Reform vs. Revolution
2/15/2008 01:17:00 PM | Author: baloghblog
This topic deserves more than one measly blog post, so I hope to expand on the idea over time. Right now, it's just a way to sort out the thoughts in my head that have been swirling around since I returned to college to study environmental policy.

The idea of reform vs. revolution comes up frequently in contemporary discussion about environmental concerns. The typical "image" of a environmentalist in the 1970-1980's would have mostly likely been described as a Greenpeace activist chasing off a Japanese whaling ship, or a radical ecologist chaining themselves to a tree to prevent deforestation or destruction of a endangered species habitat. How would you describe today's environmentalist "image"? I guess that the idea conjures up a Prius driving (or a bike-riding), organic and local food eater, working to become more sustainable and "off the grid", who may or may not write a passionate blog, disgorging his soul out over the keyboard to his "community" of like minded readers.

Perhaps the image is different to you. (if so please comment on what you believe the image to be. Please base it on action, not ideals.)

The question raised in reform vs. revolution, is what is the best means to achieve our goal of "saving the environment"?
  • Should we attempt to reform the system that we live in? (In my case the capitalist, representative political system.)
  • Would we be best served by changing the habits of consumers to make them more sustainable?
Reformist argue, there is no sense in fighting the system we live in, we'd be better off in compromising some of our principles to achieve changes in the habits of our fellow citizens currently unaware or uninterested in environmental issues. Many would describe themselves as "realists".

  • Capitalism is the root of many of the environmental damages inflicted over the past 200 years. The government in its current form is ineffective in dealing with these problems. Why should we attempt to reform these corrupt systems when they are a major reason that we are in this mess in the first place?
  • Is our goal to become "more sustainable" yet still not truly sustainable? Can we really grow our way into sustainability?
Today, many "revolutionary" environmentalists espouse going "off the grid", or dropping out of society. Anti-consumerism permeates the mission: frugality, strict conservation, 100 mile diets, no new purchases for a year, etc.

At this point in the discussion, we are not going to choose sides or make judgments.

I'll close with a few mental exercises. Compare the following:

a) Someone who sells their car, and walks, bikes, and takes public transportation everywhere they need to go.

b) Someone who drives a hybrid 30 mins each way to work, to a government think tank job which helped write the law that improved mileage standards by several mpg over the next 10 years.


a) Someone who puts up solar panels, and changes to LED lighting and minimal use of electricity in order to get off the grid.

b) The Walmart executive that made getting consumers to switch to CFL's from incandescent bulbs a top environmental policy.


a) The person that votes for a Green Party candidate

b) The person that votes for the candidate judged "more environmentally friendly" in the main two political parties.

Thoughts are welcome.

UPDATE: It's amazing how ideas or memes spread through the internet. I was sent this post randomly today. It's asking questions along the same lines that I proposed:

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On 3:08 PM , David said...

Not sure what the aim of the exercise is here, baloghblog.

What are we supposed to be thinking about in response to you set of dichotomies?

Any helpful help will be helpful.



On 3:37 PM , baloghblog said...

I just want people to consider the positives and negatives of both sides of the argument. I want people to think about what they truly believe, and if their actions follow those beliefs.

What is the end that we're reaching for? I think that that question gets lost in the discussion for the most part.

I tend to "believe" in revolution, but "live" reform.

With regard to the thought questions... I don't know which I favor in those three cases. I was just putting it out there. I think that we (as an environmental community) should have more discussion of issues (and dichotomies) like these, more so than forwarding a link to the next green gadget - or for that matter, discussing what we grow in our garden. Shit, I love garden posts, and don't want people to stop writing those... but I do want to encourage a "meta" dialogue too.

I am hopeful that I hopefully helped you by being helpful.

(heh heh - humor can be part of the dialogue as well...)

On 8:09 AM , Anonymous said...

Hi, Balogh. Yep, we are both trying to resolve that which can not be finally resolved. One partial answer that I have come up with is that we can not support everyone alive AND live sustainably unless we change society through a series of steps. That is, if all the most dedicated environmentally-conscious folks went into the forests to live, who would guide the essential evolution of the greater society into sustainable communities and changed values? So maybe, as is often the case, there is both a place for the revolutionaries who demonstrate how they live off the grid, and for the evolutionary compromisers who fit into the existing system and gradually push it in the write direction.

On 9:40 PM , spelled with a K said...

along with what greenbeandreams was talking about some people "have the gene" for it, and thus become the early adopters, leaders, whathaveyou.

On 11:48 PM , e4 said...

I can't even begin to formulate a coherent answer. Any of the above are better than none of the above, and all of the above are better than some of the above. Or something. I guess we should each do whichever we do best.

Man, I sound like I've had too much cough medicine or something...