Saturday, June 02, 2007

Keeping the planet in the forefront


Art by Deepal Shah, University of Hertsfordshire

The other day Barbara Crafton wrote:

Most of our lamps and fixtures now sport those weird-looking new lightbulbs, [what I call squirrelly bulbs.] They last for years, and use a fraction of the energy an incandescent bulbs consumes. ...

We've turned off the drying function on the dishwasher. They can drip dry in there until we need them. We're reducing our use of paper towels by using cloth ones. I'm taking more showers than baths, saving those lovely soaks for special occasions. We're much more assiduous about recycling office paper and paper packaging, and have hardly any in our trash can. We're going to put up a clothesline outside. New Jersey has a very good tax deal on solar panels, so we're going to look into them.

What is good about all this is that these are things people can do. Not things the government or enormous corporations should do, but us. All those enormous entities should get to work, too, and a surprising number of them are doing so, but enough of us need to begin making this a part of everyday life that it stays in the front of our minds. If it's in the front of our minds it'll be in the front of theirs, too, since they want something we have: our votes, our money, both.

For years I've ranted against calls for personal solutions to grand-scale social problems. The big social problems need organized, targeted rearrangements of power and wealth, not bandaids. Mostly, I assume such efforts are slightly self-indulgent, guilt-assuaging exercises in futility.

We in the U.S. live in and enjoy the benefits of a system based on worship of greed and cancerous growth. Ecocide is systemic. Nothing short of government regulation that makes the cost of carbon emissions, pollution and waste exceed the cost of ending such profligacy is going to do much good. The market may come up with solutions -- but only if government sticks a heavy thumb on the scale to ensure that social costs weigh heavily on the entities that create them.

However, at this moment, I'll admit that Crafton's got something when she celebrates how doing our piddling little environmental bit does reinforce our own consciousness that there's a problem. Al Gore did help create a groundswell of concern. Rising awareness in the United States has even forced the Preznit to put forth a "Climate-Change Feint," aiming "to muddy the debate about the issue and derail European and U.N. plans for strict caps on emissions." If adopting small scale conservation habits reminds us to keep after our rulers about the planet's sickness, that's worth something.

Political organizers call this "buy-in." It's the same thing we seek when we ask folks to sign postcards or make a cell phone call to a legislator on the spot. The planet needs lots of buy-in.
***
I'm getting ready to write something about individual carbon offsets, purchased to balance our driving or our airplane flights. Anyone have useful insights about this? Know any particular sellers of these odd pseudo-commodities you think deserves a mention, or a condemnation? Please comment.

4 comments:

*Christopher said...

Jan,

It's funny, I wrote a long post on just this matter and then paused, didn't post. I think "buy-in" is important, and being a "practice" type, a way of awareness. However, I also think systemic changes are necessary and without them, we're in deep trouble.

Unique Articles said...

Q: How many Hax0rs does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: 1337

arif said...

I think the concept of carbon offsets is a total sham - one more consumer good we can buy to make ourselves feel better about our excessive consumption - of the various folks who've written about this, I'm partial to this one: http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2006/10/19/selling-indulgences/

janinsanfran said...

Arif -- thanks! You have pointed me to just what I knew must be out there.

Very oddly, my partner was a "licensed emissions trader" for a job she held in the 1990s and she thought the whole thing was a con from the beginning.

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