The Huffington Post's eco-etiquette column yesterday featured a question from “Kimberly,” who writes "I used to be enthusiastic about going green, but now I feel like what's the point? Like a stupid reusable water bottle is going to make a difference … " She got a comforting answer, but if she’d written to the New York Times, op-ed contributor Gernot Wagner might have told her she might as well pack it in.
HuffPo’s advice columnist Jennifer Grayson identified Kimberly’s problem — "You're having a F**k it moment right now" — and told her to step back, take a breather, and "remember that individual actions do make a difference."
But Wagner, an economist with the Environmental Defense Fund, has a different answer for people like Kimberly:
[S]adly, 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. …
[E]conomics teaches us that humanity must have the right incentives if it is to stop this terrible trend. … Don’t stop recycling. Don’t stop buying local. But add mastering some basic economics to your to-do list. Our future will be largely determined by our ability to admit the need to end planetary socialism. That’s the most fundamental of economics lessons and one any serious environmentalist ought to heed.
Wagner's saying that individual actions do make a difference, but not enough. Without economic incentives, like a cap-and-trade program, reinforcing those personal choices, it's easier (and more rational) to just say F**k it.
Ugh, thanks New York Times, we’re going to go back to cuddle with nice Mommy Grayson now. But seriously, the take-home message is that you gotta do your individual actions with a heaping side dish of political gadfly-ism.