Many environmentalists today miss the broader political picture by advocating for small day-to-day “green living” acts that in reality are far more symbolic than they are effective. The truth is that most people are proponents of a cleaner environment, safer products and labor conditions, and a better functioning democracy—they are just not actively working together for real change. In State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?, the Worldwatch Institute argues that the missing ingredient is not more individual eco-perfectionists, but rather collective engagement for sweeping political and economic change.
If we focus the bulk of our attention on reducing waste in our kitchens, we miss the much larger potential to promote reducing waste in our industries and business, where it is truly needed. (Image from Annie Leonard).
“Small actions are a fine place to start, but they are a terrible place to stop,” says Annie Leonard, a contributing author and Co-Director of The Story of Stuff. “Framing environmental deterioration as the result of poor individual choices—littering, leaving the lights on when we leave a room, failing to carpool—not only distracts us from identifying and demanding change from the real drivers of environmental decline. It also removes these issues from the political realm to the personal, implying that the solution is in our individual choices rather than in better policies, business practices, and structural context.”
When considering how high the stakes are, and how slow the global response has been, it is obvious that bolder measures will need to be taken. By uniting on an issue as global as climate change, widespread action has the potential to be as successful as the March on Washington during the Civil Rights Movement.
“Since current laws and political activities have failed to redress the situation, it is incumbent to ask what strategies and tactics might be successful,” says Bron Taylor, a Professor at the University of Florida and contributing author. “A strong case can be made for direct action resistance as a way to inspire action and apply political pressure on corporate and government officials.”
In State of the World 2013, contributing authors discuss how working together toward common social and political goals—locally and globally—is important to achieving social justice and environmental sustainability:
Making broader change. To move people beyond the easy green actions, we need to put forward an inspiring, morally compelling vision. Once we have that vision we need to build a mass movement strong enough to make it a reality.
Building political strategies. In order to have a true and lasting effect on politics and policy, actions must connect the top-down and bottom-up approaches that currently embody environmental reform. A diversity of styles and strategies will be needed to adapt to local contexts around the globe.
Mobilizing citizens. By implementing new technologies, shifting cultural norms, building a sustainable infrastructure, and creating new policies, we will be able to make the society-wide changes that are imperative to our success. This means calling people to action within broader political campaigns that engage people to work together using the full range of tools available to them, including organizing, lobbying, legal actions, economic sanctions, and civil disobedience.
Authors of mentioned chapters include:
- Melissa Leach, Professorial Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex and Director of the Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability Centre and author of Chapter 22, “Pathway to Sustainability: Building Political Strategies.”
- Annie Leonard, Author and Host of the Internet film and book, The Story of Stuff; Co-director of The Story of Stuff Project; and author of Chapter 23, “Moving from Individual Change to Societal Change.”
- Bron Taylor, Professor at the University of Florida, Fellow of the Rachel Carson Center in Munich, author of Dark Green Religion; Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future; and author of Chapter 28, “Resistance: Do the Ends Justify the Means?”