Gone green. Now what?

YOU reduce, reuse and recycle. You turn down plastic and paper. You avoid out-of-season grapes. You do all the right things.


Just know that it won’t save the tuna, protect the rain forest or stop global warming. The changes necessary are so large and profound that they are beyond the reach of individual action.

This is the opening to the compelling New York Times article, “Going Green but Getting Nowhere by Gernot Wagner. 

I agree that the necessary changes must come from way up high at the national and international governmental and corporate levels rather than just down here at the consumer level. Here’s where he loses me:

… sadly, individual action does not work. It distracts us from the need for collective action, and it doesn’t add up to enough. Self-interest, not self-sacrifice, is what induces noticeable change.

Must self-interest and self-sacrifice be mutually exclusive? I think not. Individual action expanded to community action expanded to societal action will sooner or later (too late?) expand to global action, whether through governmental or anarchical means.

The article does clearly, quickly and simply explain many things, including Americans’ negative impact on our environment, carbon emissions, and “cap and trade” tax. Still, I fundamentally disagree with its audacity—

the ultimate inconvenient truth: getting people excited about making individual environmental sacrifices is doomed to fail.


Getting people excited about individual environmental sacrifices is necessary. Getting governments and corporations excited about environmental sacrifices is essential as well.

Coincidentally (or not), I read another article yesterday with information that nicely complemented the NYT piece, “Got Cheap Milk?” My favorite part was when author Charles Kenny concluded his argument and told me what to do, in no uncertain terms:

So how should you eat as a responsible global citizen? Consume less meat and oppose Western farm-subsidy programs — especially if they focus on livestock. Campaign against U.S. biofuel programs, which divert corn into grossly inefficient energy production. Embrace further testing and analysis of GM [genetically modified] crops. Encourage public funding of research and intellectual property laws that ensure that poor farmers are not priced out of the potential benefits of GM seeds. Spend only on organic food that is as energy- and land-efficient as conventional production. And be a smart consumer: Local produce grown out of season and meat raised on imported feed isn’t friendly to you, the environment, or the developing world.

Both of these articles are short, sweet and well worth reading. Did you read them? What do you think?

3 thoughts on “Gone green. Now what?

  1. Wow, impressive. Thanks for sharing the articles. He somehow omits the personal factor. People can act as multiplyers and eventually it does have impact… and if it’s only on the governments policies or even more probable: on the private actors actions (shops ect..)

    I’m just participating in the No Impact Week and I can tell you…it does not go unnoticed if you do things differently. Butterfly effect!

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