Not Evangelism

Friday, October 22, 2010

How Pragmatic Environmentalism Cures Choice Paralysis

Have you ever been in that situation where you're presented with too many options, too much choice? Maybe you're trying to buy a new kettle and the difficulty of balancing all your options to pick the "right" one (or the "best" one) means that you don't do anything at all? Not even blindly grab for the nearest, the shiniest, the easiest option.

Choice paralysis: too many choices prevent action

It used to be straightforward.  We'd look at our choices, say between disposable nappies and reusable nappies, and it would be straightforward to identify which was the Perfect Right Choice.  In the specific example: disposable nappies repeatedly consume resources that could be reused (which is a Bad Thing) and rot (or not) in landfill for years (a Very Bad Thing).  Reusable nappies, as their name suggests, are reusable; they do not consume resources at every turn, they do not go to landfill. Hence reusable nappies are the Perfect Right Choice. Nice and straightforward.

And then someone comes along with an argument about the use of bleach in reusable nappies, and the environmental impact of all that washing every time junior needs a change. Which then brings reusable nappies into question again. We start thinking that perhaps reusable isn't all it's cracked up to be. Maybe disposables are better...

Dilemma!  Which to choose?  Which is the Perfect Right Choice?  With all this information, all these conflicting requirements to balance, the end result is that it's often simply not possible to decide, so we end up stuck, doing nothing for fear of doing more harm. Of not knowing the right thing to do.

Pragmatic environmentalism cures choice paralysis

There's two things you need to know about choice paralysis:
  1. There is no absolute Perfect Right Choice.  Not for everyone. There's only the one that's right for you, for the specific combination of circumstances that define you, your personal circumstance, and your brand of environmentalism.
  2. Doing something about it is almost always better than doing nothing.
The point is this: we have to pick our battles, some of which will be aspirational, financial, philosophical, ethical (meaning: specific to our personal ethos).  And we've got to prioritise them.  Perhaps our specific decision is that renewables are preferable, or that avoiding landfill is more important than energy usage (perhaps because we source your energy from renewable sources).

And yes, there are lifestyle elements here too.  Like access to an energy efficient washing machine, to environmentally-friendly, non-chemically-based washing powders. Like our time and energy to do these things. There are no Environmental Police; no one is going to force us to do them, so it's better that we enjoy them - we're more likely to continue if we do. We're much more likely to stick to our guns if it's something we really, truly believe in, and something that actually fits into our lives.

We can chart a course out of choice paralysis by understanding what our priorities are, what motivates us, what we're prepared to do. And what we're capable of doing. We can take comfort in the fact that we're doing something, and we know why we're doing it.  We understand the decision making; by doing so, we transmute all our excuses into reasons.

This is the foundation of pragmatic environmentalism.

And, you know, perhaps bamboo-based biodegradable disposable nappies are the happy medium that balances personal situation with personal ethics. I can't tell you the answer for you; I can't give you your Perfect Right Choice.

You're the only person that can do that.

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