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18 September 2010

No Impact Man


I just finished watching this on OnDemand, and had some thoughts I'd like to share.  Despite it's limitations (some of which you can read about here), I thought the film was very good, and very educational.  The question that comes up again and again is, is individual change enough?  That is, if we are going to build a sustainable society, is it enough for each of us to do our own thing without fundamentally changing the system in which we live?  Environmentalism kind of bounces back and forth between advocating individual change on a massive scale and struggling for structural change.  But the dichotomy isn't so clear, it seems.

For one, the two are not mutually exclusive; it is possible to change the way you live as an individual and still work toward structural change.  It would only be a problem if most people thought that all it took was changing a few light bulbs, and I think a lot of people do believe that, but most people only start there.  Those who keep moving soon realize that structural change is necessary - that there are limits to the effectiveness of individual change. 

Also, it seems to me that individual change is always structural change in a way.  No, it's not enough for everyone to just change a few light bulbs.  It's not even enough for all of us to live just like the family in the film.  Those things will help, certainly, but they will not result in a sustainable society (or a permaculture, as KSR is so fond of saying).  One wants, then, to wholly revamp the system: to bring down capitalism with one deft blow, to revamp the cities, to ban cars, to blow up all of the dams, and so on.  That's not how it works.  Even those actions that seem undeniably massive and systemic wouldn't bring about structural change.  Structural change takes time and work.  It takes building new ways of living and being in the world.  It's not enough for each of us to simply change a light bulb or reduce our impact, because those are things we do alone. 

What's needed, instead, is for all of us to work together to create the world we want to live in.  That may mean bringing down capitalism, blowing up a few dams, banning cars, etc.  It may not.  And certainly politics is an essential part of this - electing the right people, protesting, calling your legislators, etc.  But that's not enough either - we have to look beyond ourselves, beyond the realm of politics, and beyond the world as we know it to imagine a different world and then work hard to bring it into existence.

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