There’s a long-standing discussion regarding what is more important for our environmental progress – our personal actions or systemic change at the political or institutional level.
Of course, the debate wouldn’t be so long-standing if it weren’t a little complicated, and if both sides didn’t have a bit of truth to their argument. In this piece, I want to tease out why both are correct and why anyone trying to make sure we provide our children and other descendants with a livable and high-quality environment and climate should really be engaged in both personal and larger, societal efforts.
Why Are Your Own Actions So Important?
First off, our own actions are important because we are all responsible for ourselves. No matter what anyone else does, we should do our part. I had a high school science teacher who used to repeated a few life lessons to us that I thought were great and really stuck with me beyond that time. One of them was: “What’s right is right even if nobody does it; what’s wrong is wrong even if everyone does it.” I thought that was an excellent teaching and still try to keep it in my head.
Additionally, while laws and institutional change have their part to play, it’s the social influence of people we know and the actions they take that often influence us the most. By changing your own life, we stimulate change in others and, as that wave grows, the whole society can change. I’ve discussed this when discussing this excellent video on funny, wild dancing, and I’ve seen evidence of this in solar power adoption studies, which have found that people are more likely to install solar on their homes if someone in their neighborhood has already done so.
Lastly, if we care about the environment and we are not leading the way, who’s going to?
Why Your Actions Are Not So Important…
Now, not discounting what I wrote above, there’s an important thing to note — a lot of people will not make any changes to their lifestyle or the products they use voluntarily, even if that means huge financial savings. Why? Because the barrier to change is pretty massive. It is mostly just mental, but it is massive.
For this reason, environmental practices must be institutionalized in order for change to occur for much of the population, probably the majority of the population, to adopt them. Thus, we need leaders who care about air, water, and climate enough to bring about that systemic change the political and other societal arenas. We need people to improve our society for the masses.
Additionally, while many people are not interested in taking up that important work, there are people who profit, in the short term at least, from destroying our climate and environment. They will, unfortunately, work through the political system to continue that (invest $100 million in politicians and get $1 billion back in profits, for example… what is there to think about?), and without watchdogs at the citizen level they will get away with it.
These companies can buy votes the politicians make and can also buy the votes of the general public if they create enough deceitful ads on TV and radio and enough deceitful websites and social media marketers on the internet. It happens, and the only way to adequately counter it is by getting informed and getting involved.
If systematic change and checks on Big Business aren’t put in place, we won’t move forward like we could and like we probably need to. And that change won’t come about without significant social activism from the citizens of the country and global citizens.
Bottom line: we need both, personal change & action and societal change & action.
Check out my activism & politics post of the day here (which includes a funny bonus video): Colbert Nails Global Warming Deniers — Hilarious Video (+ Top Activism & Politics Stories).
And here are some top green living stories of the day from around the internet:
Green & Healthy Living:
- Five Ways To Find Safe, Green Furniture & Decor
- Beyond Brain Cancer: Other Possible Dangers Of Cell Phones
- Signs that UK cycling is riding the economic storm
- The Cube Project: A Net Zero Tiny House
- How-to: Upcycled Cork Pirate Ships
- One Love Organics: The Next Big Thing In Organic Beauty Just Arrived
- Natural Shampoo Alternatives from the Kitchen
- Weeds Crossbreeding with GMO crops
- No GMO T-Shirt Design Contest
- Toxicity of insecticide mixture is sum of its parts, a cell study finds.