For about a month now I have been using a cycle as my primary mode of transport (as opposed to a car). Thinking to myself that it is good for me, good for the environment and a political statement too… And then I come across this article by Derrick Jensen. You should read the whole thing, but among other things he is arguing that personal actions, such as living simply, composting, biking and not consuming, are ineffective.

And he uses numbers to show that too. Take water for instance: ‘More than 90 percent of the water used by humans is used by agriculture and industry. The remaining 10 percent is split between municipalities and actual living breathing individual humans. Collectively, municipal golf courses use as much water as municipal human beings.’ He shows that the same is true for energy consumption and waste creation…

And a day latter I stumble upon Annie Leonard, the author of The Story of Stuff talking to Steve Paulson. In an interview aired on the program To the best of our knowledge, this what she had to say on the subject: “I am critical of these focuses on individual lifestyle changes… it is our fault that there is global warming because we did not ride our bike, or we did not recycle or we did not carry our bag to the store. Of course I think we should do all those things. We should definitely strive to live as low impact as possible. But we are operating within a system where the current is moving us towards greater ecological devastation so these individual actions… it is kind of like getting better and better at swimming upstream when the current is still going towards environmental destruction. We need to really focus our attention on changing the direction of the current. Rather than nagging our friends to take public transportation even if it takes four times as long and costs five times as much money, lets work together to get better public transportation so that the ecologically preferable option is the new default.’’

Go to Orion magazine and read Forget Shorter Showers by Derrick Jensen
Hear the radio interview of Annie Leonard at To the best of our knowledge
Go to Annie Leonard website The story of Stuff

First published on December 1, 2010