Way back in 2001, Vice President Cheney infamously dismissed energy conservation as (perhaps) “a sign of personal virtue.”
Ten Earth Days later, his prescription has become the template for thinking about environmental activism.
In other areas we are not so enamored of individual solutions to political problems.
We rightly sneer at the stupid right-wing trope that says, If you like higher taxes, go ahead and pay them.Tax fairness is not about personal philanthropy.
We do not pretend that personal virtue is a sufficient answer to racism.
Those who oppose the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are not satisfied by being exempt, personally, from fighting in them.
But on Earth Day we are scolded with our own personal deficiencies: Recycle more! Drive less! Be more virtuous to save the planet.
These green admonitions may or may not be good advice. But personal virtue cannot save the earth unless it translates into collective action and government policy.
I know plenty of activists and advocates who understand this perfectly. But somehow the public message has become entirely a sort of good-natured scold, an appeal to individual, private actions.
Meanwhile, somewhere in his undisclosed crypt, Dick Cheney is laughing.