Blake Borgeson, in blog form

suspected facts. validated opinions.

garden activism? what about activism in general?

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I just read an interesting perspective in an article in the new york times magazine online advocating garden activism. I don’t have a ton of time to reflect on activism in general, but I wanted to take the opportunity to briefly discuss the writer’s opinions on what types of activism are best.

First why activism in the first place? The article gives one reason: the people to notice that something is wrong should take action themselves, otherwise no one will. Plus, politicians generally aren’t techno-experts, so they’re not going to realize something needs to change until either a group of experts or their constituents (ideally both) are banging on their door demanding it.

For us to wait for legislation or technology to solve the problem of how we’re living our lives suggests we’re not really serious about changing — something our politicians cannot fail to notice. They will not move until we do.

I agree that activism is necessary when there’s something wrong with the market, and the incomplete allocation of environmental costs into commodities and energy is the biggest example out there. Yvon Choinard’s book, Let My People Go Surfing, goes much farther in communicating the depth of the problem in environmental cost allocation, and ties this trouble directly to the need for activist companies and individuals to blaze a trail that others can learn from and follow. Not doing so is sort of like avoiding taxes by basing your company in the Bahamas once you’ve already benefited from the education and infrastructure present in the US to help you get your start. There’s nothing wrong with it per se, it’s just not as right as it could be.

Unfortunately, the article goes on to elaborate on how ‘garden activism’ is superior to other means of taking an active role in combating the current issue of people and companies ‘stealing’ from the environment (without realizing it of course).

The “cheap-energy mind,” as Wendell Berry called it, is the mind that asks, “Why bother?” because it is helpless to imagine — much less attempt — a different sort of life, one less divided, less reliant. Since the cheap-energy mind translates everything into money, its proxy, it prefers to put its faith in market-based solutions — carbon taxes and pollution-trading schemes. If we could just get the incentives right, it believes, the economy will properly value everything that matters and nudge our self-interest down the proper channels. The best we can hope for is a greener version of the old invisible hand. Visible hands it has no use for.

What I don’t like about this is that the article has glossed over the real trouble here–that environmental costs are not being completely allocated. When you realize this is the core of the problem, it doesn’t make sense to minimize the impact of ‘market-based solutions’. We can continue relying on markets if we look at what we have as a problem with the market. We just need to correct the market–to get the incentives right–so that companies and individuals can continue operating in their own best interest and continue to drive the progress that makes the world a better place to live.

Overall I think the point the article tries to make is great–planting a garden can really help you to reconnect with the world and understand firsthand that the earth takes care of us well as long as we return the favor, plus home-grown veggies are the best there are.

Written by blakeweb

April 23, 2008 at 1:16 am

Posted in environment

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