Saturday, September 05, 2009

the overpopulation of the moral high ground

I enjoyed Elizabeth Kolbert on "eco-stunts" in a paper copy of last week's magazine that I bought in a local news shop. I read her book review immediately upon waking up, so this is through a happy, groggy Labor Day Weekend haze.

The first thing that I thought was that Kolbert was, literally, calling the author "No Impact Man" because he had no real impact, politically. Or, really environmentally either. I only realized slowly that that was the actual title of his book. In any case, it was a good weekend read simply because she put so well things that I feel: personal extremism is silly and doesn't make for real, lasting change; change needs to be structural, large-scale, social and political; these stunt-ers taking the moral high ground are dull and annoying and yet another example of the self-indulgence of late capitalist nincompoops. So, not the most informative article for me, but satisfying in a small way that allows me to take the moral high ground and thus the cycle of life continues . . . etc, etc.

I love the ending: What’s required is perhaps a sequel. In one chapter, Beavan could take the elevator to visit other families in his apartment building. He could talk to them about how they all need to work together to install a more efficient heating system. In another, he could ride the subway to Penn Station and then get on a train to Albany. Once there, he could lobby state lawmakers for better mass transit. In a third chapter, Beavan could devote his blog to pushing for a carbon tax. Here’s a possible title for the book: “Impact Man.”

Ah, there's the pun.

But there was something about the cloth diapers and cloth napkins and the reusable food storage and the one-car/no-car family that really seemed familiar, do-able and appealing. What if Americans all did just live like it was the 1970s? Could we run the statistics on that? If Americans just created as much landfill waste and used as much electricity and emitted as much carbon as they did (per capita) in the 1970s? And maybe recycled as much as they did during WWII? What would that look like in terms of large-scale change? Can we legislate that?

I also learned a few things about Thoreau that I did not know before.

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