Making A Difference

Do all of the small environmental actions of individuals make any significant difference to climate change? According to an article in In These Times, not really:

One barrier standing in the way of meaningful action is fuzzy-headed thinking on the part of those truly concerned about global warming. So worried are these activists, that their solution to the climate change problem is to marshal legions of Americans to change light bulbs, buy a Prius, or do any other number of helpful, but, in the big picture, not too significant feel-good actions.

Some of my work over the past decade has been in performance improvement, and I’ve tried to focus on the real causes of organisational problems, and not just the symptoms. Having everyone “do their part” may not be enough to reverse global warming and a more concentrated effort to address the root causes may be needed . The article goes on to make this comparison with the civil rights movement:

Take the Civil Rights movement. Yes, personal reflection and individual change had its place, but can you imagine Martin Luther King telling people to “ask” their school boards to integrate the public schools, or “encourage” corporations not to discriminate, or “tell” their elected leaders to “push” legislatures in the South to do away with Jim Crow laws?

One answer may be to act green in our decisions that can actually make a difference. For instance:

  • When voting, choose the most environmentally responsible candidate or party.
  • Don’t settle for half-measures from any elected official and let them know it.
  • Refuse to be sold short-term economic benefits in place of environmental sustainability.
  • Lobby to get rid of the worst offenders amongst our elected officials.

5 Responses to “Making A Difference”

  1. Chris Chu

    I think this whole “green” stuff will only become mainstream when businesses adopt it. Wal-Mart (yes, THAT Wal-Mart) has a plan to convert their stores and supply trucks to be more green-friendly, but only because it saves them money.

    When being green saves green, that’s when businesses, politicians, and everyone will make the switch.

  2. Harold

    Chris, I hope that your generation is more effective at putting pressure on businesses and politicians than my generation has done so far.

  3. Jeremy

    When being green saves green, that’s when businesses, politicians, and everyone will make the switch.

    I couldn’t have said it better. As Paul Hawken argues in The Ecology of Commerce, the whole point of economics is that waste should be unprofitable, and efficiency profitable. So why do businesses waste, pollute (i.e. damage other property), etc.? It really does come down to government intervention in the marketplace that prevents business from assuming the full costs of their business practices.

    Maybe because government subsidizes inefficient energy sources (through wars, regulation, etc.). Because government encourages the socialization of environmental costs instead of making polluters pay victims market restitution directly. Because government subsidizes the corporate legal structure by limiting the liability of shareholders for the actions of their agents (the corporate managers). Because government recognizes corporations as “human beings” who themselves have constitutional guarantees of speech, protection from unreasonable searches (inspections), etc. when corporations are clearly not humans but artificial entities. Government supplied roads even subsidize centralized production and transport, artificially inflating the need for high energy density fuels at the expense of market alternatives.

    Now, don’t get me wrong – there’s more to it than just this. There’s a corporate culture that is wildly out of sync with reality. But government subsidizes this disconnect, making what should be unprofitable, profitable. This leads to systemic and long-term problems instead of short-term market corrections and business failures.

  4. Harold

    Jeremy, I blame corporatism for many of our economic and societal problems, but what we need are working models that show people the alternatives. Lots of work to be done …

  5. graham Watt

    As for individual effort not being enough in creating environmental change, business thrives on the choices people want. If enough people believe in personal conservation and eliminating wasteful carbon-derived packaging, for example, business will gladly follow. What must occur is more of a trend to this thinking among citizens, and I believe it is happening. The old liners within the political parties, basically, the Liberals and the Conservatives, do not think in these terms, nor do the traditional political pundits and spinners, which is why the Elizabeth May and Stephane Dion resolution to not compete against each other within their respective ridings was met with such disdain and ridicule. Yet response from citizens coast to coast was overwhelmingly positive. In my view (often wrong) all change will eventually come from the people.


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