Here’s a question I often think about: how will we really make the changes necessary to stop global warming and start living sustainably? I certainly don’t do it myself on a consistent enough basis, although I try to.
Is it a big event that’s going to push me over the edge, making sustainability and carbon-neutrality the center of my life? Or is it going to be a small, ongoing process, not entirely decided by my own actions but a combination of what I buy and the choices available to me actually changing?
Elizabeth Kolbert talked about these things brilliantly in her article “What’s Wrong With Eco-Stunts” in the New Yorker last year. Small changes in one’s day-to-day life are one thing, but they’re full of compromises that blunt the effectiveness of the entire enterprise (or so goes her argument — read the article, though. It’s fantastic.)
Letting Other Things Make Smarter Decisions For Us
One way that massive changes might be enacted on a small scale is through the kind of thinking that informs a book like Cass Sustein’s Nudge, where little “nudges” in the right direction, from outside influences, can make a huge difference.
Sustein uses examples like companies requiring employees to “opt out” of beneficial programs rather than offering them — suggesting that humans aren’t so rational when it comes to choosing what’s best for them.
I tend to agree on a gut level with this philosophy — I know there are plenty of things I could be doing to improve my life and the life of the planet, but I either forget to do them, do them wrong and blunt their effectiveness, or just don’t keep track of them all.
Strangely enough, this idea struck me while I was looking at a recent article about something as seemingly unimportant as a cellphone charger.
The only difference between this and plenty of other chargers is that here is a USB-based wall charger that doesn’t pull power from the socket when it’s not charging a phone. Seems like a tiny thing, but if you multiply the number of people who leave their cellphone chargers plugged in all the time, these “vampire devices” add up to a lot of wasted electricity.
Multiply This Out, Several Times
It’s a tiny decision that, when multiplied exponentially, and combined with hundreds of other little decisions like it, could make a big difference in how we use energy. And it’s one that I don’t really have to make — the device made it for me.
Kolbert suggests we should spend our time organizing political initiatives and doing higher-level environmental work instead of worrying about cellphone chargers pulling energy from the wall — these small steps, while important, are not going to be enough to turn things around.
And every time I hear about a device that takes away a potential energy-wasting circumstance from me, switching one small aspect of my life to a default “off” position — it makes me a little bit happier.