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October 10, 2010 2:47 AM   Subscribe

The Coalition of the Willing is a broad movement that began with an animated short about open source culture and the role it could play against global warming. Today, on 10th October 2010, people at 7347 events in 188 countries are getting to work on the climate crisis at the 10/10/10 Work Party. [via Appropedia] Previously
posted by The Lady is a designer (50 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
The "Coalition of the Willing" was a Bush administration euphemism created to give the illusion of broad support for a war that, in fact, had very little support, but instead had broad, well-reasoned opposition.

How am I to take seriously a group that, without any apparent intention of irony, adopts the same discredited trademark?

If you want to do something about global warming, park your cars, turn off your air conditioners in the summer, put on a jumper in the winter, and quit purchasing and using fossil fuels. You do not need any government action to take action on your own.
posted by three blind mice at 3:19 AM on October 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


From what I gather from the video (I'm about halfway through right now), it's specifically not about government action, threeblindmice. It seems to be mainly about setting up a collection of web fora — some sort of (wiki-style?) data repository for how to live a low carbon lifestyle, a site where individuals and non-governmental environmental organizations could brainstorm solutions to clearly-identified problems, and a social networking site aimed at getting together individuals, environmental organizations, and people with grant money.

Most of the rhetoric is heavily Deleuze-and-Guattari inflected — they toss around the word "rhizomatic" like it's going out of style, and they are very, very excited about the possibilities for using web2.0 "it gets better the more people use it" network effects for enacting change. To my jaded and cynical eye, though, it seems like they don't know how to get something like that off the ground, and they're willfully vague on how hard-to-run a for reals internet swarm is, and also willfully naive about how hierarchical social networks can be — basically, they're people who still think of wikipedia as being the product of millions of editors, rather than in large part the product of a relatively small and hierarchically organized distributed group of obsessives.

On the whole, I think that attempts to create a social/environmental justice internet swarm whole-cloth like this are doomed and awkward. At several points I found myself thinking "Milhouse is Not a Meme."

That's not to say that there's not necessarily an audience for this sort of thing. I suspect, if it exists, that it is somewhat younger and significantly more European than I am. However, I also suspect that whatever support they get will be smaller in number and larger in headaches-per-person than they're planning for.

I do think, though, that the "Coalition of the Willing" slogan is a very cheeky, deliberate, and effective way to co-opt and neutralize the bad guys' language. Probably the only aspect of their presentation that entirely works for me.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:43 AM on October 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


If you want to do something about global warming, park your cars, turn off your air conditioners in the summer, put on a jumper in the winter, and quit purchasing and using fossil fuels.
Yes, the best way to stop global warming is to free up oil for other people to burn even cheaper.
You do not need any government action to take action on your own.
Investing in green tech (like solar panels, hybrid cars, etc) is good because it drives up demand for those technologies. But simply conserving energy as an individual may be nice but it won't have any impact so long as there are enough people willing to use the rest. Government action on the other hand, can stop it.

I think the idea that you, acting as an individual, can actually stop global warming is just kind of narcissistic.
posted by delmoi at 3:49 AM on October 10, 2010 [13 favorites]


Oh jesus, these people are trying to use social media to advance their cause and they stole their name from what could arguably be the broader left's no. 1 bete noire of the last decade? Yup, I'm trusting these people on how to use public relations.

More broadly, this is all smokescreen. Private action will never counter climate change. Only public, political action. The sooner we accept this horrifying reality, the sooner we can stop taking solace in unplugging the phone charger and catching the train, and start making the demands - and the action - our governments will notice.

The challenge of climate change is not a technological one - we have the technology. We don't need "crowd-sourced innovation" or some such nonsense. It's not a fiscal one - we could easily afford it. It is a political one, and it must be addressed politically, and through our political systems.

An unpalatable, depressing, emasculating idea, certainly. But that is how to make a difference at this point in time.
posted by smoke at 3:58 AM on October 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think the idea that you, acting as an individual, can actually stop global warming is just kind of narcissistic.

Quoted for freaking truth. A testament to an age where we believe - or are fooled to believe - that the individual can do anything if they want to. An age where individual responsibility, actions, needs, desires are pushed to the forefront over collective. And that is just not going to work for climate change.
posted by smoke at 4:09 AM on October 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


oops, got a little aggro there with my ems.
posted by smoke at 4:10 AM on October 10, 2010


What a shitfull name.

I know that's just repeating the sentiments above, but I'm wondering if this is deliberately awful, or just utterly clueless, in PR terms?
posted by pompomtom at 4:20 AM on October 10, 2010


great article by Monbiot on where we're at.
posted by smoke at 4:47 AM on October 10, 2010


great article by Monbiot on where we're at.
---
It’s already clear that the climate talks in December will go nowhere - so what do we do?
Why the hell do they hold these talks in the middle of winter?

I mean last winter there was a lot of snow and conservatives were going on and on about how it proved global warming was fake. Then this summer epic heat waves and floods and what do we hear from global warming proponents? Nothing.
posted by delmoi at 5:00 AM on October 10, 2010


I watched the video. These guys need to read the Malcolm Gladwell article on Twitter and watch The Century of the Self.

"Rhizomatic," huh? High theory and pretense without practical strategy and substance is exactly what we don't need to solve this crisis.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 5:35 AM on October 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Okay, so what do we need? There's a lot of criticism in this thread, but not a lot of ideas. (And obviously I know that's not the role of metafilter, but if you're going to criticize, but out an alternative!) Our government in the US isn't really doing anything about it, and in the few political ads I've seen this season (in PA), it doesn't seem like there are any candidates committed to doing something about global warming. So if there's no one in office willing to take this on, and no one running against the incumbents on a stop-global-warming platform, what do we do? That's where I would imagine this group is coming from, at least. I can understand that feeling of frustration with the current political system and wanting to take things into your own hands, even if it isn't particularly well thought out. I'm curious, do people in this thread think that if instead of joining this "coalition of the willing" these people went out and voted (for who?) or called their representatives, that something then would be done about global warming?
posted by lagreen at 6:24 AM on October 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I had to google "rhizomatic". seems like a good idea. I'll check back after MY nap.
posted by sammyo at 6:52 AM on October 10, 2010


I think the idea that you, acting as an individual, can actually stop global warming is just kind of narcissistic.

And that is the point of view of people who sit in traffic with their Save the Planet bumper stickers mocking me and the other bicyclists who are actually making a fucking effort.

In the 70s there used to be a saying amongst environmentalists - if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

Park your car and give up your warm and dry commute for a month during winter before you talk to me about being "narcissistic."
posted by three blind mice at 7:32 AM on October 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


For those on the fence, maybe not really willing or interested, is there "no pressure"?
posted by codswallop at 7:32 AM on October 10, 2010


And that is the point of view of people who sit in traffic with their Save the Planet bumper stickers mocking me and the other bicyclists who are actually making a fucking effort.

In the 70s there used to be a saying amongst environmentalists - if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

Park your car and give up your warm and dry commute for a month during winter before you talk to me about being "narcissistic."


This kind of bullshit is precisely the problem with the "scrappy underdogs conquer climate change" model. It's instantly convertible into moralizing, holier-than-thou posturing which resists any scrutiny of its pragmatic assumptions by saying "at least I'm doing something." Guess what? You're not doing jack. In the big scheme of things--which is the only legitimate point of view--you and your bicycling don't matter at all. The world is not going to go down in flames .000001 seconds earlier if you start driving a car. You. Don't. Matter.

But since the "I'm doing my part" position gives people the ability to brag about how environmentally-virtuous they are, it's going to remain popular forever. Never mind that this kind of shit is precisely what alienates the mass public from the environmental movement. Never mind that it fosters classism by making the health of the planet all about consumption choices rather than government action. I've got my bicycle, so fuck off!
posted by nasreddin at 7:50 AM on October 10, 2010 [8 favorites]


Never mind that it fosters classism by making the health of the planet all about consumption choices rather than government action.

Not to mention the billions living around the world under uncertain conditions of scarcity whose consumption includes one full meal a day if they're lucky. What do they do? They're the first hit when the climate changes impact livelihood activities
posted by The Lady is a designer at 7:58 AM on October 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Never mind that it fosters classism by making the health of the planet all about consumption choices rather than government action.

The health of the planet is, when you get down to it, very dependant on consumption choices. I'm not sure what else one could think it would be about.

Government action can shape or constrain those choices, but you need political will for that. In order for there to be political will, there has to be an alternative lifestyle, an alternative set of choices that the electorate and politicians can look to. If we just change our lifestyles individually, we won't get much done, because the majority won't change. If we just rant and rave and demand that politicians do something, nothing much will happen either. We need to lead the way to show how a lower-impact lifestyle is not just possible, but in many ways preferable. We need to lobby and vote to make those lifestyles possible and then to regulate to push others toward more sustainable lifestyles.

The angry, dismissive attitude that you (and many others) take towards those who actually are trying to develop those alternative lifestyles is very counter-productive. I don't know about your case in particular, but I think it often springs from feelings of guilt that one isn't doing much on the personal level and a desire to shift responsibility for one's first-world lifestyle to someone else.

Frankly, this attitude makes me want to scream, rant, and rave, but I restrain myself in the spirit of working towards positive change.
posted by ssg at 9:30 AM on October 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


Actions and intentions matter and are real
posted by kuatto at 10:01 AM on October 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


The mistake is doing one thing and thinking your job is done. You can act politically and personally, and the two approaches can inform each other.

On the one hand, you won't get much done on the global scale if all you do is reduce your own personal consumption. You are not the world. You have to act politically.

On the other hand, no matter what political actions do you take (and no matter what wacky online "look at me!" stunts you pull), you personally -- you and your family with your big overheated/overcooled house and multiple cars and multiple long commutes and frequent flyer miles -- are still personally responsible for fucking up the planet, no matter how you vote, and you still have to reduce that consumption significantly.
posted by pracowity at 10:19 AM on October 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't often agree with delmoi, but, seriously, what a beautifully true statement. The Chinese and the rest of the emerging markets (but especially the Chinse) will burn every gallon of oil and every pound of coal that righteous individual Westerners decline to burn, and thank you for the discount. Of course, they will also make the same use of oil and coal freed up by Western-only government action. The notion that a US-Canada-EU-Japan carbon limitation approach will make the slightest bit of different is absurd.
posted by MattD at 10:21 AM on October 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I am going to comment on this assertion: The health of the planet is, when you get down to it, very dependant on consumption choices. I'm not sure what else one could think it would be about.

There are choices that are not specifically about consumption but which have immense impact on consumption. We do not, for example, think about war as a kind of consumption. People go to war to defend themselves from the real or imaginary abuses that have been inflicted upon them by other people. It's not something people do in order to consume more, and it seldom increases their standard of living. But war does consume vast amounts of resources, and is very environmentally destructive. The continued high level of conflict in our world is a key issue that gets in the way of effective environmental planning.

Reproduction is another key issue. The more children people have, the more consumption is going to be needed to meet the needs of those children, yet this is rarely thought of as a consumption issue, since like war, reproduction does not in itself raise anyone's standard of living. And let us remember, no matter how well individuals may control their individual level of consumption, a sufficiently large population will necessarily consume too much. And if the population always increases, it must eventually reach an excessive level - and realisitically, the level is already excessive. So family planning is more essential than any other environmental measure.
posted by grizzled at 11:31 AM on October 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


But war does consume vast amounts of resources, and is very environmentally destructive.

Anyone know how many gallons of oil are being used every single day in the middle eastern 'theatre'?
posted by The Lady is a designer at 11:43 AM on October 10, 2010


Anyone know how many gallons of oil are being used every single day in the middle eastern 'theatre'?

Good question, according to some googling, the answer is "144 million barrels [a year] makes 395 000 barrels per day, almost as much as daily energy consumption of Greece" - but that was in 2006.
posted by heathkit at 12:46 PM on October 10, 2010


but that was in 2006.

Imagine that from 2002/3 till today... heatwave anyone?
posted by The Lady is a designer at 1:16 PM on October 10, 2010


In order for there to be political will, there has to be an alternative lifestyle, an alternative set of choices that the electorate and politicians can look to.

But the logic of lifestyles is strictly apolitical, the rule is that everyone is entitled to pursue their own as long as they leave others to do the same. Here's something I read yesterday that captures this idea: "Religion is like a penis. It's fine to have one, it's fine to be proud of it. But please don't whip it out and start waving it around. And PLEASE don't try to shove it down my children's throats." The same could be said about any lifestyle, and what's interesting is how it makes a lifestyle into a kind of obscene, embarrassing excess that has the potential to violate if taken too seriously. The Gladwell point about strong ties is very relevant here - isn't the threat of strong ties that we do take them too seriously? As in the case of nationalism, racism, religion, etc.

What makes a lifestyle threatening is when it's no longer understood as a private, idiosyncratic choice, and becomes a necessity for an individual - this is horror of the publicly displayed penis, as it were. The idea of eco-friendly lifestyles begins with "We can all make personal lifestyle changes and choices within the free market system, this idea will spread and become universal, no need for political action!" This turns out to be ineffective in the global scheme of things, so then the claims is "OK, it's not effective, we still need political action, but it's not either-or, we can promote lifestyle changes and political changes!" But it is either-or. Promoting the idea that sustainability is a lifestyle ensures that when you do raise the possibility of regulation and law, opponents can say "Look, it's a lifestyle! How dare these people try to impose their choices on us!" So I would say that it's possible that sustainable lifestyles aren't simply ineffective, they are actively bad and counter-productive, making political action more difficult. We really should be refusing to make it about lifestyles, refusing our "free choices" until we are forced to do them.
posted by AlsoMike at 2:31 PM on October 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


My wife and I helped organize the one in our town. We're just finishing up. It was fun, and hopefully useful too. Haters gonna hate, I guess, but I feel like we're doing good.
posted by Cookiebastard at 3:18 PM on October 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


But that's the problem, Cookie, that feeling is a false consciousness. Feeling cannot trump reality in this matter - it's what's happening already; indeed, it's what drives the citizen denialist. Feeling must give way to fact - a fact that should engender if not panic, then distress.

I'm not trying to hate on anything here, and not your efforts or your sincerity, but as AlsoMike outlines above, the more we continue to frame this as a private, secular, citizen issue, the less real action will get taken. We need to be demanding our governments - the only groups that can - confront this imminent threat to humanity's well-being. It feels paralysing for me - I can only imagine who much worse that feeling would be for someone in the states where every party is a joke and no one votes green. But that's where it's at. Citizens will never be able to address climate change; it requires policy, regulation, enforcement, and governance. There is only on thing that can provide that: governments.
posted by smoke at 3:40 PM on October 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, no matter what political actions do you take (and no matter what wacky online "look at me!" stunts you pull), you personally -- you and your family with your big overheated/overcooled house and multiple cars and multiple long commutes and frequent flyer miles -- are still personally responsible for fucking up the planet, no matter how you vote, and you still have to reduce that consumption significantly.

See, you just did it again. You turned what ought to be a strictly pragmatic discussion about the best and most effective means of fighting climatcoe change and turned it into a moral injunction.

Imagine we're in an alternate-universe MeFi in which this thread is about crime instead of global warming. There's a grassroots organization which is fighting crime using social-network type methods. But people are posting comments that point out that individual action is not what crime is about--crime is a larger social phenomenon which is caused by things like poverty, drug market fluctuations, and joblessness. The only effective way to fight crime is not for well-meaning people to band together and promise each other not to commit crimes, but rather to use various state-driven methods to increase policing, eliminate pockets of deprivation, and so on.

In response, a bunch of commenters post things like "THOU SHALT NOT KILL," "I personally do not break traffic laws," and "It doesn't matter what the government does, if you murder someone, IT'S YOUR OWN FAULT!". Do you see how these kinds of comments could be missing the point in a really significant way? People aren't committing crimes because they're inherently bad people. Even if you zoom in really far and determine that someone really is committing a crime because he's a bad person, you can't go and apply that explanation more broadly, because crime is a social phenomenon that fluctuates in reaction to different kinds of other phenomena (like, for instance, cops on the streets). And do you also see how reframing the discussion to be about how people who are committing crimes are doing it because THEY'RE BAD PEOPLE could marginalize some of the potential participants in the conversation and lead to less effective ways of preventing crime?

The environmental discussion is virtually the same. Carbon emissions dropped significantly last year, but it wasn't because people suddenly became better--it was because the world economy was weaker and companies were producing fewer goods. Turning personal consumption into a moral issue that concerns the decisions of one individual--even though, like crime, consumption clearly does resolve into millions of individual acts of consumption at a certain level of magnification--is unhelpful, unless your goal is to make yourself feel better. If your goal is to encourage change on a massive scale, you can't do it by moral appeals; you have to change the system of incentives and constraints that shapes consumption patterns. Moralistic appeals to individual conscience have as little place in this calculation as they do in any pragmatic policy-based program for fighting crime.

(And, of course, as MattD points out, none of this takes into account India and China, whose economic growth is likely to swamp any well-meaning Western attempt to reduce carbon emissions.)
posted by nasreddin at 3:57 PM on October 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


great article by Monbiot on where we're at.

Yeah, this should be required reading for anyone concerned about environmental issues. Unfortunately, it doesn't give much hope for progress in any direction.
posted by nasreddin at 4:34 PM on October 10, 2010


Just want to clarify something here: the 7,000+ work events happening today are being organized by 350.org, not the Coalition of the Willing.
posted by rossmeissl at 4:36 PM on October 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Smoke, of course you have no idea what my wife and I are doing, as a whole, in the community of environmental and energy-concerned citizens in our town. That's OK, I haven't written about it here before. 10 10 10 is a (very) small part of what our organization has been involved in. We used it, and I think quite successfully, as a networking event, a coalition-building event, and a list-building event, and to get people involved in our nonprofit that trains and educates citizens to effectively lobby their state legislators and our city and county commissions to make realistic, responsible choices to implement effective policy to reduce pollution and end reliance on fossil fuels.

We encourage people to take shorter showers. This saves them energy and water, and also gives them a few extra minutes to write to their legislator demanding responsible energy policy. That's part of our pitch. We organized letter-writing parties to our Governor, demanding that he call a special session of our state legislature to address energy issues. Two days after the first batch of 50+ letters ended up on his desk, he was repeating our talking points on the radio. After the sixth batch, he called the special session, I met him, and he let me know that all the letters that he received were influential in his decision to call the session.

And yes, we participated in and helped organize the 10 10 10 events in our town. The local state legislators that we've been building relations with over the past few months showed up and made a nice, big deal out of signing a petition that will put a referendum for a state constitutional amendment to further our cause on the 2012 ballot. This got so many people to follow suit that we ran out of petitions, when we were previously afraid that we would run out.

We are happy to see people taking personal responsibility to reduce their fossil-fuel usage, and we believe that it's part of the solution. We also recognize the importance of government implementing smart energy policy, and we work very hard to do so. My City and County Commissioners, State Representative, State Senator, and Congressman all know my name and return my phone calls, and I have donated less than $200 total to political campaigns in my life. Because they know that I can mobilize voters and organize effective political actions. My State Representative has sponsored legislation at my request. If you still think this is some kind of feel-good false consciousness, let me know and we can take it to memail.
posted by Cookiebastard at 6:16 PM on October 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


Well cookie with absolutely no sarcasm: I doff my hat to you, sir. That's exactly the kind of action I was talking about, the kind of political, public action - and it seems quite different from what is outlined in the FPP.

You'll find no disagreement or disparagement from me for that kind of event, or organising, and I'm certainly not so all or nothing to suggest that taking shorter showers etc is verboten; my problem is when it's posited as the only - or indeed the most effective (or an effective) - solution.

You clearly know where it's at, and my ire is not directed at you or your activities, which are truly admirable.
posted by smoke at 7:08 PM on October 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Thanks, smoke. I understand the "green movement" or the "environmental movement" or whatever people call it is often thought of as being kind of full of mainly ineffectual patchouli-soaked longhairs who would rather hold hands and sing kum-by-yah and brag about their Prius and their solar paneled guest-house than do the real, serious work of taking a shave, getting the ol' navy blue suit dry-cleaned and pressed, and sitting down with elected officials at all levels of government to present well-thought out, source-cited and researched proposals for solutions that can be implemented, and then spending six hours on the phone getting voter-support for these proposals and making sure these people write and call their legislators demanding these solutions.

The events listed in the FPP don't have much to do with the work that we do. But I will definitely show up at any tree-hugger rally with a table full of literature and clipboard full of petitions, because I know that these events attract a small percentage of people who are concerned enough that they will put in the work where it counts. And, honestly, where else are we gonna find them?
posted by Cookiebastard at 7:44 PM on October 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


smoke: "my problem is when it's posited as the only - or indeed the most effective (or an effective) - solution."

It almost never is, yet there are always at least a few people here ready to argue against that particular strawman. No one is suggesting that personal change is the only solution except for oil company PR flacks and their ilk.

Again, this is a strawman, only people who don't actually want anything to change are suggesting that political action is not necessary. Could we all move beyond telling environmentalists how stupid they are for believing something that none of them actually believe?
posted by ssg at 9:47 PM on October 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Again, this is a strawman, only people who don't actually want anything to change are suggesting that political action is not necessary. Could we all move beyond telling environmentalists how stupid they are for believing something that none of them actually believe?

The point is that it's not a solution at all, in the same way that everyone loving each other and not committing crimes is not a solution to crime. The only solution is political action, period.

Look, if you choose to consume less and ride your bike or whatever, that's fine by me. I'm not taking an "angry, dismissive attitude" toward your lifestyle. I am angry and dismissive about ridiculous attempts to turn personal consumption choices into a moral issue. You are not a better person than someone who drives a car, and if you try to posture like you are, I'm going to call you on it.
posted by nasreddin at 10:35 PM on October 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's not a straw man: crikey, pick up any glossy magazine, watch any home and lifestyle television show, or the six o'clock news, or current affairs shows, our squooshy talk-back radio - it's everywhere. God, this attitude crops up on mefi constantly.

It's nothing to do with lifestyle, and everything to do with confusing personal private choice with political action.

Talking about personal change as a solution is the issue, here. It's not a solution, and by blurring the lines and acting as if political action and personal choice are connected and compensatory, and furthermore consistently highlighting the latter and downplaying the former, is giving climate change policy development an inertia that lets politicians go for opt-in rebates and other, consumer driven policy that is not enough.

It's nothing to do with judgment or anything else - hell, I don't own a car, buy all my power 100% green, only eat vegetarian at home etc et bloody cetera - but I'm doing that for me, and my conscience, not the planet.
posted by smoke at 10:52 PM on October 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Personal choice and political action are very much connected. I've made that argument earlier in this thread - if you disagree, fine, then go ahead and do so. It might help if you put forward an argument though, instead of just asserting that there can be no connection.
posted by ssg at 11:21 PM on October 10, 2010


Personal choice and political action are very much connected. I've made that argument earlier in this thread - if you disagree, fine, then go ahead and do so. It might help if you put forward an argument though, instead of just asserting that there can be no connection.


Well, first and foremost, I think the only significant gains to be achieved using political action will be on the production end, not on the consumption end. This includes things like power generation, robust systems for exploiting natural resources, and sustainable (even if not necessarily organic or local) agriculture.

Second of all, given the highly politicized nature of environmental consumption, it would seem to be in the interest of any concerned politicians to lead their votes away from the idea that environmental protection implies bicycles and hairshirts. The most politically viable ideas will be the ones that can promise the smallest changes in lifestyle patterns. Is that good or not? I don't know, but it's just the reality. There is also the classism issue I raised earlier: like it or not, but living an environmentally-responsible lifestyle is an option available only to a fairly restricted demographic. I would be surprised if it makes substantial inroads among people who are not urban, white, young, liberal, and relatively wealthy.
posted by nasreddin at 11:50 PM on October 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


There seem to be a lot of people here arguing that hypocrisy is the solution to our environmental crisis. They're arguing that trying to find ways to live without taking such a heavy toll on the world is actually wrong.

That's just plain crap. Nassreddin makes an analogy to crime, that just being a good person on your own won't actually do anything about crime. But you people are arguing that people shouldn't personally stop robbing and killing because crime is a social problem, and it should be left up to the politicians and police to solve it, and so long as you are lobbying for more laws and enforcement, then it's OK for you to rob and kill, in fact, if you don't rob and kill, you're just perpetuating the problem.

When people work to find lifestyle choices that are more sustainable, they make those choices easier for other people to make. They make legislation that mandates those choices easier to pass. They make a social shift to those choices possible. For example, when you catch the bus instead of driving your car, you increase the demand for bus services, and help maintain the bus system as an alternative to driving. Yes, you also reduce traffic, which might (might!) make someone who was going to catch the bus change their mind and drive instead, negating your effort. But you also definitely reduce traffic, reducing the jam and thus the total emissions of that day's commuter rush. You also provide a demonstration to other people that it's possible to go to work without driving, and some percentage of those people will follow your example, and greater demand will at some point lead to an increase in bus service. Is it enough? No, but it's not nothing, and it is one small brick in the structure that has to be built to replace the structure we're in right now that is demolishing so much of the environment. And every brick has to be placed, and the sooner they are placed, the sooner we will have that alternative structure.

Kicking people for placing those bricks is just stupid. The lifestyle aspect of the problem is only one facet of what needs to be done, but it's still part of what needs to be done.

OK, you feel trapped into the destructive lifestyle. You don't like it, you feel guilty for it. But the solution for that isn't to blame people who are trying to get out of that trap, the solution is to do whatever you, personally, can to destroy the trap. Legislative solutions are a major part of getting ourselves out of this mess, and if that is what you can do, then do it. But don't shit on other people just because they are working on the problem from a different direction than you are.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 12:31 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Did you even read what I wrote?
posted by nasreddin at 1:11 PM on October 11, 2010


I was extending your metaphor to what other people had said. However, I don't agree with your analysis that the personal responsibility argument boils down to private action being sufficient for dealing with the problem. It's necessary, but it isn't sufficient, just as legislative action is necessary, but not sufficient. Both types of action are necessary, and both of them, unfortunately, may not be sufficient.

You, and others, seem to be arguing that the personal responsibility argument is actually counter-effective. Your argument depends on a straw-man version of the personal responsibility argument that I think Cookiebastard laid to rest. I doubt that you would make the same argument in regards to your metaphor about crime. I don't think you would claim that not killing people actually hinders the effort against crime, but AlsoMike, in particular is (metaphorically) saying that, and I don't think that reading your argument that way is much of a stretch. You're saying that talking about why we shouldn't kill and how not to kill will actually cause people to commit more crimes. You can pass laws against killing, but unless people don't kill, they won't do any good, and you won't even pass those laws unless people can see that killing is both wrong and unnecessary.

living an environmentally-responsible lifestyle is an option available only to a fairly restricted demographic.

Only white urban hipsters can ride the bus????
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:13 PM on October 11, 2010


You're just making shit up and then responding like it's my argument, which is the textbook definition of a strawman. Go reread what I said and tell me where I am "saying that talking about why we shouldn't kill and how not to kill will actually cause people to commit more crimes."
posted by nasreddin at 3:17 PM on October 11, 2010


I skipped quite a few of the comments because I really just wanted to share. We had some events here in Milwaukee organized by the local Transition group that I dropped in for because a friend was doing a presentation on canning. I enjoyed myself, learned a bit, walked away with dilly beans, and got to spend time with some fun folks from my neighborhood. I didn't solve the world's problems, but my experience contradicts a few assumptions I see here.

The most politically viable ideas will be the ones that can promise the smallest changes in lifestyle patterns.

I learned about canning my own food, which is a pretty small change. We're planning to get together again for a canning party. I don't know if it gets much smaller than that.

There is also the classism issue I raised earlier: like it or not, but living an environmentally-responsible lifestyle is an option available only to a fairly restricted demographic. I would be surprised if it makes substantial inroads among people who are not urban, white, young, liberal, and relatively wealthy.

Most information I've come across, both in literature and personal experience, says that poor people are generally more environmentally responsible, mainly because they simply cannot afford to consume as much as more affluent people. As far as making inroads to other demographics, one woman (this is out of three people total, including myself) who attended the first session does not own a stove but wants to learn how to can and preserve food. The woman running the workshop included information on which Farmer's Markets take food stamps and personally uses them (we have at least 2; one is indoors and open in the winter).
posted by nTeleKy at 3:21 PM on October 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


The only effective way to fight crime is not for well-meaning people to band together and promise each other not to commit crimes, but rather to use various state-driven methods to increase policing, eliminate pockets of deprivation, and so on.

The point is that it's not a solution at all, in the same way that everyone loving each other and not committing crimes is not a solution to crime. The only solution is political action, period.

Your argument sounds like something out of a Glen Beck authoritarian tree-hugger parody, to tell the truth, and your belittling of people who are trying to do something about the problem only makes it worse.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:34 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Look, for the last time. My point is not that we would have more crime if everyone loved each other and stopped committing crimes. My point is that offering "love each other and don't commit crimes" as a solution to crime ignores the structural reasons that cause people to commit crimes.

It's fine to live an environmentally-responsible lifestyle. If you think I feel guilty and I'm belittling you, you are clearly suffering from a nasty case of projection. But personal action is not a solution, for reasons I've already explained--and I've addressed your "alternative lifestyles" argument in my response to ssg above.

I learned about canning my own food, which is a pretty small change. We're planning to get together again for a canning party. I don't know if it gets much smaller than that.

I don't think we disagree. When this becomes something that is done by millions of people on a national scale, we can talk about the environmental significance of these changes.

Most information I've come across, both in literature and personal experience, says that poor people are generally more environmentally responsible, mainly because they simply cannot afford to consume as much as more affluent people


If you look at the global picture, yes. But if your vision of the environmentally-conscious citizen is the person who buys organic food, rides a bicycle, and spends the whole fall season canning, then it's pretty clear that this is not a scalable model. Obviously things like riding the bus are more accessible, but even there it's not always possible to do the "right thing"--many jurisdictions deliberately shape their bus service patterns to keep poor people out of certain neighborhoods, and many workplaces are now located in bus-inaccessible exurbs.

And I've been to that farmer's marker (the indoor one). To say that any of the food there is affordable to the typical person on food stamps would be quite the stretch.
posted by nasreddin at 3:50 PM on October 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't think you would claim that not killing people actually hinders the effort against crime, but AlsoMike, in particular is (metaphorically) saying that, and I don't think that reading your argument that way is much of a stretch.

But I don't think the metaphor holds up very well (although I agree with the larger point that nasreddin is making). We aren't starting from a baseline where committing crimes is considered to be a private right and it's quite hard to live any other way. Of course not murdering is not an impediment to political action to decrease murder but that's because murder, unlike an environmentally harmful action, is already understood as a matter of public concern. One of the main problems preventing political action is the perception that it's a private issue that the government has no business regulating, and that's extremely well demonstrated when nasreddin says "We need political action" and you say "Gee isn't that a bit authoritarian?" Even you believe it, and you're supposed to be one of the good guys. Or you're afraid of what Glenn Beck would say, which is just as bad.
posted by AlsoMike at 7:09 PM on October 11, 2010


My point is that offering "love each other and don't commit crimes" as a solution to crime ignores the structural reasons that cause people to commit crimes.

And my point is that we need both legs for the project to stand, and that there are very few people on the taking personal responsibility side who are claiming that it is sufficient. Even if they are white urban hipsters.

If everyone cheats, laws won't do the job. If no one wants the laws, they won't get passed. The personal responsibility cadre are the cutting edge who are going to make those laws possible, make people willing to obey them without cheating.

many jurisdictions deliberately shape their bus service patterns to keep poor people out of certain neighborhoods, and many workplaces are now located in bus-inaccessible exurbs.

That's the kind of thing that will be changed by people of all walks of life demanding bus service. There are a number of factors that can lead to that, one being increasing the cost of driving, another being people making the moral argument for mass transit. Increasing the cost of driving is going to depend on people making the moral argument, too, since it's going to be a matter of bringing costs that are currently concealed into the open by putting them into the cost of driving.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 7:26 PM on October 11, 2010


If everyone cheats, laws won't do the job. If no one wants the laws, they won't get passed. The personal responsibility cadre are the cutting edge who are going to make those laws possible, make people willing to obey them without cheating.

The laws, if and when they do happen, will not be targeted at individual consumers. That is bizarre, impractical, and counterproductive. As I've said, the regulation will happen at the point of production.

We live, for better or worse, under a capitalist system. Environmental regulation in this context is a problem of market failure: the externalities (carbon emissions and other forms of environmental damage) are not priced in to the goods we buy. Instead, we get goods that are supposedly produced ethically, but often with no real standards or definitions given and with a significant luxury markup, because marketing experts, unlike personal-action environmentalists, recognize that the environmentalist demographic is willing and able to pay mucho dinero for these kinds of goods. Now, what happens when we encourage more people to buy the goods currently labeled as ethical? First and foremost, we promote greenwashing. Since the consumer in a globalized market is fundamentally incapable of determining the true environmental costss of the goods he buys, it will always be in the best interest of manufacturers to give him the illusion that he is buying an ethical product rather than change their production processes. Even if this effect is not noticeable when the environmentalist-consumer demographic is small, tight-knit, and highly invested, it becomes more and more significant as the population of environmentalist consumers grows.

In other words, the personal responsibility argument shifts the burden of ethical action from the parties most able to take it effectively (the manufacturers) to the people least able to do so. If it's translated into legislative terms, it turns tens of thousands of points of enforcement into hundreds of millions, which raises administrative costs astronomically and breeds massive popular resentment. You can see this with gas taxes: gas taxes are a political third rail, because everyone has to pay them (and they're very regressive), whereas higher fuel efficiency standards are opposed by no one except carmakers and the Congresscritters they employ.

As for mass transit, I'll give you that--except for the fact that right now, the problem is insufficient federal funds to make up for cuts in state and local funding to mass transit. Why is mass transit being cut? Because lawmakers live in places without mass transit and can't appreciate its significance. If you want to promote mass transit, you need some way to appeal to them.
posted by nasreddin at 8:43 PM on October 11, 2010


The laws, if and when they do happen, will not be targeted at individual consumers.... the externalities (carbon emissions and other forms of environmental damage) are not priced in to the goods we buy.

Putting the externalities back in, no matter where in the chain you do it, is targeting the individual consumer via pricing.

I agree that there is a greenwashing problem, but it isn't the inevitable and only result of the desire of individuals to lead lower impact lives. It's a temporary marketing ploy that creates its own backlash, since it persuades people that the product it is not delivering, sustainability, is worth having. Even greenwashing is a step on the way toward building a sustainable system.

If you want to promote mass transit, you need some way to appeal to them.

Numbers. We've got a rail system in the works right now, and despite a lot of money being thrown at killing it, a solid majority of the voters want it, and so a solid majority of the politicians want it too.

When you ride the bus, and talk to people about riding the bus/rail/subway, you create those numbers. You can lobby, too, if you have the time and knowledge to do it, but if the only support for mass transit is your lobbying, you won't get far. Like I said, there are two legs, one is legislative action, and the other is individual action, and dissing the people who want to do that part is counter-productive. They certainly aren't rejecting people who want to work on the legislative side, even if they are frustrated with the lack of progress.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 2:25 AM on October 12, 2010


There is also the classism issue I raised earlier: like it or not, but living an environmentally-responsible lifestyle is an option available only to a fairly restricted demographic. I would be surprised if it makes substantial inroads among people who are not urban, white, young, liberal, and relatively wealthy.

That's some weird classist bullshit right there. Many people of all ages, in all kinds of rural or urban areas, of many colours, and with very different levels of wealth are making efforts to reduce their environmental impact. You might not be aware of it, but it is happening everywhere. I would say that you know very little about the contemporary environmental movement if you think it consists entirely of hipsters riding bikes and buying food at farmer's markets. You might want to learn a little more before you start angrily dismissing people's efforts to make things better.
posted by ssg at 8:19 PM on October 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


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