For and Against

Some friends and I recently had a conversation about the future of a volunteer group we helped create.  We are concerned about environmental issues, and our group is part of a larger organization that has a much broader and diverse set of concerns.  So, how to proceed?  Advocate for specific action on specific issues, and someone in the larger group is inevitably going to see the issue another way.  Busy ourselves with innocuous individual good-doing, and the group loses cohesion if not a reason to exist.

I offered an observation that might be a good guideline if judiciously applied.  My friend, Mike Eckhart, created and developed the American Council on Renewable Energy into a broad based and politically potent coalition.  He led the effort according to a principle which flies in the face of our gut political instincts. 

Mike said, repeatedly, “We’re not against anything.”  What he meant was, the normal approach to advocacy in the energy sector, i.e. bashing incumbent industries in order to gain a foothold in the market for your own, creates a small tent that begins to resemble an echo chamber.  He wanted a big tent inhabited by people who were connected and had influence with better connected people who might otherwise not give much thought to renewable energy.  It worked. 

When I recommended that our little group’s small tent inside a big tent “not be against anything”, I had Mike’s dictum in mind.  But it takes some interpretation.  As an individual, I’m against a lot of things:  industrial foods and empty calories, the infusion of designer chemicals and genes into ecosystems, damming rivers, monoculture forests, to name a few.  If we tried to hit the pause button globally on such things, would it work?  Probably not.  It doesn’t take much imagination to think of people who might object, quite legitimately. 

Humanity at its current scale cannot inhabit our lovely planet without leaving footprints and fingerprints.  As individuals, we simply don’t have the bandwidth to evaluate the entire, overwhelming, expanding menu of goods and services available to us according to their hidden environmental costs.  What we can do for one another is to share information, insight and experience.  Maybe promote a preferential option for the natural. 

Let’s exercise our right to spend money on what we are for in our own lives.  Let’s try to avoid spending money on things we are against.  These personal and communal disciplines are the best antidote to the excesses and extractive practices that do pervasive and irreparable harm to human and natural ecosystems.  

Doing so sends the truthful message that our individual and local choices matter.  They actually do.  More good choices mean fewer bad choices. 

I’m all for good choices. 

-- Gerry Braun

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