What? It’s Only Been Three Months…

I’m definitely glad there’s something called Blog Action Day. It reminded me I had a blog!

BAD participants were supposed to post yesterday about the environment, so I’m not technically a participant, since I missed it :-/ But I do have what to say about the environment, and BAD raised me from my bloggy slumber.

You may not know this, but I was the president of the environment club* at my high school. I didn’t know jack about the environment, or the political/socio-economic factors that contribute to it, which was probably for the best. I was a pretty lousy president, mainly because Al Gore was the vice president (of the US, not the club), and there wasn’t much for me to do besides organize an annual T-shirt sale.

I did know, even then, that we have a culture of mass consumption that simply isn’t sustainable. Unfortunately, sustainability is often expensive. No chemical plant wants to buy filters to put on their smoke stacks if they don’t have to. Which is why regulations are usually necessary to force companies to do this sort of thing. But the habits of individuals are as critical, if not more so, than those of industry. And it’s much harder to regulate people. Unless we start making laws telling people how much toilet paper they can buy in a year (not a good idea**), change is going to have to come from a sense of personal responsibility. In other words, it’s the 1970’s all over again.

The energy crises of the 1970’s in particular forced Americans to realize how energy is a vital resource, and also how energy is a limited resource (scarcity does that). We’re in a comparable position today – mostly rising oil prices over the past five years have created a new “green” market. Consumption is once again costly. Greener cars, houses, and food are hugely popular.

Bu that’s the cynical way of looking at things – perhaps people are buying green because they genuinely want to help the environment? Unfortunately, I’m going to take the cynical view. Environmentalism waned for years when there was plenty. Now that scarcity has been put back into the equation (thanks, W!), environmentalism has made a staggering comeback (if I have time, I’ll try to find some numbers, like donations to major environmental organizations). In other words, people behave when it’s cost-effective for them to behave.

So there you have it – environmentalism shedding light on human nature***. That’s why I find it so interesting!


* It was called S.A.V.E.: Students Against Violating the Environment. Not my choice – back off.
** Although note consumer habits during WW2…
*** I think one of the reasons that the environment has this relationship with human nature is that it’s so abstract. Using a Styrofoam cup harms the environment, but that harm is so small relatively that we can’t see its impact. If I throw garbage on the floor in my apartment (a micro-environment – emphasis on micro :-/ ), however, the impact is immediate and obvious. So most people clean up their homes. So apparently they wouldn’t if the impact wasn’t visible!