Saturday, January 10, 2009

Change leaders, not light bulbs

What's the best way for a person to go green? Thomas Friedman says to vote smart, it's so much better than the cult of personal action (like changing light bulbs).

OK, I think he goes too far, we should change leaders and light bulbs. But he has a good point, the "ten simple things you can do" lists do not really change the world. Useful steps like changing light bulbs do little unless they save kilowatts while also spurring all of us on bigger collective actions.

Voting right is good, but it's an empty platitude to emphasize voting as a solution since there are no electable leaders who really push true sustainability in their platforms. Instead, we can develop real campaigns for social change that put sustainability on the mainstream agenda. Like mine, of course.


David J. Hirsh said...

I'm not in the Friedman-hater camp, and I haven't read the whole article. But I have to say my gut reaction to your summary of Friedman's point is a loud cry of "BULLSHIT." Personal change is absolutely the essence of the start toward larger social change.

People (especially Americans) do not want to be told, or worse, forced how to act well for the benefit of the larger society. One cannot aggregate a society around concepts of changed behavior unless one makes that change in his own behavior first.

Voting smart can help. But even progressive politicians need to be lead/enabled toward concepts that involve changed behavior in the populace. The status quo protectors (populists, libertarians, and ingrained economic interests) will never allow even the most inspirational of political leaders to promulgate "change from above."

That said, these political and economic times, and the circumstances of the past eight years that lead to them, are tailor-made for a truly inspirational change-agent. The awakening to climate change and the increase in the price of oil makes us reexamine the way we use energy at work, getting to work, and at home. The need for large-scale government spending on energy and transportation infrastructure could give us a shunt in a progressive, futuristic direction if complemented by said inspirational leadership.

And certainly these circumstances would be different if the election had turned out differently and any other politician (D or R, from the "old-guard") been elected president. But even so, I don't trust the fact that I voted "smart" alone to be the solution here. So I look at my own home and commute and how I use energy, and I made the changes I want to see others make. Which probably puts me in a far better position to wax on than some egotist like Friedman who seems to think he's the smartest guy in the room these days.

Mark Powell said...

I hear you tres arboles, but I'm less convinced that personal change is the essence of the start. I worry that many people start and end with a few personal changes, and fail to follow up with commitment to collective action.

But yeah, personal change is a great way to build and maintain personal commitment.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure that the question of 'where to start' really makes sense anymore. We need change at all levels of society, from individuals to national and global leaders. There's no point in waiting for someone else to make the first move, we should all start where we can.

For most of us, that means in our homes, our daily lives, and so on. When we get the chance to affect a larger scale, great, vote for the green guy, but lets not wait for someone to turn up and fix it all for us.