Environmentalism Goes Cynical

A lot of this blog is devoted to the idea of fostering consciousness to combat climate change, and it rests on a few stipulations, namely:

  • 1. However unwise humans are as a species, we as individuals are capable of making intelligent and conscientious decisions;
  • 2. We act destructively at least partially because we don’t see or understand the full impact of our actions;
  • 3. If we did, we would be willing to and capable of (in at least some cases) changing our individual behavior in such numbers that we could effect measurable, visible, impacting change.

Hah. I crack myself up with my own optimism sometimes.

My friend Tracey has a completely different take on how to save the world: make it so easy, affordable, and appealing to do the right thing that people will essentially have no choice. Car pollution a problem? Make public transportation a convenient and cheap alternative for everyone. Factory farming? Remove government subsidies, impose stiff penalties for pollution, and see if that levels out price differences between conventional and organic. In Tracey’s view, people are stupid, cheap, amoral, and totally incapable of doing the right thing of their own volition. Hence the need for top down management. Flattering, huh?

Her strategy sounded oddly familiar. After a moment, I realized it was because I had just read a chapter out of a book on how to train a cat. Make it easy, rewarding, difficult to fail, and virtually impossible to do anything else, and even the most stubbornly unmotivated and ornery cat will fall in line. Humans can’t be that much harder.

Of course, top down management — which I agree would be far faster and more effective than fostering consciousness — does come with some drawbacks. The type of government capable of making and enforcing these rules would certainly not be a democracy, for one: it would involve a necessary coup and probably a good deal of ‘re-education’ of the protestors. The very people we need most to reach would be the most hostile. And while I think people could be tricked into making better choices, I think those choices would be quickly reversed once governmental pressure eased up or something better came along. It’s the whole external vs. internal motivation thing again. Internal is always stronger.

The good news is that our two strategies are not mutually exclusive. We already have some of each. The bad news is that we need more. A lot more. And fast.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Emec on 06/03/2010 at 19:03

    Again, I’m not as optimistic as you… I totally agree with Tracey’s strategy. On another note: we already don’t have a democratic government, its a “Corporate Fascist” government of sorts. Its often so hard to do the right thing because the American system is so restrictive. Freedom and Liberty for all? Yeah right! The corporations have all of the liberties and most Americans have little choice but to either work for the corporations or buy their crappy products. America does need a drastic re-education, but that will never happen. I thought Obama was going to point us in the right direction, but he has unfortunately turned out to be a total liar…. he’s all for off-shore drilling and even wants to un-ban whaling! He’s just a corporate puppet.

    Watch “The Corporation” on You Tube.


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