The Personal is Political, Earth Day Edition
Happy Earth Day, everyone. Or, if you’re on campus here, Happy Earth Week, complete with live bands at noon every day and
a really weird papier-mâché tree ball thing oh, apparently that was a pomegranate to commemorate the Armenian genocide. Earth Week means I’ve got three more days to write about the relationship of geology, as a science and a profession, to environmental politics… which is good, ’cause I’m distracted today by larger-scale theoretical considerations:
In the end, the root of the problem lies with culture. If we can change the culture, then we may win. If we cannot, then no amount of technology or legislation or green infrastructure is going to save us (though all of these things may buy us time in which to work on the ultimately much harder problem of culture).
I’ve spent more time in the past few years thinking about feminist theory than about environmentalism – not for any grand ideological reasons, just because I like feminist theory. But this is what feminism and environmentalism have in common: They are both movements to create large-scale cultural change. Most feminists, and I suspect most environmentalists, expect that change to be created by and reflected in a mixture of law, social custom, and individual behavior. Which is why I think Carol Hanisch, writing about the women’s liberation movement in the late 60s, also gets at the heart of what troubles me about an emphasis on individual choices:
One of the first things we discover in these groups is that personal problems are political problems. There are no personal solutions at this time. There is only collective action for a collective solution.
It’s not that environmentalism has nothing to do with personal virtue, but individual situations and personal choices must also be used as sources of insight into larger problems, and these larger problems require collective action.
So. Gentle readers. What’s an environmentally sound habit that you’ve thought about cultivating, or tried to cultivate, but never managed to really get off the ground? Can you think of social or infrastructural changes that would help you maintain the habit?
For example: I’m flawless at bringing a backpack to the grocery store, instead of toting things home in a paper bag, but I keep crapping out in the produce section and using those plastic bags to hold my green beans. Except at the Berkeley farmer’s market, where they set out a big thing of plastic bags for re-use and you can just grab some when you realize you’ve once again forgotten to bring your own. Easy! Convenient! Why don’t real grocery stores do that?