunded mandate that took money away from the schools that needed money the most.
posted by effugas at 1:04 AM on July 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


Put another way:

"We need to do something.
This is something.
Therefore we most do this."
posted by effugas at 1:05 AM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fshegrl if that's what you're getting from the article, you are completely misreading it. I will requote mondaygreens, quoting the article:

He is not judging the choice, nor is he advocating against. He is highlighting the discrepancy involved between personal change - specifically personal change as typified by consumerism - and political action.

It sucks, but individual action - for most of us, most of the time - is meaningless in the context of climate change. It's not enough to say if everybody changed, or every little bit helps. Our entire political and democratic foundation is built around the notion that everybody doesn't have to change - except when the law compels them to. The only way we can change the law is through political action of one stripe or another.

Shifting your buying habits - however commendable, (and no one is saying not to change said habits) - is ineffectual when dealing with a problem of this magnitude.

Moreover - and crucially - it continues to lock citizens like you or I into a discourse where our political agency is marginalised and neutered. Where its expression is best effected through consumption and by private means rather than public. There is nothing wrong in sluicing political agency through personal channels - indeed, we would be hard-pressed not to - but it ignores the efficacy of doing so, and gives us an illusion of control that we do not possess.

Climate change and the tepid legislative response to it should illustrate to us how extensively our political system has been co-opted and subverted by private, capitalist, consumerist interests that care not a whit for humanity. Instead, we are increasingly viewing those interests as our only channel of communication to _our own_ political infrastructure! We are communicating through the very interests and system that is explicitly amoral and largely working against the action that humanity needs to survive.

That's fucking depressing, man.
posted by smoke at 1:09 AM on July 11, 2010 [22 favorites]


I believe that at certain moments, for specific areas of change (water was a poor example), personal change is often a powerful way to "confront and take down [systems of oppressive power]" as Jensen says.

- The sugar boycott demonstrated that public opinion was behind abolition. It was a precursor to Fairtrade.

- EnergyStar certifies efficient appliances used by business and homes. When consumers buy EnergyStar, companies are given incentives to improve the efficiency of their products. In this case, Jensen's distinction between business and homes is not wholly relevant.

- Spinning one's own clothes as part of Swadeshi in colonial India built an awareness of the trade situation as well as reducing dependence on the UK.

- Joining a union, and following the personal purchasing choices decided by the union, are very political.

Also, he cites The Good War, but conveniently forgets rationing.

Also, some people believe that there is more good to be had in the world than simple utilitarian or political good. For such people, personal change is profound and revolutionary in ways which keep us inspired. For such people, political freedom is about more than ending bad things; it's also a thing of hope.
posted by honest knave at 1:16 AM on July 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


smoke and mondaygreens: considering none of the available candidates actually give a crap about the particular issues that affect me directly, despite many people (not just me) campaigning, it's not like even my citizen friends have any option for change. When even the Greens delve into xenophobia, you're in trouble.
posted by divabat at 1:18 AM on July 11, 2010


That personal responsibility only won't work is something I bring up all the time in threads. Although there are a couple of things that are effective. Buying a hybrid car, putting up solar panels, redoing insulation and retrofitting your house, taking public transport (and advocating it's creation!). Basically anything that makes sense economically, and doing those things make it easier and more practical for other people do them too, because more companies will come online to supply them, production gets more efficient and prices go down.

But doing things like chopping your own wood, taking shorter showers or the other kinds of nonsense people do aren't really about making the world a better place, they're about vanity, frankly. They're about feeling superior to other people, so they can turn up their noses while the world burns and say "it's not my fault".

And even worse, in my view these people are actually impediments to progress. By sacrificing for no reason, they create an impression that life in a post-carbon economy is going to SUUUCK. People think the government is going to force everyone to live like them, when that's way off.

The truth? How about not needing to drive to work and getting to stay home and telecommute instead? How about having solar panels on your roof and not having to pay for electricity during the day (when most electricity is used to power air conditioners) How about having a plug in hybrid car that accelerates really quickly and hardly costs anything to drive, either in gas or maintence?

In a lot of ways, the future can be better. People might see slightly higher power bills for a while, due to cap and trade or a carbon tax, but as we switch over to clean energy, the prices will get lower.

However by the end of the article he kind of goes off the rails.
It's a really important point - and one that various green-washing companies, advertisers, and carbon-polluting interests are keen to obfuscate: Personal action in no way compensates for political action.
Exactly.
You'll note that at the very outset (and at the end), the author likens the environmental crisis to "Nazi Germany, Tsarist Russia, antebellum United States" - so his entire argument works within that comparison. Whether it's a valid comparison is a different debate,,
Actually if I remember correctly, Abolitionists would do things like advocate people not wear cotton and things like that. It obviously didn't work.
I honestly hated this article. Our industrial society is pretty much all of what makes life so good in this modern age. The very computer you use to read his article and he used to write and post it would be not even close to possible without our industrial society.
Yeah, that part of the article was pretty stupid. Yes, photovoltaics require mining, but farming requires tearing up trees and natural habitats and whatnot. Returning to an agrarian society is completely impractical.
Is this one of those articles that is supposed to make people feel good about not giving a fuck?
The author seems to think we need to smash the industrial system and have everyone return to the farms. So I think, kinda, no.
The remainder of your comment is against a straw man, not the content of the article. First of all, he doesn't propose any detailed call to action, let alone the one you hastily assume, which seems to be "destroy our industrial society". What is being suggested -- uselessly vaguely really -- is that we do not accept the status quo and attack exploitative and disproprtionately destructive mechanisms which profit only the very few a the cost of everything else.
Here's what he said:
but once again we really lose because industrial civilization is still killing the planet, which means everyone still loses. The third option, acting decisively to stop the industrial economy, is very scary for a number of reasons, including but not restricted to the fact that we’d lose some of the luxuries (like electricity) to which we’ve grown accustomed, and the fact that those in power might try to kill us if we seriously impede their ability to exploit the world—none of which alters the fact that it’s a better option than a dead planet. Any option is a better option than a dead planet.
...
Simple living as a political act consists solely of harm reduction, ignoring the fact that humans can help the Earth as well as harm it. We can rehabilitate streams, we can get rid of noxious invasives, we can remove dams, we can disrupt a political system tilted toward the rich as well as an extractive economic system, we can destroy the industrial economy that is destroying the real, physical world.
posted by delmoi at 1:19 AM on July 11, 2010 [16 favorites]


Also, notice at the end how Jensen conflates the issue of climate change with the issue of oppression- saying that since personal change is ineffective against climate change, it necessarily must be ineffective against oppression. Throw in some "brave activists who lived through the difficult times" and it's case complete.
posted by honest knave at 1:21 AM on July 11, 2010



... Support women's rights and access to health care and most importantly education and make less people. Easy


I'd love to see this happen. But since the zero-population-growth movement started in the late 60s, we've added over 3 billion people to the planet. As we're looming on 7 billion now, is it that unrealistic of me to assume this conversation has started a bit too late?

On a personal note, I've no guilt about long showers or getting 12 MPG. I've got no kids and had a vasectomy. I will never create offspring that will consume, pollute, leave a carbon footprint, or be a part of this particular problem.
posted by l2p at 1:21 AM on July 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


But you and your 12 MPG will be a part of the problem until you voluntarily change or make the big change.
posted by pracowity at 1:32 AM on July 11, 2010


Even if every person in the United States did everything the movie suggested, U.S. carbon emissions would fall by only 22 percent

...sure, as a direct result. And that would indeed be a good start. Because if every person in the US were to be seen to be doing that - if that were actually the public mood - there would be knock-on effects. It would be much harder to make a living by manufacturing stuff in an environmentally damaging way, for a start; organizations that embraced cleaner, greener ways to operate than their competition would win.

But the fact remains that most people are not at all interested in deliberately reducing their own comfort in order to "save the planet". Most people are more interested in saving money. So what we need to do is make energy and excess water expensive, and let the market do what it does best.

If I were Boss of the Industrialized World, here's what my energy and water policy would look like:

1. It would be illegal for vendors to split the cost of providing energy and water into a fixed recurring service provision charge plus a price per kilowatt-hour of electricity or cubic metre of water or natural gas. Instead, the cost of infrastructure provision and maintenance would be required to be factored into the per-kWh or per-m3 charge, in much the same way as currently happens for retailed transportation fuels.

2. It would be illegal for any given organization to supply different customers at different rates for the same product: if Neighborhood Water has pipes running to your house as well as to the Coca-Cola Corporation's factory two blocks away, then you and CCC should both be entitled to purchase potable water from them at the same price per cubic metre.

3. Non-potable, irrigation-grade water should be reticulated through a second supply network in every town and city, and made available to industry and households at the same price per cubic metre that agribusiness pays for it.

4. Since all of these changes would increase the cost of food and industrial production somewhat, and since producers would have no choice but to pass those increases on to their customers, they would hurt low-income households. To compensate for that, I'd also bung on a per-kWh and per-m3 tax, and use the proceeds to fund direct, unconditional, non-means-tested, equal payments to every citizen who cares to contact the tax office and sign up for them. The tax rate would be set at whatever level is necessary to prevent cost-of-living increases for households with incomes in the bottom decile.

The effect of these changes would be to give every person and corporation a far stronger financial incentive than they currently have to increase their energy and water efficiency. Over time, the reduction of waste inherent in any such efficiency increase would benefit everybody.
posted by flabdablet at 1:38 AM on July 11, 2010


l2p: I've got no kids and had a vasectomy. I will never create offspring that will consume, pollute, leave a carbon footprint...

....because obviously the point of the article is to use up all of later generations (real or imagined) natural wealth right now!
posted by dongolier at 1:43 AM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd love to see this happen. But since the zero-population-growth movement started in the late 60s, we've added over 3 billion people to the planet. As we're looming on 7 billion now, is it that unrealistic of me to assume this conversation has started a bit too late?

Most of whom have been in the third world. Look at birth rates in Europe. Economic activity = less kids.


If I were Boss of the Industrialized World, here's what my energy and water policy would look like:

Most of those have to do with water, which is only a problem in some areas, but not others. Unfortunately this idea that we have a certain "amount" of water which we are "running out of" is way off. What actually happens is that some areas don't have much water flowing into them, and therefore if too much is used, you have a drought until more water flows in. in those cases it makes sense to do things like put a brick in your toilet or take shorter showers. But it really has nothing to do with the "environment" (which at that point is already going to have all the water sucked out of it) and only about making sure each person or industry has all the water it needs for whatever it's doing.

On the other hand, in a place like NYC, with plenty of water, doing those things would be like putting your arm in a sling, if it it wasn't broken.

---

With respect to pricing on energy, being energy efficient will never be a priority unless the costs are high enough to make it matter. It doesn't mater how the costs are distributed. That's we need a carbon tax or a cap and trade system.
posted by delmoi at 2:03 AM on July 11, 2010


"Is this one of those articles that is supposed to make people feel good about not giving a fuck?"

After ten years of reading Metafilter, why am I fucking surprised by this bullshit question?
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 2:03 AM on July 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


The choice not to reproduce is what amounts to a temporal carbon-based lifeform offset. If you don't have kids, your impact on natural resources is, even over the course of your life, without even talking about before you die, much smaller than that of someone who does have kids unless they're living at Amish levels of resource consumption.

Not having a child (who will go on to not have children, etc) is a massively conservation-friendly choice. And, if you're not supportive of that, you are effectively saying, "Yeah, it's cold three minute showers, grubbing for turnips, and living in abandoned buses is the only hairshirt ecostyle that will be sufficiently grovelicious enough to win Gaia's blessing."

Trying to sell people on the idea that they should be ashamed to be alive, and must therefore live as if every step upon the earth crushes the screaming tiny lives of earthworms and hopeful sprigs of grass will probably not be an effective strategy over the long haul. Guilt will go only so far with most people, after which you trigger the oppositional defiant "Fuck it, I will never be able to be green enough to pass, so I am just not going to bother with this shit" level.

So, good on you, if you have decided that your contribution is not having kids, or not burning all of those tires in your backyard, or buying local, because at least you tried.
posted by adipocere at 2:06 AM on July 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


l2p: First off: bravo! It has long seemed to me that for people who value minimizing the resource consumption they're personally responsible for, there's one choice that absolutely dwarfs all the others, which is this: do I choose to make that consumption stop when I do, or do I choose to perpetuate it by creating an unknowable number of descendants?

Having, like you, chosen not to reproduce, I also enjoy taking long and indulgent hot showers. But let me tweak your guilt gland just a little :-)

I've got a solar heat collector on my roof that provides about 80% of the heat that goes into my hot water each year, and the grey water from the shower goes straight outside into the garden; it's pretty much all the watering the garden ever gets. So in overall water and energy consumption terms, my fifteen minute shower is equivalent to my next door neighbor's three minute one.

I also drive a small car that only eats about five litres per hundred kilometres. If I need a bigger car (which happens maybe once or twice a year) I'll hire one - overall, I'm paying far less for fuel + occasional car hire than I would be paying for fuel if my car used as much as yours.

I don't feel even slightly deprived of luxury, and I really do enjoy feeling like I'm wasting fewer resources than most of the people in my community, let alone their descendants (hell, the teenager next door takes longer showers than I do, and they don't have solar hot water!) - especially since it's costing me less to do that.

So, you've done well; but why not enjoy doing better still?
posted by flabdablet at 2:08 AM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Interesting that there (seems) to be no mention of the concept of 'tipping points' in the discussion here. When 1% of a population does something, it probably passes un-noticed. When 2% do it ... so what. But at some point ... and this is well short of a majority ... something clicks, and the new behaviour becomes the 'norm'.

In other words, yes, every voice can count ...
posted by woodblock100 at 2:09 AM on July 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


Is there anything I can do to create change politically, since I can't put my vote on the line?

Obviously, you can apply for citizenship and then get involved, but assuming you don't want to or can't (yet?) get citizenship, there are other things you can do.

Join a political party. It's possible that some parties will only let you join if you're on the electoral roll. I assume this could be the case for reasons to do with branch stacking rather than for expressly excluding non-citizens, but you'd have to check the rules of whichever party you were thinking of influencing.

Get involved as a local (party) activist. People might find this a bit strange (I've campaigned for a party I'm not a member of and nobody said anything, so I'd say they probably won't care), but if they know your situation I doubt they'd object. If you're regularly involved in leafleting, handing out how to vote cards, stuffing envelopes, etc, then you'll find you have a voice that people will listen to in a way that registered voter members who only turn up for AGMs to shore up their particular faction don't get listened to. (Their faction will be respected of course, but I mean as an individual you'll be listened to more). You could find that you have regular conversations with your local MP (or at least your local candidate) that lobbyists would kill for.

Ask about community related activities the local branch provides or contributes to. Again, this will vary according to which party you're interested in, but some stuff is common to all of them. If the local MP is a party member you'll find there are heaps of things to do relating to surgeries where constituents bring up issues that need to be dealt with. These will usually need people with basic admin and communication skills (and lots of time) to deal with. Even if your party doesn't have the local MP there might be a local branch that has an MLA or a Councillor. If they've no local representation at all, there will still be some community work that they're involved in. Volunteers are always welcome and volunteers will get access to "important" ears that will give you much more leverage on change than most voters get.

There are also plenty of "small p" political organisations (ones other than political parties) that are desperate for volunteers. Look for one or two which best represent your main political concerns and get involved.
posted by GeckoDundee at 2:15 AM on July 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


This whole article started off wrong. The author is trying to link personal choices to political injustices which are entirely unrelated:

WOULD ANY SANE PERSON think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler

No, but it may be part of a step forward to wasting less food. It's not the be-all-end-all of solutions, but certainly a step.

or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday

No, but it may have a significant impact on methane emissions from municipal waste sites, as well as emissions from garbage collection vehicles. A small step, but part of a larger of step of an entire society living more efficiently. And if everyone composts, then that sends a signal to politicians about a cultural shift in values and awareness.


or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons,

No, but like above: small impact on environmental consequences and a more important impact on wider awareness and sending signals.

or that dancing naked around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

Nope. And it's some fruity shit, but man, if people want to dance naked around a fire who cares? It's a small exercise in freedom of religion.

Anyway - the main difference is that with environmental problems, the habits of individual consumers are actually a major part of the problem. So individual consumers making a change actually does have an impact - not just in the consumer's individual change, but what it signals to higher powers. It signals that environmentally responsible legislation will win votes. It says that more sustainable production will garner sales. Of course, political action on top of all that is also needed. It's not enough to just send the signal that a change would be accepted, you also need to actively push for it. But the two aren't mutually exclusive.

Enh - I just skimmed over more of the article and I know this guy's point of view and it's compete bullshit. News flash: industry makes shit for you and me. Since we demand what industry supplies, we are also a part of the problem. "Industry" is not some mythological beast in a far away land ruining everything for us good guys.
posted by molecicco at 2:19 AM on July 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


Most of those have to do with water

Well, I used water pricing as an example but I'd do exactly the same for electricity or natural gas pricing. What you pay should be strictly proportional to what you consume, and people who consume more (of water, or electricity, or natural gas, or transportation fuel) should be cross-subsidizing the supply infrastructure costs for people who consume less.

And yes, I did forget to mention that as well as bunging on a per-kWh or per-cubic-metre consumption tax for all energy supplies and fuels and water, I would of course bung on a carbon tax, and that the proceeds from that would also go into the universal cost-of-living-increase refund pool. In my view, a carbon tax makes much more sense than a cap-and-trade system - at least in part because it can be used to cushion the knock-on effects of increased energy costs upon those least able to afford them.

The carbon tax would be applied at point of extraction for domestically sourced fuels (wellhead or coalface) or on import for imported fuels. There are far fewer fuel extractors and importers than consumers, and the carbon content of any given fuel is very easily calculated, so doing it that way would be quite administratively efficient.
posted by flabdablet at 2:21 AM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can't vote - I'm ineligible to vote in the country I'm resident in since I'm not a citizen. I can't even vote in my country of birth for the same reason. ... What can people like me do?

I think you over-estimate the 'value' of a vote, and under-estimate the other ways that you can influence society. Voting for any particular candidate of any particular party will be effective only to the extent that your candidate will then help enact legislation in which you believe. But politicians don't create legislation out of nothing - they pretty much follow conventions and concepts that are developing out in the wider society.

Have ideas, add your voice to discussions wherever you can find them, help develop consensus for the future social norms that you wish to come into being, and you can 'change' things just as much as the people punching a ballot ...
posted by woodblock100 at 2:23 AM on July 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


flabdablet, let me tweak your guilt gland by suggesting you become a Jain. Think, your only personal possession is the broom which you use to sweep away any insects upon which you might step as you spread the word! Maybe a small cloth for your face so you do not breathe in their flying cousins.

You could always do more, but unless you want to do it as the whole puritanical "I'm more holy than you, clearly God favors me" bit, it might be more effective to encourage people to do enough.

Eco-Guilt makes me think, "Screw it, I'm going to buy an SUV, because I will never, ever be pure enough. Someone out there will always be more green than me, and they'll always nag me about it. If I am going to be a sinner, I will sin big."
posted by adipocere at 2:24 AM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


People who want to know more about where the author's coming from might find comment 28 on this page interesting... the commenter has clearly been following the author's arguments across his other work, including but not limited to his books. He's addressing other comments directly, but you might find it interesting without having to follow who said what.

(Don't want to paste it here because it's long and I don't know the rules here regarding pasting large blocks of text from elsewhere.)
posted by mondaygreens at 2:27 AM on July 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


The core point that organized political action > disorganized individual action stands.

While making individual choices is great, think of it this way:

Is it more labor/time/money efficient to try to educate a few billion people to ALL take up the same practices OR is it more (etc.) efficient to get a few thousand people to draft, enact, and enforce laws limiting the groups that use up 75%+ of the resources?
posted by yeloson at 2:41 AM on July 11, 2010


One day a year there should be a mandatory global community shower. All people would stand naked together under a million nozzles, sudsing and soaping in one great celebration of the dirty animal nature of humankind. That really would effect political change.

You may say I'm a dreamer. But I'm not the only one.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:43 AM on July 11, 2010


I think the analysis is broadly correct, but what exactly is being advocated?

the role of an activist is not to navigate systems of oppressive power with as much integrity as possible, but rather to confront and take down those systems.

Granted, calling on everyone to take shorter showers is not a real solution: but calling on everyone to overthrow the whole politico-economic system is more realistic, is it?
posted by Phanx at 2:44 AM on July 11, 2010


Also, I donated the hair after the fact.

Wait, what?
posted by cj_ at 3:09 AM on July 11, 2010


cj_ i assume she means for something like locks of love.


pope guilty - People don't abstain from raping and killing with the expectation that doing so is somehow world-transforming

that's actually my point. i don't do my "small actions" under the expectation that they're world transforming, and i would wager that most other people don't either.
posted by nadawi at 3:21 AM on July 11, 2010


Sweet, luxurious electricity. mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm
posted by fixedgear at 4:20 AM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Interesting that there (seems) to be no mention of the concept of 'tipping points' in the discussion here. When 1% of a population does something, it probably passes un-noticed. When 2% do it ... so what. But at some point ... and this is well short of a majority ... something clicks, and the new behaviour becomes the 'norm'.

Yes, that's where I think the article fails. Making a bunch of personal choices that benefit the environment may not make a significant difference directly, but if enough people adopt the attitude that they should do something, it creates a change in outlook for the population.

Take smoking, an addictive activity that used to be prevalent in the U.S. It wasn't the Surgeon General's report alone that caused smoking to decline, and it wasn't the various locational bans on it - those were a result of a change in the public's attitude. What was for a long time an accepted (if disliked, by non-smokers) public activity became something shunned and resented by enough people that most people wouldn't consider doing it. Even those already addicted were motivated by peer pressure, knowledge of the harm they were doing themselves, and the increasing cost to want to stop smoking.

If those same three levers - peer pressure, awareness of harm, and economic cost - could be brought to bear on environmental abuse, we would see major change. Some of the effort would require political effort. If we could persuade the government to stop subsidizing fossil fuels, alternative energy would be cost-competitive. Changing the public's attitude from one of apathy and denial to one of interest and participation would push the political system to move, and personal choices contribute to changing the public's attitude.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:29 AM on July 11, 2010


Well, I used water pricing as an example but I'd do exactly the same for electricity or natural gas pricing. What you pay should be strictly proportional to what you consume, and people who consume more (of water, or electricity, or natural gas, or transportation fuel) should be cross-subsidizing the supply infrastructure costs for people who consume less.

I agree that increasing the cost of electricity would encourage reduced electricity consumption - but wouldn't your plan remove the incentives to minimise supply infrastructure installation and maintainance resource consumption?

I mean, if Google is building a data centre that needs lots of electricity, they can build it near near a hydroelectric power source that would reduce the resources spent digging up roads to install extra supply infrastructure; and would reduce the resources spent maintaining that special infrastructure. Shouldn't this be encouraged?

On the other hand if you said "Oh, build your high-power data centre wherever you want, we'll hook you up no matter what the cost" the electricity company could end up running miles and miles of special infrastructure - and under your plan paying for that would mean higher bills for everyone, not just for Google.

Wouldn't it make more sense to charge people a price based on total resources consumed i.e. partly based on the amount of electricity they use, and partly based on the cost of installing and maintaining the infrastructure required to support their use?
posted by Mike1024 at 4:43 AM on July 11, 2010


Kirth, your smoking analogy is telling and more apt than you may think: 20% of the US population still smoke, and rates in the US are actually increasing. In the developing world it has been growing widely and steadily by about 3.5% a year - and this is sixty years after there was widespread irrefutable evidence it caused cancer, eighty years after German scientists first proved the link, in the face of a raft of restrictive laws, health campaigns, etc.

Cigarette companies spent billions trying to persuade us there wasn't a problem, and the very same people are now telling us climate change isn't a problem.

So, we've known it was a problem, the problem has been getting getting worse, the developing world is going to get a lot worse, the message isn't sinking in very fast despite billions of public campaigning and the demonstrable effects, millions if not billions of lives are at stake, and vested interests are spending money trying to tell us it's all okay.
...

If climate change actions follows the path of anti-smoking actions, I put it to you that we are well and truly fucked. We don't have eighty years. The limits of individual action could not be more starkly illustrated.
posted by smoke at 4:45 AM on July 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


This is complete bullshit, and it's absolutely riddled with the remains of cleverly defeated strawmen. I have never seen a more excellent demonstration of a strawman argument.

Your political voice is nearly worthless. Oil companies, concrete companies, trucking companies, coal-power-plant companies, puppy-kicking companies, they don't give a shit about you and your precious political voice. Your food budget? The car you choose to buy? The planned-obsolete appliances you purchase? Now that's something to be reckoned with.

We will NEVER legislate against climate change. It will NEVER happen, at least not until consumer choices have changed enough for it to be a feasible direction for the political-industrial machine to turn. The best we will see from the political system until then are toothless quarter measures designed to look good for the next election. If you ask me, personal consumer choices are essentially the only acts that matter.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 4:49 AM on July 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


Salvor--

You're wrong. Change will come here like it always does:

When people die.

The first major city lost to global warming will change the game. Till then...you're probably right.
posted by effugas at 4:54 AM on July 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


Pray tell, Salvor, what your solution is for the billions of people in developing countries who don't get to make meaningful consumer choices - the countries swift becoming the largest carbon emitters in the world? Do they count? Or are their actions meaningless and their countries' emissions void?

personal consumer choices are essentially the only acts that matter.

Sweet merciful jesus on a pogo stick, I cannot imagine a more moribund, horrifying world.
posted by smoke at 4:59 AM on July 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


WOULD ANY SANE PERSON think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday, or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons, or that dancing naked around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”?

Also, would any sane person think that political action would make your teeth whiter? Or that a petition could cure cancer? No! Of course not, because political action is stupid. QED. Now, wait, I'm not saying you shouldn't use political action or petitions (that is exactly what I'm saying) I'm just saying it's a myth that it would help at all. Furthermore it makes total sense that consumer choices have no effect on the industrial system - only voting does and I believe this BECAUSE I AM A CRAZY PERSON!!?!?!!

/parody

Ugh.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 5:01 AM on July 11, 2010


Pray tell, Salvor, what your solution is for the billions of people in developing countries who don't get to make meaningful consumer choices - the countries swift becoming the largest carbon emitters in the world? Do they count? Or are their actions meaningless and their countries' emissions void?

personal consumer choices are essentially the only acts that matter.

Sweet merciful jesus on a pogo stick, I cannot imagine a more moribund, horrifying world.
posted by smoke at 7:59 AM on July 11 [+] [!]


Imagine it - if you're in the US, you're living in it. I was speaking mostly about the United States - in a country like China, perhaps consumer choice is less influential.

Here's how it works: Climate change is a result of industry. Industry is a result of people buying stuff. How much clearer can it be? What am I missing here?

Yes, the government plays a part, and therefore your political voice isn't completely worthless, but at least in the United States, the government is mostly beholden to industrial interests, so it doesn't play a large role in that equation.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 5:05 AM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, in the U.S., that's actually the addictive quality of tobacco playing out. Consider that 20% is a massive reduction in smokers. Some part of the populace is going to try smoking no matter how much it's rejected. Many, if not most who try it will become addicted. Some minority of those addicted will be unable to quit, no matter how much they'd like to. Third World countries don't seem to have a public aversion to smoking, but they could develop it, and I think if they did, they would have results similar to here.

I don't think wasting the planet is actually addictive, in spite of rhetoric like "our addiction to foreign oil." We have a political bias favoring fossil fuels. That bias is an intentional result of huge long-term investment in Congress by coal and oil companies. We cannot effectively counter their money with our money, but if the public's attitude toward fossil fuels becomes strong enough, Congress will change its bias. There needs to be more refutation of misinformation lke, for instance, that fossil-burning electricity production is more cost-efficient than alternative-produced electricity production.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:06 AM on July 11, 2010


I used to be firmly in the camp that used 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth as a sort of eco-puritan's bible, after growing up with back-to-the-land parents who recycled back when recycling meant separating all of our stuff by category, flattening all the cans, baling everything up, and stuffing the entire interior of our maroon and silver Suburban to drive fifty miles. Back then, when people would visit and see our strange collection of labeled trash cans, you had to explain what you were doing and why you were doing it, and we were innocent enough to think that it was a change that amounted to something instead of just another reason why my family were seen as a bit odd.

I'm not in that camp now, but I don't begrudge it its excesses. It's just that, well, none of those things were actually accomplishing anything. I'm not certain, in any way, that our sterling example of recycling changed a lot of minds, and I am pretty sure that my teenaged Bush-esque "yer either with the planet or against it" moralism probably just created the association of recycling=sanctimonious for a lot of people, and turned them off. When recycling became a serious national force, it was because people convinced corporations and governments, with reams of facts, figures, and well-chosen statistics, that recycling was financially viable and profitable. Did one movement feed the other? Probably, but I'm not sure it worked as well as we'd like to claim, in retrospect.

See, I feel good about myself when I pass Exxon-Mobil stations and buy my gas sometwhere else, because E-M is the only large corporation ever to have taken away domestic partner benefits from their employees, but my boycott means absolutely nothing to the company. It's changing nothing. I've written letters, convinced a few other people, and bought elsewhere, but it doesn't amount to anything significant beyond playing into the mythology of grassroots action.

I think we need to take our inspiration from crazy right-wing religious idiots more often, because they've really got this thing down in a way that those of us on the other side don't. Look at the school board in any given community, and how it's stacked with conservatives and religious folks (and if you don't think yours is, what with the blue state you live in and the hip, smart district you're in, and…well, don't take my word for it—investigate). Those people get it, and that's why they have such disproportionate power in the country. All the moral examples in the world aren't half as effective as weaseling your way into a position where you can call the shots.

The thing is, this isn't about overthrowing the system—it's about the leveraging of your influence, and being completely coherent, informed, and realistic about what you can and can't do. I spent twenty years squinting in the dim yellow glow of my apartment, lit by early CFLs that did NOT equal the wattage they claimed, but it was all completely wasted effort by comparison to my project to revise the lighting at the museum for which I was a facility manager. Armed with a spreadsheet, financial projections, data on ecological impact and architectural utility, I changed out enough lighting to save around thirty thousand watts during the museum's open hours. It was an expensive changeover, and I had to work hard to make my case, but the system's in place and still going a year after I've moved on to another facility.

My twenty squinty years at home, on the other hand? Saved sixty or seventy watts, if that, for far less time each day, and gave me headaches and made me read less. Now I've got a lamp with a great big wasteful bulb for reading, and CFLs in the lights that are just for navigation.

The flip side of this is that we should be more concerned about being advocates for an argument for engaged, luxurious living (albeit a DIY, hands-dirty, lusty-living sort of luxury), rather than being prim, upright moral exemplars.

I grow my own vegetables, not because I'm all weepy for the planet or because I think it actually has a global impact, but rather because my tomatoes are to fucking die for. I keep bees, not because I'm saving the planet from extinction and colony collapse, but because I just like bees, and I love fresh honey, fed from tree flowers, and the smell of the hive and the pleasure of sitting in a chair, watching my girls coming and going on a hot summer day. I ride a scooter, not because I'm better than all those awful people who ride SUVs, but because I love it, and the zippy, wild, fun of it. The 72 miles per gallon are just more icing on the cake. There are definite ecological benefits to all these things, but what makes them easy is that they're not poor substitutes for something else.

It just seems like we need to take a more measured approach than a conspicuous "I'm saving the planet by NOT doing what YOU'RE doing." It's not changing minds to see funless, angry (look at the photos of an environmental protest, sometime), self-righteous people denying themselves "luxuries." Showing the other side, and living joyous, fulfilling lives that defy the sense of deprivation that people associate with conservation, all while we keep our eyes open for opportunities when we can execute power, just seems better to me, but I offer that with a large, bristly grain of salt.
posted by sonascope at 5:07 AM on July 11, 2010 [44 favorites]


That was in response to smoke's comment.

Typed too slowly.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:07 AM on July 11, 2010


Now you too can live your life like an asshole and blame all the world's troubles on The Man! And here's how!
posted by belvidere at 5:10 AM on July 11, 2010


I suppose it makes sense to a conservationist, but I can't help but feel that people refusing to have children out of political motivations are evolution's ultimate chumps. Nature abhors a vacuum, and the Asian producer countries will happily ship to Nigeria or Brazil, for the enjoyment of children there, whatever Americans and Europeans will forgo.
posted by MattD at 5:13 AM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


The greenwash corporate "we're all in this together" adverts really infuriate me. "Everyone's responsible" is, in that context, just another way of saying "no one's responsible" or, more pertinently, "we're not responsible, don't look at us!" It's like having E-On turn around and say "you want us to phase out our coal plants and post a timetable for shifting to 100% renewable provision? Is that your porch light on? Well, I guess no one's perfect. Neener neener neener."
posted by WPW at 5:13 AM on July 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Cigarette companies spent billions trying to persuade us there wasn't a problem, and the very same people are now telling us climate change isn't a problem.

I don't think this is a sound analogy. I smoke, and it's not because I don't know it's bad for me. I do not feel a moral imperative to quit smoking, as I am pretty sure it is not destroying the world. Harm to myself is my own business, thank you.

i assume she means for something like locks of love

Oh, that's neat. That's not even something I'd consider.
posted by cj_ at 5:14 AM on July 11, 2010


Krith, my point still stands: "global consumption of cigarettes has been rising steadily since manufactured cigarettes were introduced at the beginning of the 20th century." (pdf, WHO).

Looking at the US in isolation is misleading. We don't have time to wait for everyone to catch up, and getting from 80% to 20% carbon emissions is going to be a lot harder than quitting cigarettes, logistically speaking. Addiction is really neither here nor there, though I note you're still framing the issue in terms of individuals - this problem is so much bigger than that.
posted by smoke at 5:21 AM on July 11, 2010


Personal change vs political change: I think it takes a bit of both doesn't it?

Our choices as consumers do make a difference - because without consumers, none of this industry/corporation stuff would be happening. So there are valid reasons for changing personal behaviour. And some would argue that these everyday choices are actually more significant than a vote every four or five years for some compromised politician whose actions are inevitably confined by established interests. On the other hand, its easy to take the personal choice thing too far and waste lots of personal energy doing questionable things, as the examples in this thread demonstrate.

But clearly, we also need to pursue political change as well. As difficult and frustrating as that can be.

The article basically argues that we shouldn't confuse personal change for political change, and thats a good point, but I think most of us would agree that both approaches have merits.
posted by memebake at 5:29 AM on July 11, 2010


Fabulously false dichotomy. Political action springs from personal action. Political power is predicated upon a mass of personal power.

Political action does not arise spontaneously. It certainly doesn't arise from nothing more than political action, like writing letters. Politicians get lots of letters. They also know that the things people actually care about are massively different from the things they profess to care about.

You want your talk to have political effect? Walk it. Delivering it in an SUV is going to get you nowhere.
posted by bonaldi at 5:37 AM on July 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Now you too can live your life like an asshole and blame all the world's troubles on The Man! And here's how!

It's not about living without care; it's about knowing what's really worth caring about.

There are plenty of reasons to live a green, minimalist life (your personal health for one, not to mention a sense of self-satisfaction) but the article does a great job of pointing out that hoping for the change we need to be spawned by your action isn't really appreciating the facts at all.

I don't think anywhere in the article does the author suggest that living a carbon-neutral lifestyle is a bad choice; instead, he's pointing out that if change is what you're after, perhaps tackling a bigger enemy than yourself is the effective way of accomplishing that task.
posted by Hiker at 5:43 AM on July 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


Grandpa, what were environmentalists?

They were people who believed the earth needed to be protected from the excesses of man's god given dominion. Pfft.

Scary, what happened to them?

They all chose not to reproduce. Now finish your protein bag and get your mask, and we'll to take the hummer down to Philly beach and light some gulls on fire.
posted by condour75 at 6:06 AM on July 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


88 comments do far and we can't even agree on whether the point in the article is valid, or the language correct, or the metaphor practical. This is why nothing will change.
posted by Vindaloo at 6:14 AM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I just popped in to say that when I posted this link on my Facebook page a few weeks ago, someone mistook the link to ORION magazine, which they hadn't heard of, for the ONION, and criticized the subject matter and its take on the situation accordingly. Several of my virtuously liberal friends were taken in by this error before I logged back in to correct them, too.

Those of you who find the article ridiculous may take some sort of comfort in that, I suppose.
posted by immlass at 6:33 AM on July 11, 2010


if you said "Oh, build your high-power data centre wherever you want, we'll hook you up no matter what the cost" the electricity company could end up running miles and miles of special infrastructure - and under your plan paying for that would mean higher bills for everyone, not just for Google.

In my imaginary personal feifdom, any organization approaching an energy supplier with a request for an expensive infrastructure buildout to support its operations could certainly expect to be billed for that; I have no objection to one-time infrastructure supply charges. As you correctly note, this would make it far cheaper for large energy consumers to put their energy-intensive plant near existing supply infrastructure where possible.

Once the connection is up and running, though, the cost of ongoing grid maintenance should in my view still be rolled into the per-kWh supply cost. Yes, this does involve a certain amount of market distortion, but I think it's pretty benign because the cost of supply infrastructure is in fact reasonably proportional to the amount of energy being pumped through it.

Jacking up the price of a remotely-supplied kilowatt hour makes two things more cost-effective: energy efficiency and local generation. Those two things are synergistic, too - local electricity generation is often accompanied by local heat generation, heat can be quite useful stuff if there's a handy source of it nearby, and using that heat directly could end up saving a hell of a lot of electricity.

Here's how it works: Climate change is a result of industry. Industry is a result of people buying stuff. How much clearer can it be? What am I missing here?

You're missing a simply enormous amount of artificial demand created by the advertising industry, and a political/economic system dedicated to the proposition that economic growth is an absolute good rather than a means to an end.
posted by flabdablet at 6:35 AM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


The politics of failure have failed! We must make them work again!

Snark will save us!
posted by blue_beetle at 6:36 AM on July 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


>>I believe conservation programs in general are implemented by cities mainly to foster growth and development, but that's not how they're sold to the populace

>As someone involved in "conservation program" I assure you gentle MeFitess that this sentiment is utter horseshit.


As someone also involved in "conservation programs" I can assure you that this sentiment is not, in fact, utter horseshit. There are multiple agendas going on, including genuine greenness and ecofriendliness, but also a recognition of how resource limitations (including, say, landfill space) threaten current and future growth possibilities. I think it's too simplistic to say that these programs are designed to "foster" growth, but they sure aren't designed to discourage it.

We have zillions of steelhead here. We could actually send you some to replenish your stocks, as ours are getting a tad out of hand. I would never have known they were fading away, had I not read this.

The limitations on steelhead and other anadromous fish are not a lack of brood stock -- it's a lack of habitat, passage barriers, and problems out at sea, including climate change and overfishing. You can keep your steelhead; what we need are healthier rivers, fewer barriers, and rational ocean fisheries.

When even the Greens delve into xenophobia, you're in trouble.

Xenophobia and greens has tended to go together like white bread and mayonnaise. There is a very, very small step from saying "overpopulation is a foundational problem for the environment" to saying "no more immigration." The Sierra Club in the US went though real convulsions over this issue a few years back, for example.
posted by Forktine at 6:41 AM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


From the same magazine:

Conservation and Eugenics
The environmental movement's dirty secret


And Behold, an article against the wall in Isreael...
Because it disturbs wildlife...

As a former soldier, I know that added security for my country often means misery for the Palestinians. The fence is meant to protect me, but it will scar the land we share. As a lover of and frequent hiker over its mountains and through its canyons, I cannot bear to see the desert also under attack.

Screw the palestinians but for the love of G-D , help the desert Badgers...

Please tell me this is parody...
posted by CitoyenK at 6:43 AM on July 11, 2010


Sonascope, thank you for articulating that so well. I think the entire "liberal movement" would do so well to get on the same page about what exactly it believes in -- fundamentally. The religious and the conservative are strong, I think, because they build on what they have in common (even when that commonality is mere greed) rather than the myriad ways in which they differ. On a daily basis, I see a great deal more solidarity among the conservatives than I ever do in the liberal movement, sprawling and undefined as it is. Those guys, though, they have each other's backs.

I honestly think there is a lot more similarity, and a lot more room for solidarity, among people who are recycling for the environment and people who are fighting for women's rights and vegetarians and native peoples resisting the building of new dams and suburban citizens opposing the invasion of strip malls than any of us seem willing or able to allow. It has a lot to do, I think, with how thoroughly commercialized (and this includes what is taught in colleges) our channels of communication are. Part of it is the media, which is in the business of highlighting conflict and creating competition even where none has to exist. Every "interest" group is segmented and turned into a market; no sooner do we define ourselves in a given way than people come along to cater to our needs -- be it for information or argument or just feeling like we're getting somewhere. But the capitalist system is so incredibly gigantic and complex, it saturates every aspect of modern life so thoroughly that it ultimately swallows everything, and at lightning speed. A book store is nothing like a library, you know?

I suspect, although I'm not certain about this, that this is what happened to the "hippie" movement. Those youngsters were against something big, and maybe they didn't quite understand what it was or how to go about it, but they were also for so many things. Surely every half-liberal person could've found ways to relate, if not to their struggles or means, then at least to the (historical) reasons for the disillusionment that pushed them to band together. But as soon as they stood together, it was time to put them down, time to poke holes in their "ideology", time to make fun, time to advertise targeted products and destroy an organic, demographic-defying possibility with the image of a homogenous, pot-smoking, childish identity. I mean at this point making fun of the hippies sounds to me like making fun of war veterans. Yet humor and horror is most of what I've heard about it, and it's all marketed to youngsters, no less.

In some ways, young people really do have the most freedom and the biggest ability to affect change -- because they are not yet materially or personally invested in the way things are or even their own individualism, and because their trust in others hasn't been utterly destroyed yet. (Isn't that the whole logic of the "young liberal / old conservative" joke?) And it's shocking how little advice and direction they get, and how thoroughly biased and self-serving most of what they do have access to tends to be. College is considered some kind of "bubble" for many young liberals, but it doesn't quite function in the way that we in college think -- it's not a bubble because it's safe and we can focus on learning something truthful before being ejected into "the real world". It's a bubble because we're already within the system which hides its and our own truth from us, we're not safe from the real world but rather systematically made vulnerable to it, powerless before it, thrust into isolated little classrooms and departments that deliberately hide from us the truth of what's going on and how we're about to become complicit and entrenched in the things that we're studying with such remote yet self-congratulatory outrage.

Honestly, stepping out of college into "the real world" has been an incredibly disillusioning experience for me… because, to begin with, there's no such thing. It's just a still-dawning recognition of the endless number of ways in which most of our trust has been systematically abused and how irony is supposed to be our ultimate prize and knowledge, as grown-ups. "Yes, I know taking "shorter showers" doesn't really help but it makes me feel good. Also, personal change is the first step to social change!" ... "Yes, Al Gore said some interesting things but look at the mansion he lives in! And it's not like he attacked the corporations." ..."I know the system is flawed but one person is not going to change the world. Plus, I'm doing what I can and if we all did the same thing it would change the world."... These are all just variations on the same theme, the stance of irony most adults take up in defense but justify as logical, and argue the semantics of like it matters.

I feel like nothing I have ever heard from the mouth of older liberals - the word I relate to most and even chose my college on the basis of - has actually ever had much truth to it. I have dreams where I'm back in college and everything I remember is twisted and grotestque, and I wake up wanting to scream at every person who ever told me shit that they never lived up to, and scream even more at those who taught me nothing -- my professors -- but rather left me alone to draw my own conclusions while bombarding me with just enough information so that nothing actually felt like it made any sense at all, unless I broke it way down and went way deep. I have read the original "post-modernists", but every single way that whole thing is used in college is a justification for giving up on trying to make sense of things and connect to other people. (That's a mighty biased interpretation of the original texts, in my view, and it's a thoroughly pervasive one, to boot. Even the use of that umbrella term is thoroughly suspect.) Why did I have to write papers alone and have them read by one fucking individual who didn't even have the balls to agree or disagree with me but would instead mark my paper up with cryptic shit like "interesting" or "awkward" and sum it all up with a neat round grade? Why were they all acting like womens studies was "one" thing while philosophy was "another" and "evolution" still another, when every fucking day wandering between those classes it was clear how connected all those things were? Why were we acting like people who had their books published by Routledge or got their papers into journals had more to teach us than our own goddamn grandmothers? Why was saying things in a certain way sooo much more important than what was being said? Why weren't we taught to fucking speak to each other, and to listen? Critical thinking my ass - when the whole world is going to hell, "thinking for ourselves" will not save us, whatever that means.

It's not the half-truths I mind so much, it's the forced loneliness, packaged as individualism. And I really think that individualism (among youngsters) and irony (among older liberals) is killing the liberal thrust on every front. We do what we can, "all of us", but there's no real we here, none that I have ever really been able to access in any way that is separate from that which we are trying to fight, no matter how hard I've tried; it's all niches and back-patting and argumentation and pretense "for the sake of the kids". We don't connect - with each other or with the world. We're lost, we "liberals," to each other and to ourselves. We're betrayed, and we betray in return.

I saw college kids on the news canvassing for Obama... how hopeful they were, and how they connected, and how they mattered, in the outcome. In retrospect it makes me quite sick, and I've read similar sentiments from many of them on NYT comment boards and elsewhere. If we - just us, who already agree enough to identify with the same political identity marker - ever even got so far as to agree on "hey, let's stop lying to our kids"... boy, that would be something.
posted by mondaygreens at 6:51 AM on July 11, 2010 [10 favorites]


I suppose it makes sense to a conservationist, but I can't help but feel that people refusing to have children out of political motivations are evolution's ultimate chumps. Nature abhors a vacuum, and the Asian producer countries will happily ship to Nigeria or Brazil, for the enjoyment of children there, whatever Americans and Europeans will forgo.

Unless they don't have as much money, in which case the drop in demand will lead to a reduction in supply (except in the case of perfectly inelastic supply).
posted by Mike1024 at 6:52 AM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


...And this, to me, is the most ironic stance of all: not having children. Okay, don't have kids if you don't want to, whatever your reasons may be - but to assume that that in any way mitigates your personal responsibility to other people's kids? Or that it's a contribution, as someone said above?

You're contributing, literally, nothing. This is what the article is talking about - that this kind of liberalism is only about reducing harm. If not having children is a contribution you're proud of, then we really should all stop and consider the next logical step.
posted by mondaygreens at 6:56 AM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not the best point I've ever read, and frankly, I think, kind of irresponsible. What is he trying to inspire in the reader? I mean, besides apathy?

Oh, screw it, I give up, our entire system of industry and consumption is going to "kill the planet" and there's nothing I can do about it, guess I'll go take a two hour shower?

I mean, shower it up if you want, yes, but when you're in a crisis, improvement needs to come from everywhere. That's just math. If you need to radically reduce or change something -- and this works across the board, from state budgets to production schedules at software companies to weight loss -- everything you do needs to be toward that end. When the problem is of such a huge scale, spanning across huge groups of countries, with huge groups of different classes and castes, made up of all kinds of different types of individuals, the only way out is to keep your eyes on the prize.

I guess I just don't get the point of this article. I feel like it just told me I'm a loser for trying to reduce because I just don't understand how little impact I have. When I think about it closely, I *think* he was trying to say that simply reducing is nowhere near enough, and that we all need to do more to try and change global industry. A scary problem, no doubt, but if more and more people were changing their consumption levels, don't you think that's the logical next step?

In other news, we can't kill the planet. We can fuck it up to the point that it KILLS ALL OF US. "Ooooh save Gaia!!" sounds awfully crystal clutching and hippie-dippy (and no single suburban mother of four is going to trade in her Expedition based on that rhetoric, much as she might like to). EVENTUALLY THE PLANET WILL HAVE TO KILL US ALL is a much more swaying argument. It has the added benefit (?) of being true.
posted by pazazygeek at 6:58 AM on July 11, 2010


For me, the only reason I do little things like compost, take short showers and turn off all the lights, is because it separates me in a very small way from the great majority of assholes in this country.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:16 AM on July 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's probably a mistake to think that the personal is political. This is a reversal of the reality for most folks that the political is personal. So wiping your ass with unbleached toilet paper is not a political choice, it is a personal one. And, as the article observes, it's silly to imagine that personal choices have much of a political impact.

This does not impede the moral superiority / holier than thou / pain in the ass / personal is political brigade from loudly proclaiming it to anyone passive enough to remain in their vicinity long enough to hear them praise themselves, but it doesn't do anything to alter the larger realities.

The essential problem of a consumerist approach to production is that production is the problem, not the consumption. Consumption follows production, it doesn't lead it. This despite the continual brainwashing by the advertising industry that tells us we really want the cheap plastic crap produced in China and sold at Walmart.

These two delightful articles from The Oil Drum, Efficiency and Resiliance and The Piggy Driver both riff on the Jevons Paradox which states that economic utility increases with consumption and increasing efficiency increases consumption.

The solution to reducing production and consumption is increasing price while distributing the excess profits (excess because the price has to rise faster than consumption falls for this sort of thing to work) in ways that address underlying problems like excessive population growth, diminished resources like water and arable land, etc. Historically, the only mechanisms that have produced a similar result have been Malthusian, not economic/political, and the trip from problem to solution has been thoroughly unpleasant for all involved.

Not being able to arrive at a solution is not the same as being unable to perceive the problem.

So as a critique of conflating the personal with political, this article is a good thing. A further problem with the personal as political meme is the frequency it is spouted by people who won't lift a finger for real political action, as opposed to self-aggrandizing ego-theater of stylized consumption. Political change is about building majorities, not feeling superior to them.

And yes, I am looking at you, turgid dahlia, but only because you are nearby....
posted by warbaby at 7:35 AM on July 11, 2010 [13 favorites]


Aren't the groups effecting the most real political change in the US these days the Tea Baggers and the anti-brown people crossing our border folks?

I think, at least in the US, big time political change comes from gathering lots of idiots with guns together in public and yelling about things you don't understand.
posted by y6y6y6 at 7:36 AM on July 11, 2010


Political change is about building majorities
But majorities somehow not composed of individuals with personal activities? A majority somehow not an aggregate of the personal?
posted by bonaldi at 7:39 AM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


No, a majority is not an aggregate of the personal. Majorities have little or nothing to do with the personalities of the individuals. The only commonality is the narrow agreement on the issue at hand.

Majorities that are aggregates of more or less homogenous personalities are a form of totalism. Sorry, but we are not one, we are pluribus acting as unum. It's not the same thing.

As far as the "We're fucked" issue, Derrick Jensen addressed it previously. I don't totally agree with him, but he at least addressed it.
posted by warbaby at 7:52 AM on July 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Where's the part where he debunks the personal treatment of dollars as votes, and the push to buying local? Oh wait, that would actually take power away from the conglomerates.
posted by tybeet at 7:52 AM on July 11, 2010


I didn't read it so much as a justification for apathy as it was pointing out that solely personal changes are, in essence, often as good or as functional as apathy. He doesn't argue that you shouldn't live simply, but rather that you shouldn't fool yourself into thinking that is in itself a powerful act. The writer's a little awkward and over the top (zero to Godwin in his first sentence), but I think he's advocating that we don't get settled into a sense of accomplishment because we do these little, incremental things.

I like to think that I've been a model for possibly homophobic people to see as a counterpoint to their idea of how people like me live, and who we are, and I am a clean-living, decent, kind, and upright guy, but every single thing I've done in the 25 years I've been living out in the open hasn't done a millionth for gay acceptance as much as much as when Roseanne put a relatively realistic gay character on her hit show. It doesn't mean I shouldn't be out there as a gay guy, representin' for my peeps, but incremental progress takes millennia to change the world. You've got to work from both ends, but the personal arena is where you work out if something will work, and the public arena is where you make it happen.

It's possible people will read this piece, throw up their hands, and say "it's all just hopeless!" If that's the case, it's more to the writing and the way the argument is put forth, I suspect, than a flaw in his numbers. I think we're far too willing to cry "hopeless" these days, but it's really about our own self-disgust and the longstanding belief among liberal-minded folks that we're just a species capable of nothing but ruination and greed. In the end, we just need more compelling advocates, and more people who take their short showers, then head in to their jobs, thinking about how they can change the world there, leveraging the scale and machinery of their industry to amplify their actions.
posted by sonascope at 7:53 AM on July 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


"both human people and fish people"

oh fuck right off.
posted by empath at 8:01 AM on July 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


The only commonality is the narrow agreement on the issue at hand.
Which agreement somehow has no reflection on the personalities of the individuals at hand? Nonsense. The contortions being gone through in this thread on the premise that mass political action will somehow arise from individual inaction (beyond letter-writing, maybe) are back-breaking.
posted by bonaldi at 8:07 AM on July 11, 2010


A lot of people are confusing this article as a call for personal inaction. If you read the whole thing he clearly states:
I want to be clear. I’m not saying we shouldn’t live simply. I live reasonably simply myself, but I don’t pretend that not buying much (or not driving much, or not having kids) is a powerful political act, or that it’s deeply revolutionary. It’s not. Personal change doesn’t equal social change.
He's not saying conspicuous consumption is useless, he's saying it's only a tiny part of the solution and we are being misled by those who can more effectively solve the problem.

I can't say that I agree with his last bit about using unconventional means to change the system.
posted by furtive at 8:39 AM on July 11, 2010


I have seen the enemy and it is me. Like it or not, our industrial civilization and the governments we have are the result of our own personal choices. It's the law of supply and demand. If we don't buy certain products, then they will not be produced. It's easy to blame "agribusiness" and other faceless villains, easier than looking in the mirror. As I said before, change has to start with the individual. Only individuals can change. So let's not minimize the responsible choices that individuals make -- let's thank them and encourage them to make more.
posted by kindalike at 8:46 AM on July 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Obviously only our robotic children/overlords can save us, by placing us into retro-human habitats, where we can play the harp, drink beer and mate all day long.
posted by vertriebskonzept at 8:51 AM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


The premise of this article is lifted wholesale from a piece by Walter Sinnot-Armstrong: "It's not MY Fault: Global Warming and Individual Moral Obligations."

Except that Armstrong's piece is better and more careful.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:09 AM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't really agree with this all that much. Look I think I am right about everything and so does everyone else. When there are contentious issues where similar amounts of people on both sides hold contradictory/incompatible opinions how confident should I really be that I am on the correct side. I might be smarter than average or better educated or more self aware but I don't think my side is somehow demographically superior to the other side. Now of course I assume I am one of the good guys but the thing is those that disagree with me also think that they are the good guys. So if I am wrong and I win the argument all the effort that I allocate to winning the argument is worse than doing nothing. If I am wrong and lose the argument all the effort I spend advancing the argument is wasted.

Additionally I think we overrate the marginal value of each unit of political expression. We look at the pretty big things that are accomplished and we affiliate with them but we give ourselves too much credit. In political expression you are one voice out of hundreds or millions. It is best to think of the effectiveness of political action as the percentage chance that your contribution altered the outcome divided by the difference made by the policy change. Keep in mind if you are wrong which is a non-zero chance the change might well be negative. Thought of probabilistically/at the margin your effort might well be less effective than taking a shorter shower.

I know there's this sort of prisoner's dilemma thing going on. Where if everyone on my side followed my advice the world would be worse if I am right about things. But my advice isn't just for people that agree with me (it is especially for those that disagree with me). It is for everyone. It is for tea partiers, it is for greens, it is for hawks and it is for doves. Realize that political involvement is significantly about signaling things to yourself and others.
posted by I Foody at 9:17 AM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


WOULD ANY SANE PERSON think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler

Really? You had to go there?

In your first goddamn sentence?
posted by blucevalo at 9:29 AM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


But you and your 12 MPG will be a part of the problem until you voluntarily change or make the big change.

This is the core failure to understand. As long as you're thinking in terms of "part of the problem", you are thinking in individualistic terms, not on societal terms.


If we don't buy certain products, then they will not be produced.

You understand that there's 310 million Americans, right? Your "we" is a tiny number of people. You're like the SDS- trying to have your revolution with a bare handful of the population on your side. Or no, more accurately, you're like the CrimethInc kids, thinking that your own personal decisions are somehow deep and meaningful.

You might as well go levitate the Pentagon, because that's exactly the cultural milieu you're living in, exactly the script you're acting out.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:30 AM on July 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


You understand that there's 310 million Americans, right? Your "we" is a tiny number of people.

If we don't buy certain products, then they will not be produced.

Okay....the thing is that this dummy just wrote an article aimed at convincing the other 99% that they shouldn't join "us". So what is his purpose again?
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:47 AM on July 11, 2010


TFA isn't aimed at the 99%.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:58 AM on July 11, 2010


This thread completely validates his larger points in books like Endgame. We are part of this inherently destructive system and unable to parse its destruction.

Industrial society is based on one thing only: The deliberate exploitation and destruction of landbases. Landbases make life. We are running out of them.
posted by lazaruslong at 9:59 AM on July 11, 2010


*the need for its destruction
posted by lazaruslong at 9:59 AM on July 11, 2010


anotherpanacea: "The premise of this article is lifted wholesale from a piece by Walter Sinnot-Armstrong: "It's not MY Fault: Global Warming and Individual Moral Obligations."

Except that Armstrong's piece is better and more careful.
"

Except Jensen wrote like 4 books before that 2005 article came out that made many of these same points.
posted by lazaruslong at 10:01 AM on July 11, 2010


Salvor Hardin: "You understand that there's 310 million Americans, right? Your "we" is a tiny number of people.

If we don't buy certain products, then they will not be produced.

Okay....the thing is that this dummy just wrote an article aimed at convincing the other 99% that they shouldn't join "us". So what is his purpose again?
"

It isn't well expressed in this short article, but Jensen's main strategy is to try and convince individuals of the moral imperative of bringing down industrial civilization before it completely consumes all natural resources. He advocates for each individual to use their skills to accomplish that goal, whether its writing, political activism, or blowing up dams. If you are interested in understanding Jensen, read his two volume work Endgame and that should sum it all up nicely.
posted by lazaruslong at 10:04 AM on July 11, 2010


In reference to the article, rather than the various critiques and snark: I loved this article with all my heart. For a long, long time, I've tried to articulate to my friends that, despite them choosing to be vegetarians and avoid cars, the boycott mentality gives people a hugely inflated idea of how much absolute good that they're doing.

That's all this article is claiming - not that boycotting evil is bad, but it's tiny compared to actively doing good, and the latter is becoming a lost art.
posted by tmcw at 10:04 AM on July 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Last comment and then its off to World Cup time. Here are the premises upon which he based two novels, and sums up his view on things pretty well. Enjoy picking them apart! I did.


Premise One: Civilization is not and can never be sustainable. This is especially true for industrial civilization.

Premise Two: Traditional communities do not often voluntarily give up or sell the resources on which their communities are based until their communities have been destroyed. They also do not willingly allow their landbases to be damaged so that other resources—gold, oil, and so on—can be extracted. It follows that those who want the resources will do what they can to destroy traditional communities.

Premise Three: Our way of living—industrial civilization—is based on, requires, and would collapse very quickly without persistent and widespread violence.

Premise Four: Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.

Premise Five: The property of those higher on the hierarchy is more valuable than the lives of those below. It is acceptable for those above to increase the amount of property they control—in everyday language, to make money—by destroying or taking the lives of those below. This is called production. If those below damage the property of those above, those above may kill or otherwise destroy the lives of those below. This is called justice.

Premise Six: Civilization is not redeemable. This culture will not undergo any sort of voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of living. If we do not put a halt to it, civilization will continue to immiserate the vast majority of humans and to degrade the planet until it (civilization, and probably the planet) collapses. The effects of this degradation will continue to harm humans and nonhumans for a very long time.

Premise Seven: The longer we wait for civilization to crash—or the longer we wait before we ourselves bring it down—the messier will be the crash, and the worse things will be for those humans and nonhumans who live during it, and for those who come after.

Premise Eight: The needs of the natural world are more important than the needs of the economic system.

Another way to put premise Eight: Any economic or social system that does not benefit the natural communities on which it is based is unsustainable, immoral, and stupid. Sustainability, morality, and intelligence (as well as justice) requires the dismantling of any such economic or social system, or at the very least disallowing it from damaging your landbase.

Premise Nine: Although there will clearly some day be far fewer humans than there are at present, there are many ways this reduction in population could occur (or be achieved, depending on the passivity or activity with which we choose to approach this transformation). Some of these ways would be characterized by extreme violence and privation: nuclear armageddon, for example, would reduce both population and consumption, yet do so horrifically; the same would be true for a continuation of overshoot, followed by crash. Other ways could be characterized by less violence. Given the current levels of violence by this culture against both humans and the natural world, however, it’s not possible to speak of reductions in population and consumption that do not involve violence and privation, not because the reductions themselves would necessarily involve violence, but because violence and privation have become the default. Yet some ways of reducing population and consumption, while still violent, would consist of decreasing the current levels of violence required, and caused by, the (often forced) movement of resources from the poor to the rich, and would of course be marked by a reduction in current violence against the natural world. Personally and collectively we may be able to both reduce the amount and soften the character of violence that occurs during this ongoing and perhaps longterm shift. Or we may not. But this much is certain: if we do not approach it actively—if we do not talk about our predicament and what we are going to do about it—the violence will almost undoubtedly be far more severe, the privation more extreme.

Premise Ten: The culture as a whole and most of its members are insane. The culture is driven by a death urge, an urge to destroy life.

Premise Eleven: From the beginning, this culture—civilization—has been a culture of occupation.

Premise Twelve: There are no rich people in the world, and there are no poor people. There are just people. The rich may have lots of pieces of green paper that many pretend are worth something—or their presumed riches may be even more abstract: numbers on hard drives at banks—and the poor may not. These “rich” claim they own land, and the “poor” are often denied the right to make that same claim. A primary purpose of the police is to enforce the delusions of those with lots of pieces of green paper. Those without the green papers generally buy into these delusions almost as quickly and completely as those with. These delusions carry with them extreme consequences in the real world.

Premise Thirteen: Those in power rule by force, and the sooner we break ourselves of illusions to the contrary, the sooner we can at least begin to make reasonable decisions about whether, when, and how we are going to resist.

Premise Fourteen: From birth on—and probably from conception, but I’m not sure how I’d make the case—we are individually and collectively enculturated to hate life, hate the natural world, hate the wild, hate wild animals, hate women, hate children, hate our bodies, hate and fear our emotions, hate ourselves. If we did not hate the world, we could not allow it to be destroyed before our eyes. If we did not hate ourselves, we could not allow our homes—and our bodies—to be poisoned.

Premise Fifteen: Love does not imply pacifism.

Premise Sixteen: The material world is primary. This does not mean that the spirit does not exist, nor that the material world is all there is. It means that spirit mixes with flesh. It means also that real world actions have real world consequences. It means we cannot rely on Jesus, Santa Claus, the Great Mother, or even the Easter Bunny to get us out of this mess. It means this mess really is a mess, and not just the movement of God’s eyebrows. It means we have to face this mess ourselves. It means that for the time we are here on Earth—whether or not we end up somewhere else after we die, and whether we are condemned or privileged to live here—the Earth is the point. It is primary. It is our home. It is everything. It is silly to think or act or be as though this world is not real and primary. It is silly and pathetic to not live our lives as though our lives are real.

Premise Seventeen: It is a mistake (or more likely, denial) to base our decisions on whether actions arising from these will or won’t frighten fence-sitters, or the mass of Americans.

Premise Eighteen: Our current sense of self is no more sustainable than our current use of energy or technology.

Premise Nineteen: The culture’s problem lies above all in the belief that controlling and abusing the natural world is justifiable.

Premise Twenty: Within this culture, economics—not community well-being, not morals, not ethics, not justice, not life itself—drives social decisions.

Modification of Premise Twenty: Social decisions are determined primarily (and often exclusively) on the basis of whether these decisions will increase the monetary fortunes of the decision-makers and those they serve.

Re-modification of Premise Twenty: Social decisions are determined primarily (and often exclusively) on the basis of whether these decisions will increase the power of the decision-makers and those they serve.

Re-modification of Premise Twenty: Social decisions are founded primarily (and often exclusively) on the almost entirely unexamined belief that the decision-makers and those they serve are entitled to magnify their power and/or financial fortunes at the expense of those below.

Re-modification of Premise Twenty: If you dig to the heart of it—if there were any heart left—you would find that social decisions are determined primarily on the basis of how well these decisions serve the ends of controlling or destroying wild nature.

posted by lazaruslong at 10:05 AM on July 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


The good news is that there are other options. We can follow the examples of brave activists who lived through the difficult times I mentioned—Nazi Germany, Tsarist Russia, antebellum United States—who did far more than manifest a form of moral purity; they actively opposed the injustices that surrounded them. We can follow the example of those who remembered that the role of an activist is not to navigate systems of oppressive power with as much integrity as possible, but rather to confront and take down those systems.

The difference between fighting active, visible political violence and fighting consumerist culture is pretty markedly different, and harder to replace. It is not terrible difficult to describe the problems we face, or that each of us individually believes to be the problem, but very few people are willing to do the heavy lifting of what needs to actually happen (step by step) to get us out of the problems. It might make be "bad" but I am not going to take to the streets and string the corporate dictators and their family up on a lamp post.

And I disagree a bit too, personal change can equal social change, what else is social change but massive personal change anyways? Jensen says parenthetically, 'well individuals are not responsible, the system is....', but the "system" is individuals. Those stockholders, those corporate owners, politicians, decisions makers... they are all individuals, making individual choices and they rely on other individuals and so on down the line. Yeah, on one hand it is pretty laughable all the "100% recyclable toilet paper" (true), but for all the blah blah blah, I'll take the reusable shopping bag to the store, but the regional tomatoes, subscribe tot he local CSA and so on. Is it political? eh, only in the sense that most actions ARE political nowadays, is it social mindful, yes.

I stopped reading Orion quite awhile ago, because it seemed to consistently be one depressing piece, disguised as "thoughtful", after another.
posted by edgeways at 10:27 AM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


The only commonality is the narrow agreement on the issue at hand.

Which agreement somehow has no reflection on the personalities of the individuals at hand? Nonsense. The contortions being gone through in this thread on the premise that mass political action will somehow arise from individual inaction (beyond letter-writing, maybe) are back-breaking.
It's unclear if your last sentence is connected to the two previous ones. If it is, there's a huge disconnect here because I haven't said anything about causes of mass political action nor has anybody premised that individual inaction has that effect.

My point is that personal motives, morality or any other features of individual subjective internal landscapes are meaningless in the context of building political majorities in a socially diverse and democratic society.

The clearest example of this is when some librul asks if this that or the other right winger is "sincere." WTF does that have to do with somebody taking a course of political action that leads to, contributes to or otherwise affects the creation of a majority or plurality? People dissemble about their motives all the time and it is objectively impossible to determine if somebody's stated reason for taking an action is actually the motivation for taking that action. They could (and frequently are) just following like sheep or have been duped by conscious lies (as an extreme example of the pointlessness of moral purity in followers).

So moral purity arguments are mostly picklesmoke and frog dandruff. And posturing about moral purity is just ego-drama that will only influence people who share similar moral delusions. It doesn't actually change anybody's mind or behavior, but it can be status-building inside a closed set of values for the moral puritan chest-pounder.

Building majorities is all about changing behavior and sometimes changing minds. Long afterwards, it might change values.

It seems to me that the moral groovyness of a particular action is only appreciated by someone with an identical or at least highly similar value system.

Unless you want to postulate some supernatural being keeping score for an eternal afterlife -- which leads to all sorts of complications since if the eternal afterlife is more important than this one, well, you might as well be a Republican and trash the planet because there is a better one in the next world, hallelujah.

In a politically and culturally diverse world, building political majorities has to be based on something other than a common moral perspective. Enlightened self interest is a possibility that some have put forward, but it seems lacking in historical support. Requiring common moral perspective immediately makes it possible for ruling elite minorities to play wedge issues to defeat opposition by majorities.

So the claims of the moral puritans to superior political insight is not just counter-productive, but actively corrosive of majority rule in democratic republics.

In case you were wondering where we are going and what we are doing in this handbasket.

FWIW, Jensen loses me completely at premises 6 and 7: making things worse faster is not making things better.
posted by warbaby at 10:34 AM on July 11, 2010


I've read some Derrick Jensen before and I have to say, as someone who's gone pretty close to the extremes of "Be the change you want to see in the world" advocacy, what he's written in the Orion article makes a whole lot of sense. My friends and I have run the gamut of seeking to live in a disposables-free household to facing the paralyzing moral dilemma of whether to buy convenient store pansies in March without sending off a letter (lest we support the eco-footprint sucking industry of hot house flowers). Sure, we also meet collectively to talk about how to live without plastic and plan campaigns to encourage others to deliberate over the purchase of pesticide-laden carbon-devouring hot house flowers, but as we've come to realize more and more, an organizing model based on individual consumption is not always the best or most effective one.

One way to look at the impacts of our (collective) actions is to determine whether those in positions of institutional power pay attention, who they are, and how they respond. The events of the last month around the G20 in Toronto have taught me that what those in position of power are most afraid of is organized political resistance. The possibility (or threat) of social change through consumption is there, but it is slow and it is not always discernible. Sometimes, it doesn't even always apply as a tool to affecting change in the range of injustices that people care about and want to go around making better (reproductive choice, for example). The political and legal hammer did not come down on people with the No to Tar Sands t-shirts they bought (though wearing black clothing turned into an arrest-able defense), it didn't come down on the marches that happened day after day for a week, it didn't even come down the heaviest on people in the street smashing windows or caught in an intersection when the police decided it was the wrong time for them to be there.

The people who are still in medium-to-maximum-security correctional facilities are political organizers, taken from their homes the night before a single window was broken. They are the people being alternately ignored and vilified in the press and various levels of government. They are community organizers in some of the poorest and most neglected neighbourhoods in Toronto where some of the poorest and most neglected people live. They are the people who connect us to each other and make us less lonely and feel less hopeless than we were when we were alone by ourselves or alone with others working on yet another campaign to buy more of this and write a letter or use less of that and write a letter.

So for me, it's not a question of one or the other (I have a community organizing meeting in half an hour AND I avoid using non reusable paper or plastic bags GASP) but the best balance of how we use our energy, time and resources on these efforts and which of those efforts leaves us better off as activists, and as people, so we can get up the next morning to do it all over again.
posted by dustyasymptotes at 10:39 AM on July 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


To be clear, being the kind of person who joins explicitly political organizations whether in its organizational language, the kind of projects it takes on, or its aims, may require a major personal/lifestyle change from the being the kind of person who wouldn't consider it. It's just not a lifestyle/personal change based on individual consumption habits, which is what I think the article is talking about. It is possible that making lifestyle/personal changes based on individual consumption habits makes it easier for people to participate in collective political action. My point again, is where the balance falls and what is advocated and legitimized to and by most people.
posted by dustyasymptotes at 10:45 AM on July 11, 2010


See Bookchin as per Lifestylism.
posted by bonefish at 11:04 AM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I tried to make that comparison by mentioning CrimethInc upthread, but I don't know if anybody noticed, bonefish.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:07 AM on July 11, 2010


re: not having kids. It's true that this is a very good move to help the environment, but come on: a lot of people want kids more than they want long showers or cars or anything else.

My solution is urging more people to adopt. There are kids already here that need parents, and until that ceases to be the case it seems like a win-win solution for the moment.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 11:11 AM on July 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Building majorities is all about changing behavior and sometimes changing minds.

Precisely. Which is what makes the "don't change your behaviour; just change politics" schtick so baffling. You can't change the politics without changing behaviour and sometimes minds, so to demand the former while ranting that the latter are wholly ineffective is just absurd.

I can't begin to understand where the screed about morality came from in your post. Who gives a fuck about the morality involved behind people's changing of their lifestyles to be greener? Moreover, the argumentation works both ways: Pope Guilty's on a pretty damn high horse about the ineffectiveness of certain kinds of green action, does that mean he is a "moral puritan with a claim to superior political insight"? Drivel.

Still: what I would like to see is more "here's what we could do" rather than "that won't work, it's all fucked; those things you are doing especially won't work".

If the answer turns out to be "it's the industrial economy's fault" then we're talking about a whole lot more than getting some green-minded politicians and social activists in charge, we're talking about unimaginably epic revolutionary change, and that nearly always involves a moral element. Wouldn't that be neatly ironic?
posted by bonaldi at 11:15 AM on July 11, 2010


CrimethInc is kind of fish-in-barrel, and I think this article is trying to address something more benign and general than "lifestylism" proper. Few people are actually aggrandizing themselves with alternative lifestyles, most of us imagine we are making a difference through our consumer choices (including shopping, er, voting for political commodities).
posted by bonefish at 11:18 AM on July 11, 2010


I get it; incremental conservation itself does nothing in the face of exponential consumption. OBVIOUS.

What I'm saying is that "I see you are trying, but you are not doing enough!" is a helpful sentiment. "Nothing you, as a person, can do could ever possibly matter!" is a harmful sentiment.

The article is titled "Forget Shorter Showers: Why Personal Change Does Not Equal Political Change" and then it goes on to explain how the industrial system is far more powerful than anything you, personally, as one tiny insignificant (but kind hearted, sure) mouse of a person, could ever to do stop it. How inspiring.

If you think about it long enough, the premise is actually fallacious. The truth is more complicated -- personal change [[less individual consumption]] does not directly equal political change [[a more sustainable system for global economies and industrialism]] at a rate that will actually present the outcome that people who believe personal change is the only answer hope to create. That I can get behind. But WHAT then, should people be doing to augment their reduced consumption?

Somewhere, many paragraphs in, after I have DECIDED TO JUMP OUT OF MY WINDOW BECAUSE I'M SO DEPRESSED, it states:

voting, not voting, running for office, pamphleting, boycotting, organizing, lobbying, protesting, and, when a government becomes destructive of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we have the right to alter or abolish it.

So he's saying I have to go straight from making a change in my life, a drastic one to your average consumer (maybe not so to your average "enlightened liberal", but there are a lot less of those than your average Wal-Mart shopper) -- like, say, learning how to grocery shop with re-usable bags, or turn the lights off when I leave a room when I've been leaving 'em on for my entire life, or riding my bike to work instead of driving -- to DESTROYING THE STATE? That's reasonable?

If someone is naive enough to believe that switching to more efficient lightbulbs or driving less is going to actually save a 3rd world nation from misery and strife, how are they supposed to understand what to put in that pamphlet they're supposed to hand out? How do they know what to do when they run for office? How do they know who to vote for?

THE TITLE is "FORGET SHORTER SHOWERS". The thesis is "DONT BOTHER REDUCING YOUR CONSUMPTION. MAYBE TRY REVOLUTION INSTEAD". Anybody who really believes that shorter showers alone is affecting social change in a broad sense is probably a skimmer and not a thoughtful reader. This article leaves me with no fire in my heart to try something different. It frustrates and saddens me, personally, and I consider myself to be reasonably well-informed (I mean, I read The Economist, or whatever).

I feel like this article is saying "the only way for things to change is for the system to implode - either because of a revolution, or because of an environmental disaster, or because we run out of resources." This is as pessmistic and as short sighted, in my opinion, as the neo-cons deciding to go to long-term war in the middle east to be better geopolitically seated 25, 50 years into the scary future. It's fear-based and tired. It's like saying "Fuck it. Nuke it and start over." I'm sorry, but that's not enough for me. The strides humanity has taken over the course of recorded history suggests otherwise. Major social and political change is often terribly painful when it finally comes to be, but it does not start grand. It starts small.

The fact is, that when someone makes a personal commitment to try and make the world better, it HAS TO start small. Maybe it does start with shortening your showers, driving less, taking the bus. Every time you do these small things in your day to day life, you renew your commitment. You live every day what you are hoping the world will do. And then you do start handing out pamphlets. And you DO have an idea of what you might want to try and make happen if you ran for office. And you DO know who to vote for in the voting booth! By the way, did he just say "not voting" helps? Seriously? In a whole article about how you have to live presently in the real world in order to change it? Of COURSE shorter showers aren't enough. But if you never start -- you never complete!

The message should be: Good job! First step done! Here are some things that you can do now that will REALLY help!

The article is full of vague and useless phrases. "Animal humanity" and "killing the earth" and "take down those systems". The long and short is that, as far as I can see, an individual reducing consumption and trying to make the world better on a small individual scale is doing a hell of a lot more to get started on the road to affecting real change. To my mind, an article that says "stop taking shorter showers and instead live like the activists in Nazi Germany did" is a fuck of a lot more useless.
posted by pazazygeek at 11:20 AM on July 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


But doing things like chopping your own wood, taking shorter showers or the other kinds of nonsense people do aren't really about making the world a better place, they're about vanity, frankly. They're about feeling superior to other people, so they can turn up their noses while the world burns and say "it's not my fault".

And even worse, in my view these people are actually impediments to progress. By sacrificing for no reason, they create an impression that life in a post-carbon economy is going to SUUUCK.


delmoi nails it with this -- the root of all my "personal change skepticism". Because I'm f***ing tired of holier-than-thou do-gooders who may be squeaky clean on an "environmental" level, but man do they pollute the social pool.

And this from adipocere is pretty astute too ...

Trying to sell people on the idea that they should be ashamed to be alive, and must therefore live as if every step upon the earth crushes the screaming tiny lives of earthworms and hopeful sprigs of grass will probably not be an effective strategy over the long haul. Guilt will go only so far with most people, after which you trigger the oppositional defiant "Fuck it, I will never be able to be green enough to pass, so I am just not going to bother with this shit" level.

Bottom line: if you think your earnest exhortations to personal environmental purity are not a BIG part of the problem, you really need to find a way out of that self-righteous box you've stumbled into. Or, as I heard it put recently, Step One in saving the world. STOP BEING AN INSUFFERABLE PRICK!

(yes, it was shouted)
posted by philip-random at 11:24 AM on July 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Step One in saving the world. STOP BEING AN INSUFFERABLE PRICK!

Is there some epidemic of holier-than-thou green activism in the US or something? Or is this just an over-reaction to the thought that cars might be taken away along the lines of they-want-to-take-mah-guns?

Am having real trouble identifying with this picture of sanctimonious plastic-bag-rejecters beyond a few pop-culture caricatures; I certainly don't know any in real life and can't see any in this thread. Who is making all these "earnest exhortations to personal environmental purity"?
posted by bonaldi at 11:31 AM on July 11, 2010


The argument seems to be that "even if everybody did X, then it wouldn't make much of a difference." There is also the fact that the step of getting everyone to do X would be very difficult or nigh impossible if we're only talking about consumer choice, particularly when X is more inconvenient than the alternative.
posted by aesacus at 11:33 AM on July 11, 2010


i engage in personal change not to change the world, but to change me. there's something to be said for refusing to be a continued part of the problem..

Agreed:
This work on yourself is necessary; this ambition justified. Lots of people let themselves be wholly absorbed by militant politics and the preparation for social revolution. Rare, much more rare, are they who, in order to prepare for the revolution, are willing to make themselves worthy of it.

- Georges Friedmann
posted by joe lisboa at 11:34 AM on July 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


found via Pierre Hadot's exquisite Philosophy as a Way of Life.
posted by joe lisboa at 11:35 AM on July 11, 2010


And even worse, in my view these people are actually impediments to progress. By sacrificing for no reason, they create an impression that life in a post-carbon economy is going to SUUUCK.

I'm sorry you feel that way, but people who equate progress with fancy whitebread gadgets are a very real part of the problem. True progress is freedom, equality, and social justice. Leisure and convenience can come after we manage all those things, thanks.
posted by tybeet at 11:50 AM on July 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I wonder how this guy feels about volunteering at soup kitchens.
posted by one_bean at 11:51 AM on July 11, 2010


STOP BEING AN INSUFFERABLE PRICK!

That works both ways you realize? Some of the most insufferable pricks I've met are those that engage in serious contortions to avoid actually doing anything. Vestibule of hell
posted by edgeways at 12:03 PM on July 11, 2010


THE TITLE is "FORGET SHORTER SHOWERS". The thesis is "DONT BOTHER REDUCING YOUR CONSUMPTION. MAYBE TRY REVOLUTION INSTEAD".
posted by pazazygeek at 2:20 PM on July 11 [4 favorites -] Favorite added! [!]


pazazygeek - you hit the nail right on the head. Couldn't have put it better.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 12:09 PM on July 11, 2010


Man, I thought you people watched The Wire. All of the personal choices in the world don't amount to much when the system within which those choices are made is sick, oppressive, and murderous.

This does not impede the moral superiority / holier than thou / pain in the ass / personal is political brigade from loudly proclaiming it to anyone passive enough to remain in their vicinity long enough to hear them praise themselves, but it doesn't do anything to alter the larger realities.

It's a perversion of the original meaning of "the personal is political". The point of the phrase is that what we see as our personal problems are caused by systemic oppression and inequality. We don't have to make the political into something personal, it already is. By not acknowledging that it is a system then the system cannot be changed. The system is not individuals, it is institutions.

Ultimately, I hope and believe it will be destroyed. It is unsustainable and the institutions that uphold it are falling
posted by Danila at 12:43 PM on July 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


Here are the premises upon which he based two novels, and sums up his view on things pretty well. Enjoy picking them apart! I did.

Huh, I pretty much agree with everything on that list. I'll be interested to read more of his writing.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:53 PM on July 11, 2010


Or let’s talk energy. Kirkpatrick Sale summarized it well: “For the past 15 years the story has been the same every year: individual consumption—residential, by private car, and so on—is never more than about a quarter of all consumption; the vast majority is commercial, industrial, corporate, by agribusiness and government [he forgot military]. So, even if we all took up cycling and wood stoves it would have a negligible impact on energy use, global warming and atmospheric pollution.”

It's patently absurd to assume that there is no connection between these forms of corporate consumption and personal consumption. Commercial, industrial, corporate, agricultural, military, and governmental consumption are required to support of personal consumption!

And what if we do engage in radical revolt against this system? The result will be that we must live a more frugal lifestyle. If this is the end we desire, engaging it as readily as possible is more sensible than revolting against it while we still operate under its premises. Are we supposed to conclude "Well, there just isn't anything we can do," and drive off into the sunset in our negligibly important SUV? The only way to tear this system down is to live better. Only by rejecting integration into these systems of consumption can we overcome them. They require our support for every bit of consumption they engender, not just personal, municipal, or household-level.

Besides, living a more frugal lifestyle goes a long way to making your own life a happier one. Riding a bike makes you happy. Growing a garden makes you happy. Dumpster diving can be exciting and nutritious.
posted by melatonic at 1:03 PM on July 11, 2010


I'm not sure I agree with the sentiment that we need to change ourselves in order to refuse to be "a part of the problem," which really seems tied right into the roots of the off-putting sanctimonious attitudes that keep us from convincing more people that positive ecological action is important, easy, and something that can enhance our lives. It's just another rendition of Sneetch politics, where the ones with the stars are better than the ones without stars upon thars.

I'm not a tea-bagger, fundamentalist, hawkish Repubritarian, but am I better than those guys? Am I morally superior?

It's just this—I am a very, very lucky man.

Of course, there's a lot of what I do that's intrinsic to me, and a lot of what I do right comes from my personality, and my history, and my education. Am I a self-made man, carved out of whole cloth only by my own actions and my own ideals?

That's the American mythos, the sick little lie that hangs around our discourse like the smoke from a tire fire that started decades ago, but it's just a lie, plain and simple.

I am a very, very lucky man. I was reared in a family of strong women, widows who did what they had to do to get by, and who reared my parents with values that weren't the buzz-cut fifties patriarchal ideal. I had parents that, for those reasons and many others, took a path of self-reliance where such a thing wasn't really necessary or socially popular, and I went to school in a moderately well-off county in a wealthy state, where the school system was progressive and experimental. For sort of a quirky, ridiculous reason, I ended up in special education for several years of my schooling, which in practice meant that I had free reign to sit in the library all day with thousands of books, learning about the world in my own way.

I've been lucky enough to have fortunate breaks and even more fortunate disasters, which taught me valuable lessons without breaking me in the process. I'm lucky enough to be relatively clever, good with words, and curious above all things. I'm healthy, I make enough money to pay my bills, and looking at me fails to induce vomiting in some fraction of the people I'd like to date.

Do my instincts to be generous, thoughtful about my place in the world, and ethical make me better than people who didn't have the same luck? Am I better than my right-wing cousins, who think Obama's the Anti-Christ? Did they choose to believe something as stupid as that, or is who they are part of their luck, and their draw?

Liberals go on and on about right and wrong, but the judgment's just as bad on the "progressive" side, and it's delivered with a snide ugliness that's even more mystifying than the judgment of fundamentalists, and it makes it impossible to ever cross the battle lines to make a serious point.

Why should people on the right listen to us?

Why would someone want to listen to you when you condescend, call them stupid, call them evil, and use preaching-to-the-choir tactics? Sure, we don't agree with them, and we don't buy into the religion, the strangely warped view of "patriotism," and the jingoism, but rather than being blinded and enraged, we should be the ones to apply that inner calm we broadly claim as our birthright and just come up with languages that make sense.

I'd like to say I don't see that greener-than-thou sanctimony out there, but I do, and far more often than I'd like.

Working at the museum, which catered to "outsider" and "visionary" artists, I had a lot of conversations with visiting artists and fans of "outsider" art about how I should be more "green" and "reduce my carbon footprint," and they were always delivered in this dour, apocalyptic tenor, while the facts of the matter were completely immaterial.

"You know, the museum should really have a bio-diesel van," they'd say, in spite of the fact that we didn't have a museum van. When I needed something, I'd rent it. Buying some old piece of crap to convert to bio-diesel, and then maintaining it, wasn't green—it was just silly.

"You know, you should use LED lighting in the galleries," they'd say, and I'd point out that I'd put in CFL, cold cathode lighting, and LED lighting anywhere I could, but that there aren't dimmable low wattage lighting solutions available for gallery lighting that produced a light that worked in a gallery setting (i.e. not twitchy blue-white LEDs or UV-spewing CFLs).

"You know, you should put solar panels on the roof of the museum," they'd say, and I'd point out that I'd worked out that, even covering every available inch of roof surface with panels, we wouldn't be able to run either the three elevators or even the gallery lighting, let alone the HVAC that's just unavoidable in a museum (you can't hang art where you can't control temperature and humidity, alas).

In my new career, I'm running a 300-foot clock tower.

"Yes, it would be neat to put windmills up there, but no, there are no plans to do so."

"You know, I noticed the the track lighting in the Tower is all incandescent..." they say, and I just want to strangle someone. Everyone's got an easy fix, as long as they don't do the numbers. We love to imagine that we're so much better than those on the other side, and we'll fudge the numbers if we need to, and play up the feel-good aspect of our great work without pointing out, well, as it happens, a Prius really doesn't get very good gas mileage.

We're too busy being in opposition to realize that both "sides" are subject to the same ugly political gestalt intelligence, a kind of group mentality that ends up reflecting nothing of the individuality of the group. We're expending our energy in aggressive, conspicuous self-denial when we should be getting smarter, learning the language and the tactics of those who oppose what we think is right so that we can win them over, and share the luck we were dealt when we arrived at this state of understanding what we understand.

I think of the whole marriage equality battle, and it's a hard one for me, because when I hear people arguing against what I know to be true and fair, I burn inside, but if I go after the argument on the basis of how stupid its proponents are, or how hypocritical they are, or how dumb everyone is but me, I achieve nothing. When I approach conservatives with care and generosity, and with a well-reasoned defense of marriage equality argued from a conservative perspective, I make points. I might not change minds right away, but those points will go somewhere, later, when those people are thinking over their own beliefs.

If all we do is make ourselves feel superior, how are we supposed to change anything?
posted by sonascope at 1:18 PM on July 11, 2010 [10 favorites]


danila, I was with you all the way ...

We don't have to make the political into something personal, it already is. By not acknowledging that it is a system then the system cannot be changed.

but then you had go too far ...

The system is not individuals, it is institutions. Ultimately, I hope and believe it will be destroyed.

Were it only so simple? The System is not some dark and shadowy monster distinct from us, the individuals. The System is a complexity of institutions financed and manned and managed and directed by us, the individuals. Destroy it if you wish but until we get to the heart of all the individual human decisions that made it so corrupt in the first place, we'll just build something similar, conceivably far worse, in its place.

This is why "You're either part of the problem or part of the solution" is one of my single most HATED turns of phrase. But replace it with "We're Not Part Of The Solution Until We Realize We'll Always Be Part Of The Problem" and it becomes something I can get behind.
posted by philip-random at 1:38 PM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


We can imagine the worst apocalyptic environmental scenarios, and yet we can't imagine any alternative to capitalism, as if capitalism is an eternal truth more real than the world itself. Even anarcho-primitivists secretly agree - for them, the problem isn't capitalism, but the excess human population, and if only we could eliminate 99% of humanity somehow, capitalism could continue to function without the threat of environmental collapse.

Jensen points out the failure of our favorite environmental solutions, but it's a mistake to respond by thinking of other, more effective actions, since the problem is not that these solutions don't work, but that we ever believed that they would. The real significance of these failures is that they point to an ideological problem, a problem at the level of ideas rather than actions. What we need is ideological critique directed inward at the activist Left, instead of only at the always distant, mythical Bad Guys. My main problem is that Jensen is too much of an optimist, he doesn't realize that the problems he identifies are the result of the same anti-modern Rousseauian, Heideggerian, and New Age ideals, like "animal humanity", that he continues to adhere to. These are the ideologies that should be challenged, and if you wanted to read about that, you could do worse than Timothy Morton's book "Ecology without Nature", or this relatively accessible paper, Beautiful Soul Syndrome.
posted by AlsoMike at 3:43 PM on July 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Except Jensen wrote like 4 books before that 2005 article came out that made many of these same points.

Hmm... I'm not sure I believe that he addresses collective action problems specifically, but even if he does, notice that Sinnott-Armstrong's article is better and more careful. Notice, for instance, that he moves from premise to premise rather than from premises through inferences to conclusions.... That's not an argument, it's a long-winded assertion built into a work of fiction.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:46 PM on July 11, 2010


Even anarcho-primitivists secretly agree - for them, the problem isn't capitalism, but the excess human population, and if only we could eliminate 99% of humanity somehow, capitalism could continue to function without the threat of environmental collapse.

I have no sympathy for primitivism, but this is categorically false. Primmies are anti-capitalists.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:04 PM on July 11, 2010


In some ways, young people really do have the most freedom and the biggest ability to affect change -- because they are not yet materially or personally invested in the way things are

I used to think that way as well, until one I was raising turned into a teenager.

Honestly, I have never met a group of people so generally fearful of nonconformity, and so wedded to the display of whatever set of commercial logos is approved by the peer group this month. Advertisers have an absolute lock on the young adult market. There's no organized resistance coming from that quarter.

You're contributing, literally, nothing

No, I'm contributing time, attention and living space for existing children that would otherwise have been allocated to raising new people I made myself.

...as the article observes, it's silly to imagine that personal choices have much of a political impact.

Personal choices like who we vote for presumably excepted, in the author's own peculiar compartmentalization of choices into effective and ineffective.
posted by flabdablet at 5:26 PM on July 11, 2010


I just read this entire thread in the shower.

(I wasn't running the shower -- I just sit in my bathtub for hours)
(My back hurts)
posted by dirigibleman at 7:09 PM on July 11, 2010


flabgabbet, I haven't raised any teenagers but I was one myself a few years ago, and I've known and taught several. Suffice it to say I agree neither with your broad assessment of teenage character nor with your inference about their love for commerce. In any case, my point was more about college students and recent grads (the ones who're fortunate enough to graduate without back-breaking loans) - sorry if that wasn't clear.

Not having kids is not a contribution, although what you do instead of that might be. If you're contributing time and attention and living space to kids (whatever that means) you might as well hold off on giving up on them / their potential. I dunno.

Also, somewhat OT, here's an interesting old comment I found a few weeks ago that you might enjoy reading.
posted by mondaygreens at 7:22 PM on July 11, 2010


I have no sympathy for primitivism, but this is categorically false. Primmies are anti-capitalists.

I think you've missed that I don't accept how they categorize themselves. It's all very well to rage against capitalism, but if you advocate for the same ideas that generate it, you're only anti-capitalist in a shallow and ultimately meaningless sense.
posted by AlsoMike at 7:59 PM on July 11, 2010


Not having kids is not a contribution

I understand that you believe that, but I think you're wrong. Here's why.

Let the average amount of non-renewable resources allocated to a person in my culture over a lifetime be X. If I choose to create N descendants, each of whom will also consume roughly X, then a predictable consequence of that choice is the consumption of roughly (N + 1) * X amount of non-renewable resources.

If I choose to make N=0, I have instantly cut the non-renewable resources I'm choosing to consume by a factor of at least 50%. In fact, given that any N > 0 will make N unpredictably high and given that I have seen no evidence that my culture is capable of making X significantly smaller within the next few generations, 50% is a very, very conservative estimate.

So, solely by choosing not to add personally to their number, I'm contributing to future generations at least 100% more non-renewable resources than somebody who does choose to reproduce. That's more than most of the people in my culture are willing to do, and having done it, I feel I've done enough.

The fact that I also choose to spend time raising kids who did not spring from my loins, and showing them by example that using up less stuff than average does not equate to a life of hardship and misery, is gravy.
posted by flabdablet at 8:03 PM on July 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


flabdablet, I could be driving a car with the lowest mileage available and still be using resources; I could be driving the biggest gas-guzzling monster and it's still just a sliding scale of consumption. Personally I don't do either - I don't drive. But that's not a contribution; not having a car does not create oxygen. It's just less harmful than the alternative. So, okay, you're reducing the amount of pressure on the earth's resources; that's great and worthwhile. It's not a contribution though... not until you're creating non-renewable resources to contribute. Non-renewable means exactly that there's only so much of them; so... you've just automatically claimed some of it for your future children and then marked it as a "personal contribution" by not having kids? I can't begin to tell you how ridiculous and egotistical that sounds.

What you're doing is abstaining. With good reason. But, again, that's not a contribution - not just because you're not creating any extra energy to contribute but also because whatever you didn't use isn't directly going to go to feeding other future people in as simplistic a way as you assume. This entire article is about the capitalist-industrial complex, so I don't quite understand how we're back here to drawing easy equations among individuals - and that too, between hypothetical ones.

Both these things are directly addressed in the linked article - so why are we arguing from square 1? I mean are you denying the article or have you already dismantled it so thoroughly in some other comment upthread that you no longer need to even acknowledge it? Link me to it, if so.
posted by mondaygreens at 8:27 PM on July 11, 2010


Primitivists advocate for a return to the hunter-gatherer state. You can argue that that's stupid (which I would agree with), but you can't really argue that that makes them pro-capitalist.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:29 PM on July 11, 2010


PS: That should've been "highest mileage," not lowest, in the first sentence.
posted by mondaygreens at 8:31 PM on July 11, 2010


It's not a contribution though... not until you're creating non-renewable resources to contribute.

That's a contradiction in terms. Any resource I could create would ipso facto not be non-renewable.

Non-renewable means exactly that there's only so much of them

Quite so. That, to my mind, is what makes choices that contribute to their conservation worthwhile.

As an aside, oxygen is a renewable resource, provided we preserve the large-scale forest and ocean ecosystems that supply it - ecosystems that are themselves not renewable once destroyed, at least not within less than tens of human generations.

so... you've just automatically claimed some of it for your future children and then marked it as a "personal contribution" by not having kids? I can't begin to tell you how ridiculous and egotistical that sounds.

I'm not really interested in having a fight with you about this, so I'll simply ask you to dial back your outrage a notch and seek a more sympathetic reading of my position than you've apparently managed so far.

Quite clearly I am claiming none of the world's non-renewable resources on behalf of my nonexistent children. By contrast, most of the people in my culture - which like all industrialized cultures is for the foreseeable future structurally dependent on the exploitation of non-renewable resources - do choose to make children, and therefore do implicitly assert a right to claim a share of those resources on those children's behalf.

By failing to do likewise - by choosing to make available to other people what, according to the norms of my culture, would otherwise be my children's rightful share of those resources - I honestly believe I have contributed more toward their conservation than I could have done by means of any other single personal choice.

It comes down to numbers. If I were to don a hair shirt and reduce my own personal lifetime consumption of non-renewables to say 1% of my cultural norm X - but I were also to be responsible for the creation of N > 0 descendants, whose likely resource consumption I must figure as N * X, absent any better information - then the total consumption of non-renewable resources that I have chosen to be the cause of would still be far greater than it would be for N = 0.

I can't see how that's egotistical; perhaps you could explain. To me, egotistical would be believing that my own preferences and priorities around conserving non-renewable resources would necessarily be shared by all my descendants, or that my entire culture must inevitably come around to seeing the conservation of non-renewable resources from my own point of view before most of them are used up, or that I have a right to attempt to force it to do so.
posted by flabdablet at 11:50 PM on July 11, 2010


Of course you have a right to try to change your culture. Every human being has that right.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:51 AM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


flabdablet, I could be driving a car with the lowest mileage available and still be using resources; [...] It's not a contribution though... not until you're creating non-renewable resources to contribute. Non-renewable means exactly that there's only so much of them

That depends - when one speaks of contribution, a contribution to what?

We can speak of a contribution to the arts, a contribution to the police widows and orphans fund, a contribution to efforts to reduce current non-renewable resource consumption, or a contribution to the actual stock of non-renewable resources.

It seems fairly obvious to me that flabdablet is talking about a contribution of the third kind. Someone might put more insulation in their loft, or install energy efficient lightbulbs. Now, obviously, loft insulation and energy efficient lightbulbs use resources in their production - but we look at total effects - in other words, it may take resources to make that loft insulation, but over a few years it saves more resources than it costs. Thus, the change from normal to energy efficient lightbulbs is a contribution towards reducing current resource consumption.

Flabdablet is also arguing that the total effects should be calculated across all the effects a person has during and after their lifetime. So, just as an energy-efficient lightbulb uses more resources in its production but saves more resources in its lifetime, likewise a person could use more resources in some areas, but produce greater savings in different areas, and thereby would have a net positive effect.

A contribution of the fourth type, which seems to be what you're speaking in terms of, is the argument that though an energy-efficient lightbulb uses less energy than a standard lightbulb, because the lightbulb requires resources for its production, and because it still uses some energy, albeit less, that using an energy-efficient lightbulb is not a positive contribution, rather it's a smaller negative contribution. In other words that resource usage should be measured in absolute terms, rather than relative to the status quo or others' energy usage.

Since non-renewable resources are by definition not renewable, making a positive contribution to the world's stock of non-renewable resources is not possible. One can only strive to not make a negative contribution - which in the case of the lightbulb would mean (I assume) sitting in darkness.

This is what I interpret the article to advocate, when it states is very scary for a number of reasons, including but not restricted to the fact that we’d lose some of the luxuries (like electricity) to which we’ve grown accustomed

Am I correct in my interpretation of your post?
posted by Mike1024 at 2:12 AM on July 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Of course you have a right to try to change your culture.

Do, or do not; there is no try :-)

Every human being has that right.

I fully agree that I have a right (probably, in this day and age, even an obligation) to exert pressure for change on my own culture, and making choices that I believe would benefit that culture if more people made similar ones is certainly part of that regardless of what Derrick Jensen believes about hot water. What I don't have, though, is a right to force anybody else to comply with my wishes and priorities; that right belongs to the State.

Given that I live in a democracy where there's 75% popular support for laws that allow terrorist suspects to be locked up without charge and make it illegal for any unauthorized person to reveal that this has happened, I have no particular reason to believe that the views of the State will be aligning with my own any time soon.

And meanwhile our cities get more and more crowded and there are fewer and fewer places we can just go without needing some footling little regulation to stop us crapping up the joint and stuff like the Rwandan, Bosnian and Darfur genocides just keep on being humanity's standard response to competition for living space and we're destroying other species at something like fifty times the rate we were achieving when I was little.

I have been wondering for twenty years just how stark the writing on the wall is going to have to get before Mr and Mrs TV Week actually notice that we can't go on like this and actually decide to take industrial society's ecological impact seriously. So far, the answer remains "starker than it is now, and that's for damn sure." I mean, they're lovely people and all but honestly most of them have NO FUCKING CLUE and they outnumber the rest of us at least six to one.

Those of you who have chosen to reproduce: I weep for your great-grandchildren. That's not just some overblown piece of Internet rhetoric; that's really something I can't sometimes help but do.

OK. Miserable now. I'm off to take a long hot shower.
posted by flabdablet at 3:20 AM on July 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


BP sucks
posted by andykapahala at 3:22 AM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


yeah but not quite hard enough amirite
posted by flabdablet at 3:22 AM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


"You know, you should put solar panels on the roof of the museum," they'd say, and I'd point out that I'd worked out that, even covering every available inch of roof surface with panels, we wouldn't be able to run either the three elevators or even the gallery lighting, let alone the HVAC that's just unavoidable in a museum (you can't hang art where you can't control temperature and humidity, alas). -- sonascope
But it would reduce the amount of fossil fuel energy you did use. Which is, you know, important. Seriously, how is that even an excuse? If you had said "Well, we don't have the capital to make the investment" that would at least make sense (although you can get panels in pretty small amounts, for example $1k for 340 watt panel sets on Amazon
if we need to, and play up the feel-good aspect of our great work without pointing out, well, as it happens, a Prius really doesn't get very good gas mileage. -- sonascope
Uh, the Prius does get good gas milage. As for your lighting, well I have no idea if it's really true you can't get LED lights or whatever, but you seem rather lazy and ill-informed, frankly.
posted by delmoi at 3:30 AM on July 12, 2010


And yes, I did forget to mention that as well as bunging on a per-kWh or per-cubic-metre consumption tax for all energy supplies and fuels and water, I would of course bung on a carbon tax, and that the proceeds from that would also go into the universal cost-of-living-increase refund pool. In my view, a carbon tax makes much more sense than a cap-and-trade system - at least in part because it can be used to cushion the knock-on effects of increased energy costs upon those least able to afford them.
Under a cap and trade system, the government auctions off permits, so they get money just as they would under a carbon tax, which is why republicans call it "Cap and Tax"
posted by delmoi at 3:33 AM on July 12, 2010


flabgabet, I didn't mean to imply that oxygen is non-renewable. What I was simply saying was: NOT doing something is not a contribution; it is a personal act of conservation that, while meaningful to you (and to me, for what its worth - I don't plan to have kids either) does not necessarily translate to actual benefit to another human being. What if all of what you conserve is used up by, I dnno, the big bad corporations that are already eating through everything? That's no reason not to do it, but I think it's reason enough to pause and think about what, if anything, we as people are actually *able* to contribute to our own species' future any more.

To clarify further, I wasn't outraged; I was frustrated because I felt that I was arguing from the position of the article, or rather, having to restate its premise because you weren't acknowledging that it's linked up there and actually takes this argument (personal != political) much further, as Mike1024 pointed out. So ultimately, within the context of that essay, our argument about "contribution" is a semantic one. I accept from your follow-up that egotistical was clearly a misreading on my part - primarily because I assumed that you were ignoring the thesis that started this whole thread.

And your follow-up makes me ask too, as does my own growing feeling of helplessness, if violence or disaster is ultimately what will restore some semblance of sensibleness to our global civilization. And at what scale it would need to happen for it to be enough. "NO FUCKING CLUE" seems exactly right, even in my own country, which is not only bursting at the seams but appears to have rather wholeheartedly (and unorganically, I might add, unlike in the West) embraced the project of economic "progress". So what is the right political action in this circumstance? And how long do we wait until the right thing starts looking like the only possible thing we can do, for our own individual sakes? Because no matter what the right thing turns out to be, if it's going to be non-violent, we'll need to agree on it to get anything done.

So, I dunno. I can't quite allow (out of fear, but it's not fear of the primitive as much as fear of what it would take to get us to the point of allowing it) that there is a strong case for primitivism, inspite of the fact that dismissing it is looking, in view of our diminishing resources, more and more like a luxury that we already can't afford.

Sorry about being snarky earlier; hope you enjoyed your shower.
posted by mondaygreens at 3:57 AM on July 12, 2010


Ack, sorry for misspelling your name!
posted by mondaygreens at 4:04 AM on July 12, 2010


So what is the right political action in this circumstance?

I'm the wrong person to ask that question. If I had any confidence at all in the ability of humanity at large to organize a nonviolent political solution to the mess we now find ourselves in, I would spend less time weeping for other people's grandchildren.
posted by flabdablet at 4:18 AM on July 12, 2010


Sorry, just getting to this thread now. I've been in the shower for the last day or so.

Kidding.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:47 AM on July 12, 2010


a small part of the world: "taking shorter showers (for example) and agitating for political change"

I'm sorry, I totally read 'agitating for political change' as 'doing laundry for world peace'.

From the article: "But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption—changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much—and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet?"

Isn't it also somewhat important that, as we march on to change the world, we aren't wearing our energy-sucking, all-consuming, ego-inflating hypocrite pants? Do as I say, not as I do and all that jazz?
posted by iamkimiam at 7:10 AM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


So what is the right political action in this circumstance?

Do I need to be the first one to come out and say it? There is probably no solution to the problems we are facing. Out of negligence these problems have turned into predicaments that must be put up with for a long time to come. This is what happens when you fight complexity with even more complexity. Political will is fractured to the point that individual actions are pretty much all that matter (which is to say, not much) -- the bureaucrats in Washington are just doing their darndest to keep the whole situation stable and not much more.

Learn things, give up things, save things. Start a garden. Ride your bike. Detangle your identity from the technologies and ideologies that run our lives. That means not blaming yourself for the fact that you are progressively earning less and less money year after year. Redefine progress to mean being better able to bend your will to be happy with what you have.

And for those that would call me a doomer... Fuck that. I don't believe the world is coming to an end. Only maybe what we call the "first world". And believe it or not plenty of people outside that world get by just fine. And even if you don't think they do you'd be better off learning how that might be possible than using your currently posh existence to rant about how nature is red in tooth and claw on the internet (as if it were some religious sacrament) while ignoring the storm clouds overhead.
posted by symbollocks at 7:24 AM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


@delmoi - Frankly, you're just making my point for me. You blow in with this great holier-than-thou pronouncement, but tell me this--did you run the numbers for my facility? Did you meet with BP Solarex off and on for three years, trying to come up with a system that could be (a) installed by a non-profit institution and (b) maintained by a non-profit institution, and (c) would ever reach a break-even point before the panels began to fail on their own (and that's something the know-it-alls don't seem to comprehend--a solar panel isn't a once-in-a-lifetime purchase)?

How 'bout this one? Did you negotiate to purchase power from a carbon-neutral wind/solar energy broker, achieving the equivalent reduction of fossil fuel power consumption without bankrupting a non-profit in a showy, pointless display of solar panels? I think you probably didn't, but what do I know? I'm not very well informed, apparently.

I'm also not very well informed about museum lighting, seeing as I only worked with oh, maybe fifty lighting suppliers in the pursuit of a low wattage replacement for standard par spots and floods that would be (a) economically viable, (b) safe for artwork (i.e. UV and spectrum-stable), and (c) something dimmable on a Lutron lighting control system that had a spectrum that was remotely comparable to what it was meant to replace. How lazy and uninformed I am...it's just sad, ain't it? If only you'd been around when I was spending hours and hours researching unreleased lighting systems that still failed to meet the most basic standards for museum-grade lighting, you could have shown me the light, as it were.

That's what's sad with all this, really. No matter what I did in my job, and no matter how much energy, ingenuity, and research I put into finding ways to improve the museum's ecological standing, there was always some dour, snide little eco-hipster standing around with their little brow all furrowed, desperate to tell me that everything I was doing was wrong. In the end, I can't really be bothered, because I know that I left things better than they were when I found them.

On the Prius thing, I should have phrased that better--what I mean to say is that it's flat-out ridiculous and pathetic that a monstrously-heavy compact car with no interior space and which costs upwards of twenty-three thousand dollars should get the same gas mileage on the highway as my forty-two year-old Citroën. The fact that people think 50 mpg is good gas mileage in 2010 is just really, really sad.
posted by sonascope at 9:58 AM on July 12, 2010 [10 favorites]


Isn't it also somewhat important that, as we march on to change the world, we aren't wearing our energy-sucking, all-consuming, ego-inflating hypocrite pants? Do as I say, not as I do and all that jazz?

A hypocrite demands moral behavior from others while personally exempting him/herself. This implies a belief that environmental problems can be best addressed by asking people to make better choices, which would compel us to lead by example, but capitalism is neutral, it has no choice but to respond to our excessive, thoughtless and wasteful demands. So the system is fine, we just need to work on ourselves? -- this is capitalist ideology, which obscures the real problem, and the widespread emphasis on not being a hypocrite is a good indicator of the extent that even supposedly "extreme" environmentalists are under its influence. No wonder nothing gets done.

Rather than talking about protecting nature from us, we should be talking about protecting us from nature: the impacts of global warming will not be felt equally by all, but disproportionately affect the global poor and working class.
posted by AlsoMike at 12:27 PM on July 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


... we reduce our potential forms of resistance to consuming and not consuming. Citizens have a much wider range of available resistance tactics, including voting, not voting, running for office, pamphleting, boycotting...

Um, am I missing something here? Doesn't boycotting fall under the category of "consuming or not consuming"?

The problem here is his definition of "consumer choices" is really "useless and futile consumer choices". So yes, Derrick Jensen, you've proven that consumer choice-based activism is useless and futile, and you've done so in one step. But "consumer choices" is a much broader category than just things like shorter showers et al. It includes, well, boycotts!

What if we really started flexing our consumer rights. What if each and every American refused to give BP a penny until the gulf spill ended. Hell, what if a group of consumers got together and agreed on a series of environmental standards, and refused to support any company that didn't abide by them, and actually went through with it. Shit man, what if said consumer group composed of most of the country.
You think that would have a noticeable effect on industry?

More of an effect than writing a letter to your local congressman, that's for Goddamn sure.
posted by DZack at 6:41 PM on July 12, 2010


Hell, what if a group of consumers got together and agreed on a series of environmental standards, and refused to support any company that didn't abide by them, and actually went through with it. Shit man, what if said consumer group composed of most of the country.

It's a beautiful dream, and I hope it ends up happening. But twenty years of waiting for it have convinced me that industrial cultures are efficient enough at manufacturing consent to keep those of us who would get behind such a thing marginalized, divided and ineffective.

And since the entire point of learning to take ecology seriously is to gain the ability to avoid the senseless violence that resource shortages bring on, I don't think revolution is an acceptable answer either.

I think there are simply too many of us now to avoid some kind of deeply unpleasant population crash. I don't think it will happen in my lifetime; I think human ingenuity has got a way to go before we collectively reach the bottom of the planetary barrel. But it breaks my heart that although we in the industrialized world are so clearly capable of organizing orderly global population reduction via voluntary deep cuts to our own birth rates, promotion of fair international trade rules and increasing people's freedom to cross our borders, and although we probably still have time to limit how bad the crash will be by doing so, public policy is so consistently and relentlessly driven in the opposite direction.
posted by flabdablet at 7:31 PM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wow. There are a lot of us here. We have done a good job at picking apart this poorly thought-out article.

But who, including the author, has sketched out a possible political course of action that might address the problem? Who has really created anything new? Yeah, you can mutter bitterly about how useless writing your senator is, but if this type of thing is all we can think of, there must be something more for us to learn about our politics.

Or, what may be the same question: who has begun to try and link us as people? We are all a bunch of people who care a hell of a lot about each other and who seem to be thinking deeply. There's a lot of people dissecting and turning over, but nothing resembling a good long look into each other's eyes.
posted by victory_laser at 4:27 AM on July 18, 2010


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