Thursday, November 01, 2007

You can't buy social change

Every so often, I'm reminded of why WorldChanging's Alex Steffen is on of the most insightful and influential environmental thinkers (not just writer) in the blogosphere. This time, he has nailed on the head the strong discomfort and concern I've been feeling for a long time about the recent popular tendency to individualise responses to – and responsibility for – global warming:
The privatization of responsibility for the crises we face is entirely understandable. Making planet-saving a consumer choice helps sell products. Making it a lifestyle choice mutes political pressure for change. Making it an individual responsibility helps deflect attention away from the massive impact, ethical bankruptcy and extreme profitability of the unsustainable production, transportation, energy, food and construction systems upon which we depend and over which we currently have essentially no direct control.
In a nutshell, Stefen challenges us to move beyond our tendency to express 'Be the Change' as 'Buy the Change'. You can't shop your way to social change.
In this context, Be the change in fact usually means Buy the change. It means living a standard consumerist lifestyle, but varying the products one consumes to include "green" clothes, cars and furniture... or at best going without a few things you didn't need anyways.
Sure, Steffen is not the first to say it, and this is not the first I've thought this through, as I've tried to blog through some of these ideas for a while. But he surely has the capacity to nail it. He does challenge us to get off the couch – and go further!
We don't need more people living marginally greener lifestyles. We need thousands of people, millions of people, swarming out of their lifestyles and leading worldchanging lives: practicing strategic consumption, sure, but also inventing new answers, changing their companies (or quitting their jobs and starting better companies), running for office, writing books and shooting films, teaching, protesting, investing in change, mobilizing their communities, redesigning their cities, getting up off the couch and going to the meeting, and in every other way making it happen. It is time to live as though the day has come, because it has: tomorrow is too late.
I haven't yet decided what more I'm going to do. Other than keep sharing these ideas on this blog. And telling you about the Walk Against Warming on 11 November and urge you to go along. I went last year, and I'm really hoping to make it this year too, even though my parents will be in town staying with us.

What else would you suggest? You may also find more ideas on what you can do at The Big Switch website. And Steffen's article is worth reading in its entirety.

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