July 26, 2009

Do Not “Forget Shorter Showers”: Why Personal Change Does Equal Environmental Change.

“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.”

Derrick Jensen discusses the current difficulties of environmentalism and outlines a possible solution to influencing change. In his article, “Forget Shorter Showers: Why Personal Change Does Not Equal Political Change,” Jensen claims that the small lifestyle changes (shorter showers, recycling, limited consumption) have virtually no impact on the greater solution. Instead, it is the responsibility of politicians to make the shift to social and environmental responsibility.

“I want to be clear. I’m not saying we shouldn’t live simply. I live reasonably simply myself, but I don’t pretend that not buying much (or not driving much, or not having kids) is a powerful political act, or that it’s deeply revolutionary. It’s not. Personal change doesn’t equal social change.”

“The third problem is that it accepts capitalism’s redefinition of us from citizens to consumers. By accepting this redefinition, we reduce our potential forms of resistance to consuming and not consuming. Citizens have a much wider range of available resistance tactics, including voting, not voting, running for office,  pamphleting, boycotting, organizing, lobbying, protesting, and, when a government becomes destructive of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we have the right to alter or abolish it.

Derrick Jensen is an activist and the author of many books, most recently What We Leave Behind and Songs of the Dead.
Forget Shorter Showers: Why Personal Change Does Not Equal Political Change” was published in the July/August 2009 issue of Orion magazine.”

This criticism of individual power is demoralizing and wrong. Change rarely begins with the government. It takes far too much time for any legislation to become active and when it is finally implemented, the policy is only a guideline for behavior. Additionally, the government lives within the deep pockets of big business. How can we expect change to come from a body willing to be influenced by another entity?

If we are really intent on making a statement and sparking change, we need to disrupt the economic flow. The little things (your decision to buy recycled toilet-paper or start riding your bike to work) send the loudest message. Every small decision you make effect the bottom line of corporations. If they see that consumers are no longer willing to impact the environment by driving high-emissions vehicles, they will change. Believe me when I say that the Prius was not created because Toyota has a soft spot for the environment. Businesses react to the demands of consumers.

So flex your influential muscles and mindfully exercise your power to choose!

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