So I have had cause lately to consider the merits of some of the different paths to Sustainability of late. On the one hand you have the Gee Whiz items like recycled paper towels that save 200,000 trees or CFL bulbs that save the equivalent of 1,000,000 cars worth of emissions. The “do a little, and do a lot” camp. Then there is the simplify movement and their imperatives. Eat Local! Grow your own food! Bike to work! Compost! Still another camp works to tweak the system itself thru Natural Capitalism, the Natural Step, or Green Development in an attempt to have our cake and eat it to. In the Mia/Beo household we are doing most of these in some form or another (less than some on the simplify, perhaps more than others in the system change) and the merits of them all come under fire at times.
The Do a Little camp runs the risk of slacktivism attacks from those that have a more fatalistic, if perhaps truer, view of the future. Saving 1m cars worth of emissions just makes global warming only slightly less ominous if you believe that we already have 100 million too many cars to begin with. Of course these attacks rarely achieve the intended goal of inspiring the budding greenite to actually do more, and are much more likely to have them do nothing by scaring them off, leaving us all worse off.
The Imperative Camp has the virtue of passion on their side and can get wonderfully clicky. Organic gardening really is fun, Farmers Markets are a great way to meet people in your community, and reducing your impact by cutting back pays big dividends in the pocketbook as well as garnering psychological benefits like the aesthetics of old. We really care… look what we’ve sacrificed for our cause! But we loose the mainstream real fast. Our society has force-fed us a steady Fast Food diet of Entitlement for two generations. Dammit I worked hard and I have earned my 70″ LCD TV! Good thing I have my Explorer to take it home in too! Look honey-we’re saving money on delivery fees! That change will take time and even the best homemade bread pales in the hypnotic light of the latest techno wonder.
The Tweakers have their work cut out for them, but frankly have the best chance for Real Change in the near term by harnessing the powers of Capitalism-basically using Greed for Green Ends. I don’t care what you think of global warming-gas is expensive, and if Wal-Mart can pull of its initiatives and actually save 100’s of millions of gallons of gas in the next 5 years that is some serious ching-like $310million a year by 2015. The industrial benefits of efficiency are clear, but legislative changes can have huge effects too. Sweden just might be off oil by 2020 using the Natural Step, and even raising the C.A.F.E. standards by 1mpg would save enough oil to save the ANWAR. In one year (why are we doing this again? Oh right…). Heating entire blocks with the waste heat from the local McDonald’s like they do Sweden’s Green Zone might not sound sustainable-but it is a hell of a lot better than that heat literally going up in smoke. The obvious downside to this is that if Walmart has 100’s of millions of gallons of gas to save it is the pinnacle of unsustainability to begin with…
So which path do we pursue? Well, we are doing them all. Everyone starts somewhere, and we all bought our first CFL at one time. Think of it as a gateway drug to a greener future. But careful there. Just because we have taken the trip into the Imperative Camp doesn’t mean everyone is ready yet. One trap that I know we have fallen into is scaring the hell out of people with our passion-they aren’t there yet. If all they ever do is buy on CFL-or install the one we gave them -that is one step closer for us all. The Imperative Camp can be dangerous-you get so addicted to cutting back that you can have a break down. Look-we all need to shower and if people are noticing your cutbacks in a personal way you’ve gone to far ok? I am personally pushing the Tweaking Angle in a big way. I am now a trained study group facilitator in The Natural Step for Communities, and we are making real change in our village with the Green Committee. I believe that the darker future could be real and all the compost I make in my lifetime won’t save my children from the fate I foresee. I need to take (alot of) others with me.
But that is the rub. Sustainability can take on a fervency akin to religion. And religion scares off a lot of people or leads to nasty Us v. Them thinking. We will win this fight by being the Good Samaritan quietly practising random acts of kindness, not thru mimicking the nutjob on the corner frothing over his Bible.
Find your path to a more sustainable Future…
Be the Change.