April 20, 2008

Today's Reading

I highly highly recommend this essay, in today's Times. It's about an important question, maybe the most important question: why should we bother? When there is a big problem, a problem which needs to be solved but is bigger than our our ability to solve it, what should we do? When our actions cannot "solve" the problem, why should we change them?

The specific set of problems this essay is about are environmental, but they are more generally social; they are about taking responsibility for our own lives. This is something I have been thinking about lot lately--I am struggling with the fact that despite my commitment to living ethicically and responsibly I do not think about ethics or responsibility as I go about making most of my daily decisions, particularly my consumer decisions. I am trying to change that.

For me, this is closely tied with the experience of becoming a parent, because parenting has made me think very vividly about my ideas about consuming, conserving, and prioritizing.  More specifically, I've been thinking about how often I think about parenting in terms of consuming rather than preserving and prioritizing--which is too bad.

Anyway, I'm veering precipitously away from my main point here, which is also the main point of the essay, which I will link to again, because I really think it's just that good. The main point is--you should bother. You should try.

For instance, consider this:
It’s hard to argue with Michael Specter...when he says: “Personal choices, no matter how virtuous [N.B.!], cannot do enough. It will also take laws and money.” So it will. Yet it is no less accurate or hardheaded to say that laws and money cannot do enough, either; that it will also take profound changes in the way we live. Why? Because the climate-change crisis is at its very bottom a crisis of lifestyle....For us to wait for legislation or technology to solve the problem of how we’re living our lives suggests we’re not really serious about changing — something our politicians cannot fail to notice. They will not move until we do. Indeed, to look to leaders and experts, to laws and money and grand schemes, to save us from our predicament represents precisely the sort of thinking — passive, delegated, dependent for solutions on specialists — that helped get us into this mess in the first place.

and this:
Cheap energy, which gives us climate change, fosters precisely the mentality that makes dealing with climate change in our own lives seem impossibly difficult. Specialists ourselves, we can no longer imagine anyone but an expert, or anything but a new technology or law, solving our problems...which is probably why we prefer to cross our fingers and talk about the promise of ethanol and nuclear power — new liquids and electrons to power the same old cars and houses and lives.

And finally, this:
...our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum...as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world.

Lest I sound hackneyed and kneejerky and pedantic-- I don't mean to. I don't mean that you should make superficial changes that don't make a difference--there are so many of these. I just mean that I am trying to be open to, and less cynical about, the idea of radical personal change and the ways that it can, maybe, matter.

*here i would add that we need to think carefully about how to put pressure on the corporations which accomodate our desires--it doesn't do much to cut down on your own water use, for example, without encouraging government to change legislation for corporate water waste and pollution, which is (from what I've read) a much bigger problem.


Michelle said...

Want to start a vegetable garden downstairs? I've been thinking about that for a while now...

TH said...

Residential customers acctually do use a lot more water than they need. Lawns are overwatered constantly. Over the last 5 years we have seen our per customer use numbers decrease in almost all of the areas that we serve water. This is probably because of the switch to devices that use less water. Some communities still have residential customers that are not metered (usage is not tracked). Generally by installing meters, and billing people for what they use, you can get 10-30% less use!

We are regulated by the Public Utilities Commission, and we have been trying to get them to give us a more conservation friendly rate structure. The way it is set up now if we get our customers to conserve then we loose money, and there is no way to make it up. How is that for crazy? It is a complete dis-insentive for us to get our customers to conserve.