Planetary Socialism

This was a really interesting opinion piece for me. Read the full article here: Going Green but Getting Nowhere

The quick abstract is that the author feels that individual action regarding climate change (ie: recycling, reusing bags, buying carbon offsets, turning off lights, etc) is pointless and not making any positive impact on the environment/climate change.

Hmph…. seriously?

He goes on to defend his opinion by saying that the problems are so huge, “they are beyond the reach of individual action”. Instead of focusing on what you are doing as an individual in terms of environmental impact, you should be more concerned about what the government(s) are doing to regulate these things.

He says that only self-interest, not self-sacrifice is enough to make real changes. I sort of agree with that – when people are hit economically or otherwise personally, they are much more inclined to take action. When things directly affect a person or their friends and family, they will then suddenly have an opinion about it.

Ok… fine…

I also agree with the author’s point that cap-and-trade is a necessary step to forcing regulations on big polluters and making people pay their fair share of the damage (at least, it’s a step in the right direction)- he claims that because of “planetary socialism”, people are subsidized in terms of the costs they really see when it comes to environmental impacts.  Again, I think if individuals and companies had to pay the REAL costs of their polluting ways, they would change… mainly because they simply wouldn’t be able to afford to do otherwise.

However, is it really reasonable to go as far as saying that individual actions are useless? Shouldn’t we be practicing what we preach and behaving in a way that is considerate of our environment and our future environment? Shouldn’t we be getting into the habit of doing all these “green” things, so that our minds see it as routine? Why not teach children that conservation, moderation, recycling, and innovative ideas are good practices? Shouldn’t they learn to care for their environment too?

While I agree that climate change, pollution, and many other environmental issues need to be addressed on a huge scale, I hardly think that is justification for anyone to throw their hands up and expect someone else to deal with the problem simply because it’s “too big”.

“Be the change you want to see in the world”  – Gandhi 

5 Comments on “Planetary Socialism

  1. Nice commentary… but the author of the article you referenced did not suggest that individuals stop recycling, etc. Instead of trying to paraphrase the author’s word, I’ll just copy & paste it here:

    “Don’t stop recycling. Don’t stop buying local. But add mastering some basic economics to your to-do list. Our future will be largely determined by our ability to admit the need to end planetary socialism. That’s the most fundamental of economics lessons and one any serious environmentalist ought to heed.”

  2. Right, I agree that he didn’t say to stop doing those things, but his negative twist on this issue is enough to sway some people (not saying you or me) to not even bother trying or continuing. Some people who are on the fence about these issues, like recycling for example, might read something said so negatively and construe it in a way that gives them justification to just stop. Some people (my own parents are guilty of this) don’t recycle at all… and these kinds of comments from the author just gives more reason not to.

    Overall, I agree with the author that these problems are big and need big solutions. However, I don’t think speaking poorly about individual effort is productive at all. Individual action is NOT pointless. It’s very important and should be encouraged!
    Thanks for the comment!! :)

  3. 1) The author simply uses provocative style which actually proved itself well in starting movements, revolutions, wars.
    So, who knows, maybe lots of those people who read the text have turned into pro-green politicians, economists, active pro-green voters, etc.; and those who read the text fully (including the last paragraph) maybe even started recycling and buying local :)

    What worked a bit against the author is that it’s not an article written for NYTimes audience, it’s just an excerpt from the upcoming book (see the notes on the bottom of the article), which hence is taken somewhat out of context, and thus the interpretation can be distorted.

    2) the author’s “planetary socialism” term is actually a “The Tragedy of Commons” system trap described in the great book by Donella Meadows, Thinking in Systems (it has a lot of sustainability-focused examples by the way).
    Its very short description is:

    “The Tragedy of the Commons

    Trap: When there is a commonly shared resource, every user benefits directly from its use, but shares the costs of its abuse with everyone else.
    Therefore, there is very weak feedback from the condition of the resource to the decisions of the resource users. The consequence is overuse of the resource, eroding it until it becomes unavailable to anyone.

    The Way Out: Educate and exhort the users, so they understand the consequences of abusing the resource. And also restore or strengthen the missing feedback link, either by privatizing the resource so each user feels the direct consequences of its abuse or (since many resources cannot be privatized) by regulating the access of all users to the resource.”

    • Thanks for your input on drawing the parallel between Planetary Socialism and The Tragedy of the Commons. I am currently reading “Governing the Commons” by Elinor Ostrom, who has some interesting insight on this topic. You should check it out if you haven’t read it!

  4. Thank you for this. I just read that article and could not wrap my head around it. I do understand what he is getting at but it didn’t seem all true so than you for explaining this better. I feel the same way


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