The hopelessness of the voluntary

Old train station, Ottawa

Energy Saving Day in the United Kingdom has produced no measurable results. While this is a blow to the “everyone recycle your used Coke cans and we will be fine” form of environmentalism, it is less surprising to people who have a sense of the scale of the climate issue and an awareness of the (in)effectiveness of past voluntary efforts.

Even if the day had been successful, it would have been more about displacement than reduction. Consider the much touted ‘Buy Nothing Day‘ espoused by certain rejectors of the dominant consumerist culture. Even among those who observe the occasion scrupulously, it is plausible that overall consumption doesn’t fall at all: it just gets displaced to the days before and after. Overall, the idea that serious societal issues can be tackled through 24 hours of voluntary abstinence by a handful of devotees is profoundly flawed.

What is the alternative? Price carbon and de-carbonize infrastructure.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

4 thoughts on “The hopelessness of the voluntary”

  1. If we are going to tackle climate change, it will be because schoolchildren clean and recycle the forks they employ for state mandated lunches!

  2. One key to the movement’s lack of popularity, Orwell argues, is its supporters. “As with the Christian religion,” he writes, “the worst advertisement for Socialism is its adherents.” Then he wheels out the heavy rhetorical artillery. The typical socialist, according to Orwell, “is either a youthful snob-Bolshevik who in five years time will quite probably have made a wealthy marriage and been converted to Roman Catholicism, or, still more typically, a prim little man with a white-collar job, usually a secret teetotaler, and often with vegetarian leanings … with a social position he has no intention of forfeiting. … One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words ‘Socialism’ and ‘Communism’ draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist and feminist in England.” (Think “organic food lover,” “militant nonsmoker,” and “environmentalist with a private jet” for a more contemporary list.)

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