Who is moving slower than the U.S. government on the environment? The U.S. people.

April 25, 2018 by Joshua
in Nature

I had to share a few points I made on a thread commenting on China moving faster than the U.S. on the environment. Someone wrote:car pollution

“It’s a strange shift in affairs that China appears to have the greatest incentives (urban pollution, petroleum imports) today to advance clean transportation and energy while the US has stalled or moved backward, at least the Federal level.”

I responded:

“> the US has stalled or moved backward, at least the Federal level.

It has at the individual level too for most individuals. Try to get someone to consider flying less. Look at the size of vehicles on the road. How much meat we eat. Air conditioning to point of needing sweaters in the summer and heating to wearing shorts in the winter.

All personal choices anyone can make, no legislation necessary. We can blame fossil fuel companies, and they are abusing their power, but we have a long way to go as individuals before legislators see that regulation will result in more votes, not less.”

Someone responded to me:

“As someone who generates a lot of waste – environmental responsibility just doesn’t factor into my consumption decisions.

I work from home so I have the A/C set to be fairly cold. I enjoy a specific brand of bottled water. A major online retailer sells this water cheaper than my local store. I drive a car that gets about 15mpg because I enjoy driving it. I generate approx 13 gallons of trash per day. This is mostly shipping materials and grocery packaging.

All of these examples are the direct consequence of prioritizing myself. There simply has to be a stronger (perhaps economic) incentive that will change the behavior of people like me.”

To which I responded, keeping myself calm despite the surprise at behavior I would never do

“If you value how you affect other people, you may find that acting on that value improves your life.

Simply prioritizing yourself and only caring about economic incentives would motivate stealing when you know you won’t get caught.

You sound as if you know your waste is hurting other people. You have your values, but if I lived as you describe, knowing my externalities needlessly hurt people would eat me up inside — no right, wrong, good, or bad, just my personal values. I would change simply to feel better about myself and my role in my community, local and global. Just because people can’t see how I’m affecting them, I still am.

If you don’t value how you affect other people, my view is to live and let live and hope that people who care enough to act outnumber people like you enough that your waste doesn’t hurt that many people.

I suspect that if you started changing a few things, you’d find the emotional reward to change more. I created my podcast https://joshuaspodek.com/podcast for people to hear leaders doing just that.”

Elsewhere in the thread I responded to this comment:

“While these are personal choices, there must be some incentive. If increased electricity bill from abusing “Air conditioning to point of needing sweaters in the summer and heating to wearing shorts in the winter” compared to conservative temperatures boils down to single digit percentage values (as non-USian I don’t know what those values are) of all annual home upkeep expenses, it is difficult to rationalize saving.”

with this comment”

“> there must be some incentive

My experience and observation say otherwise. I have no incentive not to litter when I know no one will fine me. Still I get up and walk trash to garbage cans. Even with all the litter around, most people still walk trash to garbage cans instead of littering.

Most people don’t shoplift even when they know they wouldn’t get caught. Most people stop at red lights in the middle of the night when no one is around. Etc. Etc.

I’ve found living by my values the greatest incentive. The alternative is to try to accept that my comfort and convenience come at the cost of others’ health and resources, which ate me up inside.

I think most people value clean air and water enough that when the culture shifts, they won’t need material incentive.

Laws will follow behavior, not the other way around.”

To which someone responded:

Partly agree. It is fine when it puts low demands on you. It is much harder to get people to do the right thing when it is a significant burden.” [plus a lot more]

To which I responded:

“> It is much harder to get people to do the right thing when it is a significant burden.

Beliefs like this are why I focus on leadership first. There are many examples where we choose difficult things because of the reward

– Sports and exercise

– Learning and personal growth

– Hobbies

– Writing free software

– Having children

– Going to the moon

Many other examples. They generally turn out to have other benefits, but they are challenges. Yet we love them.”

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