In their most recent issue, The UC Observer put Lisa Van de Ven's article exploring the state of the environmental movement on the cover. Her piece When Green Isn't Green Enough poses this question to readers: 'Think you’re doing your bit for the environment? Here’s the deal: you’re just getting started.'
Van de Ven interviewed our own Alex Steffen for the article. Although the entire thing is worth a read, here is some of what Alex had to say:
By making small changes like buying better light bulbs or low-flow showerheads, individuals are reducing their impact by maybe three to five percent, Steffen says. Armed with the illusion that we’re doing our part, we stop there. In fact, many of us are fooling ourselves into thinking we’re doing more than we actually are; a July study by Quebec-based research and communications firm Cossette and Summerhill showed that gaps of up to 40 percent exist between what Canadians think they’re doing for the environment and what they actually do.
“You see Al Gore’s movie [An Inconvenient Truth], with a giant civilization-ending problem, and the solutions at the very end are little things you can do at home,” Steffen says. “I think that is problematic because it ignores the whole idea that democracy is based on, which is that regular people can understand complex problems and come to a decision together to meet those challenges. And certainly we’ve seen situations in the past where people have done those things — whether it’s about individual liberties or group rights or suffrage for women.”
It’s not that the tips aren’t a step in the right direction, Steffen adds; if millions of people change all of their light bulbs or refuse plastic water bottles, there will be an effect. It’s just that, given the urgency of the situation, change might not be happening quickly enough, he says.
It’s going to take individual action, too, but not the kind that comes in a shopping cart. What Steffen advocates is good old-fashioned activism. “The problem is not that we are not each doing enough in our lives, but that we’re not doing the right things,” he says. “The more people who can move up that ladder of engagement, the better our odds get.” It might be as easy as starting a green committee at church or at work.
Image credit: John Block/Botanica/Getty Images
I would put it this way. What's needed is that people work together at the local level to reduce their expenses and time spent on work so that they can become citizens capable of making change at the systemic level. As it is, the middle class and below is politically immobilized by debt and time starvation. We need to liberate ourselves from these constraints and foster a culture of engagement where the priority is contribution to the common good. This way, the average Jane or Joe can and will want to get into the Worldchanging game.
Along with this is a need for a spiritual fix. In the process, of creating an empowering life with others in our communities, we must find a way as a people to have lives that we love deeply. We need millions of localized zones of thriving humanity, those small groups that Margaret Mead has said are the cradles of world changes. When we do this, we will find a way to save the world. And it will be far easier than we imagine. In other words, we need lives worth saving before we can save the world.