Daharja has an excellent post over at Cluttercut in which she talks about the 350.org website, which is, from what I can tell, a site trying to build awareness of the importance of reducing our carbon emissions until there are only 350 parts per million in the atmosphere. The old goal was 450, but newer research points to 350 being the target we need to reach in order to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.
Daharja is incensed, and rightly so I would say, about the fact that you're never going to inspire anyone to change their actions in the direction needed by merely focusing on a raising awareness of a number. And I'm pretty sure Kiashu at Green with Gun would classify the whole endeavor as glorified slacktivism (maybe not even glorified). Here's a quote from the "Take Action" portion of the 350.org website:
What we need most right now are your actions that take the number 350 and drive it home: in art, in music, in political demonstrations, in any other way you can imagine.
I have to disagree. I'd say what we need most right now are actions that directly reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that are being emitted into the atmosphere. Actions like those the Riot for Austerity people are undertaking, or a One Tonne Lifestyle that Kiashu describes. I don't think that paintings of the number 350 are going to cut it, or protest songs for that matter, even if they're sung by U2.
This got me thinking to what the word "action" has come to mean. This dictionary defines action in a number of ways, but all the definitions have something to do with physical movement directed toward a specific purpose. But more and more, I've noticed that "action" seems to have come to refer to things that don't involve a lot of physical movement or energy, such as joining a facebook group or, or forwarding an email, or signing an online petition. And a lot of this so called "action" is diffuse in purpose as well.
I hear of kids who want to be video game designers when they grow up and I keep thinking to myself, but will you actually be able to DO anything? And before I get too sanctimonious, I remind myself that writing letters to my elected representatives doesn't take a lot of physical activity either, nor does blogging, nor does turning off my house lights for an hour at a specified time. Some of these things are relatively harmless, even if they aren't necessarily effective, but surely the time spent at most of them could be better spent doing things that would really qualify as action towards reducing greenhouse gases, such as buying less stuff, growing our own food, planting more trees, driving less, eating less, hauling out that old bicycle and riding it, conserving water, composting, refraining from turning on the air conditioner or fan, etc.
How do we get people who are used to "action," back in the habit of concrete and direct action again? The knuckle-down-and-get-it-done-even-if- it's-hard kind of action? The get-your-hands-dirty-kind-of-action? Daharja says that only the things we love will inspire people to real and right action. I have to agree.
What do you love? What inspires you to do things differently even though it's hard to change the habits of a lifetime? I'm in the middle of thinking through these questions for myself, as I also learn to go from "action" to action.
Picture courtesy this Flickr site