Don’t Think of Yourself as a ‘Consumer’

Oct 17, 2012

Annie Leonard

Author of "The Story of Stuff" and the director of the Story of Stuff Project.

http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/03/19/the-siren-song-of-energy-efficiency/dont-think-of-yourself-as-a-consumer


Instead of asking what we as consumers can do, let’s ask what we as citizens must do. Our real power to reduce the environmental and health impacts of the energy we use lies not in convincing consumers to make different choices from a limited menu but in engaging as citizens to influence what’s on the menu.

We must let our elected officials know we want clean, safe energy. We want efficiency. We want innovation. We want action – to turn away from the dirty energy choices of the past and turn toward the clean energy economy of the future.

Individual choice, even when multiplied by millions, seldom has the power to create the kind of deep and lasting change needed to stabilize the climate.

 

It’s not that individual choices don’t matter. We must all do our part. Supporting the market for energy efficient products sparks innovation, creates jobs, reduces pollution and makes for healthier communities. But the usual information-based approaches to spurring changes in consumer behavior just don’t work that well. Consumers are influenced by such a broad range of social, psychological and economic factors that working to improve individual choice, even when multiplied by millions, seldom has the power to create the kind of deep and lasting change needed to stabilize the climate.

We already know the way to the energy future. We must mandate energy efficiency across the board. Redirect subsidies from big oil to solar, wind and other renewable sources. Rethink our neighborhoods and cities to facilitate walking, cycling and public transportation. Ramp up recycling, which has huge climate benefits compared with burning trash. Promote cultural norms that value health, education and social well-being over mindless consumption. But to make these fundamental changes we need to engage people – not as consumers but as citizens. That’s where our real power to make change is.