Sunday, April 29, 2012

How grassroots and personal-carbon-footprint sustainability efforts do move us forward

I'm sure this subject has been addressed before; if you've seen a particularly good post about it, please speak up.

Earlier today I'd argued that a focus on local and personal-sized sustainability actions was something to be careful of, since it could lead people to think they had done enough, whereas policy action is the most important part of the solution.  But upon rumination, I'd like to backtrack, partly.  These local-and-personal actions do move us forward in a number of ways, IF they're consistently, repeatedly paired with communication to drum in the point that policy action is the most essential part of the solution; i.e., "just don't make the mistake of only working on these local-greening things."

  1. Personal.  It feels right to align one's actions with how things will work when needed changes are put into effect [snip].  
  2. Practical.  It also nourishes the institutions and business opportunities of the future, by creating a market for products and services that will need to be widespread later on.
  3. Cultural change.  People are less likely to fear change when they see it being modelled and thriving nearby; so these actions facilitate the cultural changes needed, through priming.
  4. Beta test.  The way you find out what institutions and efforts are needed, is by implementing the cultural change on a small scale, then identifying the gaps.
  5. Criticism-prevention.  It can avert some of the more major "Al Gore's House" style criticisms.  (But IMO this "benefit" actually flows from a failure of communication; see further below.)
  6. There's also an argument that personal action is a stepping stone to build-political-will involvement, though I'm not sure about this.

(So, Lew and Richard, thanks for the pushback, which made me think.)

There are still downsides though -
1. Reluctance by some people  to get involved in building political will because they think that first they need to do the lifestyle changes.
2. Diversion-style "Al Gore's House"-type criticism of those who haven't done such changes, or who slip up.
3. Such "lifestyle" actions can lead people to think they've done enough, so they don't recognize how essential it is that they work to build the political will for policy action - see David Roberts's "Brutal Logic" posts.

How to minimize the downsides while lauding & encouraging these actions so we can benefit from the upsides?  I think that to do this, we need to communicate clearly about the goals and benefits of these small-scale actions: we need to emphasize that yes these actions help, but no, we're not pressuring anyone (particularly from other cultural-political backgrounds) to engage in them; i.e., these are things you can do, not things everyone must do; and what we most need is policy change (an extra .10/gallon gasoline tax won't break the bank, folks); plus infrastructure change to make doing the "right" things easy.

This encapsulation is not quite right - e.g. if someone  I knew was a cultural denizen of the past, not recycling or still littering, I would lean toward applying pressure. So consider it a sketch, in pencil, subject to change.

No comments: