That's one of the questions lying behind the perceived antagonism between individual and political environmental action. But I don't perceive the antagonism.
Which is better? To me, that's like asking--apples or oranges--which are better? Change is neither top-down nor bottom-up but every which way including sideways.
I know there is an argument that one person changing their lives can't change their planet, so it's more about how you vote (Tom Friedman articulated this point of view in the Times the other day). But, in my frustration with politics, I started the No Impact Man project a year ago at first intending it to be "mere" individual action. I'd come to the defeatist belief that my one vote couldn't change the big-business-owned political system (my view has changed, somewhat, as you'll read).
So we have two lines of defeatist reasoning: individual action can't change the world and an individual vote can't change government. Great. Apples and oranges are both no good! Why bother growing either? But as I've said before, optimism is the most radical political act there is.
Actually, in my optimism, I believe wholeheartedly that both how I vote and how I live influences how other people vote and how they live, at least if I'm willing to talk about it. Also, calling a politician up to tell them that I already try not to make waste is more powerful than opining that society shouldn't make waste. It all mingles and merges.
I will say this: both individual action and voter action are stronger if we talk to others about why we make our choices and become part of communities that reinforce those choices. And also, some of us are better at or more inclined to one type of action or the other. It's all good. And, in my belief, both is better than either (and certainly better than neither).
But as is often the case, No Impact Man's readers say things better than me, so here is what Jen from Brooklyn left behind in a comment the other day:
"...we need ALL of it. Individual action and legislation and community action and peer pressure. So please stop using plastic bags AND please call your congressman AND please talk to your friends about the choices you are making and why AND please ask your community of faith to think about their choices AND AND AND...anything else you can think of!"
Photo courtesy of Time.
PS Speaking of political action, if you feel like letting your congressional representatives know that you support higher mileage standards for cars and investment in renewable energy sources in the upcoming Energy Bill, click here.
Colin Beavan (that's me!) is now leading a conversation about finding a happy, helpful life at Colinbeavan.com. If you want to know how people are breaking out and and finding authentic, meaningful lives that help our world, check it out the blog here and sign up to join the conversation here.