Sunday, July 1, 2007

Buying Into The Green Movement

Here's today's NYT story. The author, Alex Williams, quotes Worldchanging Alex Steffen: “There is a very common mind-set right now which holds that all that we’re going to need to do to avert the large-scale planetary catastrophes upon us is make slightly different shopping decisions,” said Alex Steffen, the executive editor of, a Web site devoted to sustainability issues."

Steffen, on the other hand, today explains that Williams misunderstood him: "Actually, as i told Alex Williams, I believe something quite different: that the genuine solution is not a matter of consumer choice at all. There is no combination of purchasing decisions which will make the current affluent American lifestyle sustainable. You can't shop your way to sustainability, as I've put it before. On a planet running up against so severe a set of deadlines -- global warming, the extinction crisis, the poverty crisis, etc. -- prosperity as currently delivered is frankly immoral, even when purchased with an eco-chic package. That doesn't mean that I think prosperity itself is wrong. Quite the opposite. Nor do I think we could talk people out of wanting prosperity if we tried -- heck, I hope for a generous amount of prosperity myself, one day. But we need to redesign prosperity, using innovation, new thinking and new technologies to render it sustainable. And here's the essential break between lite green and bright green thinking: the reality is that the changes we must make are systemic changes. They involve large-scale transformations in the ways we plan our cities, manufacture goods, grow food, transport ourselves, and generate energy. They involve new international regulatory regimes, corporate strategies, industrial standards, tax systems and trading markets. If we want to change the world, we need to forge ourselves into the kinds of citizens who can effectively demand such things. Dire practicality demands that we reject the privatization of responsibility. None of us can make this great transformation happen alone, and it removes pressure from our leaders to take needed steps when some suggest that the changes that need to be made in the world start with our personal choices. They don't."

1 comment:

Charles Bergeman said...

I agree wholeheartedly with Alex Steffen.

I have thought a lot about what sorts of changes would be required to build a truly sustainable society.

Personally I think it needs to be demonstrated on a small scale (not necessarily tackling all the issues at once) in order to show it's effectiveness.

One of the key issues I think we have to tackle is the paradigm of complete infrastructure replication in each home.

Sharing resources in the community rather than duplicating them for each home can reduce consumption and ensure more effective use of resources.