J500 Media and the Environment

What National can do for ‘local,’ and everything beyond by jmuselmann

If it’s not completely obvious by now, let me just tell you: The most foolish thing we as humans can do is assume that we are wise enough to solve problems later for our current behavior. If we step back for a moment to think about “local washing,” among the many other terms brandished by environmentalists, we can infer what it might mean. As many of us know, “local” is now in its heyday—it’s popularity has even risen to the ranks of WalMart recognition. Environmentalists meant well in spreading the idea, but its effect, despite all its good intention, has been had some unforeseen effects.

Though commendable, we need to do more in the White House than meekly plant an organic garden.

The biggest criticism has been the lack of focus on a particular aspect of local: produced, grown, sold, what? Which is better? The answer, or course, is that it all depends. Financially, it might be more noble to buy “local” product that are packaged and sold here, which would keep more money in the community in which one lives. To reduce pollution, we might buy “local” foods that were grown closely to where we are. In acknowledging the problematic relativism bound up in the word (and the idea), the “locavore” response has been to just use your noggin to decide for yourself what it means.

But others say that’s not good enough, that the lack of real definition is its undoing. But unfortunately, the debate—no doubt a healthy, well-meaning discussion—is swallowing up the movement whole. As with many hot issues in America (which is what makes them contemporary), the controversy escalates, and the movement, once called it for a reason, comes to a standstill while those intended to be reached become disenchanted or otherwise apathetic amid the clamor.

Education about environmental issues is something we should strive for, but the issues at stake require a more urgent response than can offer the gradual molding of the collective social psyche. Relativity is again a severe functional weakness in gaining consensus—it’s too slow. This is one of those times in the United States where we need to be drug out to the other  side. Most, if not all, of the great and pivotal social movements in our time have had to go through an unpleasant phase of coercion. What we need is compulsion—by law and by a responsible government.

—Jacob Muselmann


9 Comments so far
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Jacob, what would you say to people who “have the right” to drive their pickup truck that gets 12 miles per gallon, or the right to eat genetically modified foods that are cheap and taste good to them? If initiating legislation is your solution, what would you say to these people? If they insist on driving their F150s and eating their twinkies, would they be imprisoned? Or do you suggest maybe giving tax breaks to hybrid car drivers, or frequenters of farmers’ markets?

Comment by bpirotte

Imprisonment might be a bit harsh—maybe after the third wasted napkin. I know that, as a messy eater, I’d be the first thrown into the slammer. But in all seriousness, the realistic impetus for being sustainable is money, just as the the disregard for the environment, economies of scale, hyper-industrialism and corporate dishonesty have also been driven by money. Taxation for things like waste disposal obviously should fall to consumers, but I think the most effective way to catalyze change on a large scale would be to tax and fine businesses, the funnels of the market and ultimate controllers of consumers’ options. And this almost goes without saying, but most government subsidy should be reassigned.
—Jacob M.

Comment by jmuselmann

I agree that government involvement is the best way to guarantee certain environmental standards. I also really liked that you mentioned how education and information is important, but that it’s just too slow. Do you have an opinion about government standards for citizens, not just businesses?

Comment by Kelly

to reply to kelly’s comment:

there are a lot of people who don’t think the USDA is doing a good enough job of guaranteeing standards. One of the groups is the california certified organic farmers foundation who have their own certification level.

Comment by kristinabev

Yes, Kelly, I’d have to say that some things, namely recycling, would apply to businesses and individuals. People shouldn’t be penalized necessarily for what they consume. That would under ride the idea of free enterprise, not to mention be way too problematic to enforce. When we finally recognize that business, in many ways, controls how we access reality, we can start holding them accountable.
—Jacob M.

Comment by jmuselmann


I am wondering about you comment about the Obamas: what suggestion do you have for what they “should” do? -Kristina B.

Comment by kristinabev

To prove to us that they are actively and genuinely vested in these issues by incentives, taxes, fines, legislation. It is basically what I describe in my reply to Ben’s comment, which is also probably the quickest, surest way to lose all popularity. Though I mentioned Michelle Obama’s garden, I am really talking about the federal government as a whole.
—Jacob M.

Comment by jmuselmann

Don’t you think that people might reject environmental measures just because they are forced to do it? How many effective social changes have been effected from the top down? It is hard to generalize every person into a mass perpetual obedience.

Sean T.

Comment by Sean Tokarz

Sorry, I meant mass of perpetual obedience.

Sean T.

Comment by Sean Tokarz

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