The estimable biodiversivist wrote, in another thread, that “What we do as individuals is insignificant compared to changes in carbon neutral energy generation and transportation infrastructure.”

Which is both true and not true, I think. It reminds me of the story about the little tyke throwing starfish stranded on the beach back into the water, and being told by the parent that it didn’t matter, leading the child to say, “It does to this one.”

Cute story, all chicken-soupy-for-the-environmentalist’s soul and such — but is it really just bunk?

Of course, at one level, it’s absolutely true — compare the consequences of any one person’s actions to those of some 300 million people and you can’t even measure the one next to the other.

But wait. Isn’t what we do as a society nothing but the cumulative sum of “what we do as individuals?”

Let’s see — what did I get done for carbon neutral energy generation and transport infrastructure today? Well, we kept our electric use well down below average again, which we hope makes it easier to convince the powers that be to adopt a renewable energy portfolio standard and concentrate on a response to global heating. We avoided using our one car again, keeping us on track for a sub-4,000 mile year of driving; I rode a bike and my bride took a bus, helping show support for both modes of low-carbon transport.

Would we have been able to do more by ignoring our own actions and energy use and considering them insignificant? Did I do less for the environment than the enviro lobbyists who drive over to Springfield from Big Town?

In the thread on the “I got mine school of environmental leadership,” a number of people said in a number of ways that my calling attention to this one thing — jet travel by a handful of enviros attending an outdoor leadership school — was counterproductive or just plain stupid, because the impact of that travel is trivial compared to other negatives affecting climate. In other words, “What [they] do as individuals is insignificant compared to changes in carbon neutral energy generation and transportation infrastructure.”

Someone else noted that pro sports teams use a hell of a lot of energy flying around, but of course it could probably be said in truth that, “What [they] do as individuals is insignificant compared to changes in carbon neutral energy generation and transportation infrastructure.”

And so it goes.

I’m wondering whether there’s anything that can’t be justified if its environmental consequences are compared to the environmental cost of everything else and found to be “insignificant” in comparison.

I’m not saying that we can address the serious threats we face (that we cause is probably a better way to state that) without a serious governmental response, shifting the center of gravity from personal responses (optional) to personal responses (required).

But I do note that the states in the lead in this area are precisely those where the people have led the way by ignoring this kind of calculus and showing that they want more than just business as usual. Does anyone think Arnold the Environmentalist would be as green if he was governor of Nevada or Arizona?

What’s that line about where the people lead, the leaders will follow? How does one lead if not by worrying first about your own environmental footprint before turning to concern with the footprint of others?