Would it shock you to find out that even if we all adopted the No-Impact-Man lifestyle and created zero waste, and we even convinced our local businesses to recycle we’d only, at the most, impact waste by 3% ? What if you discovered that 90% of all water used was coming from agriculture and industry and that taking longer showers really has minimal effects on water consumption? I tell you one thing, I’d shift my focus from turning the water off while I brushed my teeth to stopping the largest offenders. Any strategist would tell us the same thing: when it comes to saving the environment from “ourselves”, a lot of us are wasting our good intentions on a misguided idea that it is truly ourselves (individual “consumers”) who are ultimately responsible for these problems. Ideas and films like No Impact Man shift focus away from the real causes of global environmental crisis and allow industry and government to slide by, unnoticed.
The truth is so much scarier, and it’s easy to see why we have retreated to personal solutions; it’s easier to change a light-bulb than bring a multinational corporation or the military to its knees. So in the end, while we can all pat ourselves on the back from a puritanical perspective, many of us are just running around doing a lot of nothing under the impression we’ve used our time and energy wisely. I was so offended when I first looked into this. I didn’t want to believe that all that effort I made in my personal lifestyle choices were ultimately having very little impact on the problem at large. I didn’t want to admit that my efforts would be better leveraged in other areas.
Lite Green is the most mainstream, most digestible, and most corporate-friendly incarnation of the environmental movement (if you even want to call it that). Bright Green, with celeb advocates like Adrian Grenier, proclaim that, sure, you can drive your H2 through the McDonald’s drive-through, so long as you remember to bring your canvas bag and reusable coffee mug. It’s the movement that allows us to believe the contradiction that we can buy our way out of the hugest crises we face. Bright Green is so bright it’s blinding people to the real problems. In his August 2009 article for Orion Magazine, “Forget Shorter Showers” Author, Derrick Jensen asks:
WOULD ANY SANE PERSON think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday, or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons, or that dancing naked around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”?
Part of the problem is that we’ve been victims of a campaign of systematic misdirection. Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance. An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption—changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much—and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet? Even if every person in the United States did everything the movie suggested, U.S. carbon emissions would fall by only 22 percent. Scientific consensus is that emissions must be reduced by at least 75 percent worldwide.
The values of conserving, reusing, and protecting what’s left are amazing, but if we are to solve the ecological and social problems we face, they must be brought their their logical conclusions. This is not a call to stop caring or to stop living simply with more compassion – it’s a call to shift focus away from what industry wants us to focus on – buying more stuff that’s labeled “green” and filling our days with behavioral rules. Let’s not confuse personal choices and social change or political revolution. Let’s start with reclaiming our time and energy and shifting our focus to the real problems, getting together, and doing something about it.