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Onion: I'm Doing My Inconsequential Part For The Environment
Alex Steffen, 10 May 06

Sometimes, I love the Onion so much I want to marry it:

As human beings continue to wreak havoc on the ecosystem, with seemingly no awareness of the long-term effects of our shortsighted actions, we seriously jeopardize the fragile balance of life on this big blue marble we call Spaceship Earth. Now is the time to take steps toward creating a cleaner environment, however insignificant and useless those steps may be. That's why I'm doing my own laughably inconsequential part to end pollution, limit damage to our precious ecosystem, and preserve what remains of our planet's biodiversity for future generations.

Every day, without fail, I meticulously organize my recyclables into five distinct categories, thereby subtracting an eyedropper's worth of garbage from the countless tons of waste that ferment in our landfills. It only takes a few extra minutes, but just think of the impact it totally lacks. I also refuse to use anything but "Earth-friendly" paper products—some of which contain up to 10 percent recycled materials....

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If enough people do it it does make a differance. It is just hard to see when others are running there 10MPG SUVs up our butts.

Posted by: Joe on 10 May 06

That's why environmentalism's the cure for egotism.

Whoops - gotta go - time to do my own inconsequential bit.

Posted by: David Foley on 10 May 06

What needs to be understood is that only a small portion of the intellectual elite will car much about technical discussions on large, almost abtract systems. That's fine, and these people are needed, but it is the mainstream people who do these "inconsequential" actions that has a chance to either continue its process and start caring about bigger things because the seed has been planted with small every-day things (you rarely see people going from total obliviousness to WorldChanger), or they are the people that have more chances of being receptive to large-scale radical changes, and to support (and elect) the policymakers that propose these changes.

It's all good and well to have big ideas, but you also have to find support for them.

Posted by: James on 10 May 06

This reminds me of the next green bestseller a friend and I were discussing recently:

50 Things You Can Do That Won't Save the Planet

; >)

Posted by: Ted on 10 May 06

I grok the message, but it's ironically rather short sighted to snigger at the inconsequential bits we can do to feel good about ourselves saving the planet.

Well, having a snigger's harmless enough, it's the patronising putdown that's the problem. Think of it as a way of getting interested in the bigger picture.

thing #51: get off my butt and set up a wiki itemising the other 50 things and guide the reader's thinking on to the things that *might* make a difference (guide? Ah! Now who's being patronising?!)

Posted by: Tony Fisk on 10 May 06

Our problems are serious, no doubt, but if we act grim and never let any humor creep in, we'll never be successful at marketing our cause.

I for one laughed loudly at the recent South Park episode where there too many people buying hybrids, causing a 'smug' problem. Drrr!

Posted by: Erik Ehlert on 10 May 06

I love the onion too; sometimes their headlines can reveal the limits of feel-good environmentalism as well as anything. One of my favorites, from a few years back was (more or less) "97 percent of Americans favor public transit for others".

I do hope, however, that folks take the onion's jabs in the right spirit; pointing out the muddles in our thinking about the environment could be a recipe for cynicism, but it could be a spur to greater self-awareness and more effective action.

A few years back, someone from San Francisco's enviroment department told me that although San Francisco's recycling rate has increased dramatically, the amount of waste per person that goes to the landfill was also increasing; San Franciscans were recycling more, but consuming more still. Of the three "R"s of consumption -- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle -- we have only really taken the last to heart. It reminds me of Jamais' riff on Donella Meadows' "Points of Intervention in a system" a few months back; recycling is a useful entry point to a sustainable way of life, but in order to make real change, we need to keep going deeper, ultimately so far as transforming the logic and values of the system in profound ways.

Posted by: Tom Radulovich on 10 May 06

This reminds me of the next green bestseller a friend and I were discussing recently: 50 Things You Can Do That Won't Save the Planet

Actually, someone beat you to it.

Posted by: Joseph Willemssen on 10 May 06

My favorite Onion headline had nothing to do with environmentalism - or maybe everything to do with it:

"Next Mozart, 6, Cured by Ritalin"

Posted by: David Foley on 10 May 06

Joseph, thanks for pointing out Hunter's book. Amazing it was a 1997 copyright, back when it did really feel like simple things could save the earth!

Tony and others, I concede, sniggering is a momentary pleasure and I try to do my share of the (mostly) simple things -- but know, too, that without sound policies and a politics to support them, the simple things won't tip the system.

Posted by: Ted on 10 May 06

The Onion gets its right. They actually know what they're making fun of.

That South Park episode was some abysmally off-base that I didn't find it funny. (e.g., What does driving hybrids have to do with the ozone layer?) Attacking ludicrous straw men that only exist in the imagination of Trey Parker just doesn't cut it.

Posted by: Stefan Jones on 11 May 06

When I was doing an undergraduate in environmental studies, motivated by some depressingly cliche combination of naivete and idealism, I fairly quickly found out that the tinkering around the periphery, so nicely illuminated in this piece, was environmentally inconsequential but terribly politically significant.

Folks like me who were and are more than a little concerned by the rate at which we are shifting the ecosystem such that cocroaches will uniquely flourish are sinking our energy into entirely domesticated forms of protest. The pius drives his/her prius content that s/he has done her bit. This provides the 'concerned' with an avenue which insures that they will not take up the far more uncomfortable and perhaps disruptive questions that we who are born to and formed by a culture entirely dependent on religious commitment to the unquestionable good of material consuption must ask.

Posted by: peter tamas on 12 May 06

The Onion rocks. A sense of humor sure helps me (as I cheerily do my small part!)...

Posted by: Dave on 14 May 06

The word is snicker.

Posted by: W. Blanco on 17 May 06



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