WOULD ANY SANE PERSON think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday, or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons, or that dancing naked around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”?
Part of the problem is that we’ve been victims of a campaign of systematic misdirection. Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance. An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption—changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much—and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet? Even if every person in the United States did everything the movie suggested, U.S. carbon emissions would fall by only 22 percent. Scientific consensus is that emissions must be reduced by at least 75 percent worldwide.
Or let’s talk water. We so often hear that the world is running out of water. People are dying from lack of water. Rivers are dewatered from lack of water. Because of this we need to take shorter showers. See the disconnect? Because I take showers, I’m responsible for drawing down aquifers? Well, no. More than 90 percent of the water used by humans is used by agriculture and industry. The remaining 10 percent is split between municipalities and actual living breathing individual humans. Collectively, municipal golf courses use as much water as municipal human beings. People (both human people and fish people) aren’t dying because the world is running out of water. They’re dying because the water is being stolen.
…Personal change doesn’t equal social change.
“In the 1930s when Paul Mueller, working for the chemical company Geigy in Switzerland, discovered that DDT killed insects, the economic benefits of a chemical pesticide were immediately obvious. Trumpeting the imminent scientific conquest of insect pests and their associated diseases and damage to crops, Geigy patented the discovery and went on to make millions, and Mueller was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1948. But years later, when bird watchers noted the decline of eagles and hawks, biologists investigated and discovered the hitherto unknown phenomenon of “biomagnification,” whereby compounds become concentrated as they are ingested up the food chain. How “could limits have been set on DDT in the early 1940s when we didn’t even know about biomagnification as a biological process until birds began to disappear?
Similarly, CFCS were hailed as a wonderful creation of chemistry. These complex molecules were chemically inert, so they didn’t react with other compounds and thus made excellent fillers in aerosol cans to go along with substances such as deodorants. No one anticipated that because of their stability, CFCS would persist in the environment and drift into the upper atmosphere, where ultraviolet radiation would break off ozone-scavenging chlorine free radicals. Most people had never heard of the ozone layer, and certainly no one could have anticipated the long-term effects of CFCS, so how could the compounds have been regulated? I have absolutely no doubt that genetically modified organisms (GMOS) will also prove to have unexpected negative consequences despite the benefits claimed by biotech companies. But if we don’t know enough to anticipate the long-term consequences of human technological innovation, how can its impact be managed?”
Excerpt From: Suzuki, David. “The Sacred Balance.” D & M Publishers, 2002. iBooks.
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