The December 6, 2009 edition of the Washington Post featured an opinion column from Mike Tidwell, executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, that basically argued we should not waste our time going green in “small ways,” and should just focus on the big picture stuff (like a new climate protocol hopefully coming out of Copenhagen.) As an advocate of going green in ways both large and small, I think the article is just wrong, wrong, wrong.
First, the article makes the claim, without substantiation, that going green in small ways amounts to nothing meaningful in the long term. Where is the proof of this? On the contrary, metrics and statistics fall on the opposite side of the argument.
Take one instance I’ve quoted here before, the compact fluorescent light bulb. The amount of energy it saves over incandescent bulbs is discrete and measurable. From that measurable statistic, one can answer such questions as, “what would happen if every household in America changed just one 60-watt lightbulb to CFL?” The answer is, enough power would be saved that it would be the equivalent of powering the entire states of Delaware and Rhode Island, or a city of 1.5 million people. (Source.) That’s based on hard data and facts, unlike the “factoids” cited in the article.
Second, sitting around waiting for our politicians to “do something” about global warming is tantamount to irresponsibly passing the buck. Why should we make any sacrifices today, implies the article, when we could get much more bang for the buck tomorrow if (and only if) we convince politicians to adopt a stricter climate treaty?
We’ve seen where that got us for the last eight years. Also, for every person who believes global warming is happening there is another that does not. There are also financial and economic consequences of any climate-related choices, which is no small issue in an era of 10% unemployment and tepid economic recovery. If we sit on our duffs waiting for politicians to “do something,” even pro-climate politicians like Obama, we are likely to wait around for an awfully long time. In the meantime, what do we do?
I agree with the article that we should frame climate policy as a moral issue, and that we should not let going green distract us from the large-scale changes needed at a societal level. That includes putting pressure on politicians to do the right thing for the climate.
But we can walk and chew gum at the same time. We can mind our own carbon footprint at the same time we push for larger scale change. Pushing our politicians cannot and should not absolve us of individual responsibility to do everything we can to lower our own emissions–by saving energy, by weatherproofing our homes, by driving less, and by taking all of the other small and larger steps we take on an individual level.
Is there some feel-good greenwashing going on, to let people convince themselves they are doing good by the environment when they are really not? Sure, there’s plenty of stuff out there like the “green weddings” and the “organic toothpicks” cited in the article. But to pooh-pooh every effort to go green as akin to picking our teeth with organic toothpicks, and to think we should focus on the politics of climate change to the exclusion of all else, is just plain wrong.
So go ahead, do what you need to go green. Every little bit helps. Just don’t lose sight of the big picture–keep your Congressman’s name and number handy, and keep ratcheting up the pressure to do the right thing in crafting a better climate policy. Because you CAN walk and chew gum at the same time, right?