When individual action isn’t enough

For my money (well, they’re free — so for my time) Ezra Klein’s commentary is a better read than Michael Pollan’s essay basically pleading with people to see environmental responsibility as a personal virtue because no other force is likely to help us with the fix we’re in.

Here’s the nut of Pollan’s piece:

Going personally green is a bet, nothing more or less, though it’s one we probably all should make, even if the odds of it paying off aren’t great. Sometimes you have to act as if acting will make a difference, even when you can’t prove that it will.

I am viscerally sympathetic. It’s the way I wish the world worked. But as Klein argues, it doesn’t. He doesn’t frame it in these terms, but by keeping pollution in all its forms as an externality that’s not worked into the prices of the things we buy, we’re living with a market failure. This fix isn’t going to get better till we solve that problem, particularly if we as individuals are fighting actively pro-pollution policies advanced by whole governments that aren’t even our own, seeking to exploit those market failures for all they’re worth.


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