Think Globally, Act Locally

 

A classic leftist slogan, and not even the most harmful. (Not sure which is, but ‘my body, my choice’ springs to mind.) Still, it leads to obvious problems. Let’s try a test syllogism, shall we?

  1. Think Globally: The Kulaks are robbing the Soviet State blind.
  2. That guy Jerry is a Kulak.
  3. Act Locally: Excuse me while I find a short length of rope.

There are three problems with that syllogism. One, the initial premise is just wrong. The Soviet state can rob itself blind, thank you very much. Two, it doesn’t follow that even though Jerry is a Kulak he’s one of the ones causing trouble. And three, what are you doing hanging around with a Kulak to begin with? Do you want to get sent to the camps?

In all fairness, we ought to stipulate the leftist is going to get his major premise wrong. If he were correct in his global thinking he’d be a right winger, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Let’s try another syllogism:

  1. Think Globally: The environment is good and we need more of it.
  2. Recycling saves the environment
  3. Act Locally: I should persuade my local town to set up a recycling program!

Stipulating the major premise, the minor premise (Recycling saves the environment) is at best dubious. But I’m not here to catalog the merits or demerits of that system, only to note that a reasonable person can come to the conclusion that it’s all a crock and darn if he’s going to do it.

Let’s time warp back to the ’70s for a bit. Your local leftist has convinced the city government to accept recycling at the local dump. Or maybe the guy with the truck at the Exxon station every second Saturday who picks up aluminum (you know he was already there) can be persuaded to also ship out your old copies of National Geographic. Result, some recycling gets done with minimal imposition on the rest of us.

Step forward a bit. Here’s where the trouble starts. The leftist continues thinking globally and is shocked to find out that the environment is still in danger. Clearly, he’s not recycling hard enough! Couple things start happening here, he starts raising awareness, and he campaigns to make the recycling laws mandatory. Both things are impositions on his fellow citizens.

For one thing, he’s gone and screwed the local crank. That guy doesn’t want to recycle, and he’ll resent all the mailers and advertising (what did you think ‘raising awareness’ meant?) required to change his habits. The leftist has imposed a large cost on this guy’s quality of life for a minuscule gain in the amount of material that’s recycled. It ain’t as bad as stringing up a Kulak, but you’re imposing a tangible local cost for a dubious global gain.

Thinking globally also puts you in the frame of thinking of global solutions, which usually puts you out of considering local conditions. “Don’t waste water” is excellent advice in California, where you’re never more than ten feet from a wildfire. It makes less sense here in Wisconsin, where anywhere the cows aren’t standing is probably a lake.

Ostensibly acting locally implies that you’d consider the local conditions before implementing your one-size-fits-all solution, but thinkin’s hard, man. It’s easier to digest the pre-packaged slogans from someone else’s initiative (hey waitaminute, who’s selling you this and why aren’t they acting locally instead?) And hey, while you’re considering local conditions, try considering some local problems. Odds are you’ll get better results while pissing off fewer cranks.

Perhaps we should field strip that first clause to ‘Think.’ Dangerous move; people assume they know how, and they assume they practice it frequently too. But let’s move on to the other half of the slogan.

The recycling maven from up above gets into trouble by bending the state to work his cause. There are some cases where imposing the power of the state to advance a cause is justified. That doesn’t imply there are only cases where that’s true. If you assume that ‘acting locally’ means ‘getting other locals to act for you’ then you’re always going to be imposing negative externalities on your neighbors and former friends.

Howsabout we change that second clause to ‘act personally’? You still get the advantage of small actions leading to big changes (make no mistake, the leftist is correct here; the only way to get real change is for a thousand million people to do their own bit. Just be sure to think it through first.) But if you’re acting personally you lose most of the ways your actions screw over your neighbors.

Consider the revised syllogism:

  1. Think: The environment is good and we need more of it.
  2. Still Think: Litter is real darn ugly. Less litter would be good.
  3. Act Personally: If I pick up litter that makes the environment better.

And hey, what do you know? The end result is someone out there picking up garbage, even when his parole officer isn’t insisting. This makes his town a nicer place, and nobody, not even the old crank, is put out by it at all. We advance the same goal (“we need more environment!”) without also having to murder any Kulaks.

The problem is, as it usually is, that this requires effort on the part of the putative do-gooder.

Published in Environment
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There are 14 comments.

  1. Susan Quinn Contributor

    Too funny and brilliant, too! Well done, Hank. Thanks!

    • #1
    • May 24, 2019, at 12:47 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  2. MeanDurphy Member

    Thanks Hank. Boy Scouts used to have a policy: leave the place better than how you found it. Works really well for me.

    • #2
    • May 24, 2019, at 1:07 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  3. Hank Rhody, on the blockchain Contributor

    MeanDurphy (View Comment):

    Thanks Hank. Boy Scouts used to have a policy: leave the place better than how you found it. Works really well for me.

    A principle I well remember from my days in the Boy Scouts. It’s just not glamorous enough for selfies.

    • #3
    • May 24, 2019, at 1:11 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  4. Percival Thatcher

    When I was in Junior High and High School, I made a little coin recycling newspapers, bottles, and cans. Neighbors would collect the stuff, and I’d run it down to the salvage yard operated by our former mayor and his sons.

    I’d probably get busted for such a scheme now.

    • #4
    • May 24, 2019, at 1:21 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  5. Clavius Thatcher

    It would cost less and be better for the environment if we put just about everything we recycle into a landfill. A properly built landfill, of course, but we know how to do that.

    Good post.

    • #5
    • May 24, 2019, at 3:15 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  6. Judge Mental Member

    Clavius (View Comment):

    It would cost less and be better for the environment if we put just about everything we recycle into a landfill. A properly built landfill, of course, but we know how to do that.

    Good post.

    A substantial percentage of the time that is exactly what happens. You’re required to separate it (backed up by heavy fines), and then it all goes into the same landfill.

    • #6
    • May 24, 2019, at 4:49 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  7. Clavius Thatcher

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Clavius (View Comment):

    It would cost less and be better for the environment if we put just about everything we recycle into a landfill. A properly built landfill, of course, but we know how to do that.

    Good post.

    A substantial percentage of the time that is exactly what happens. You’re required to separate it (backed up by heavy fines), and then it all goes into the same landfill.

    Penn and Teller nail it here.

    • #7
    • May 26, 2019, at 12:16 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  8. Randy Weivoda Moderator

    Hank Rhody, Drunk on Power: “Don’t waste water” is excellent advice in California, where you’re never more than ten feet from a wildfire. It makes less sense here in Wisconsin, where anywhere the cows aren’t standing is probably a lake.

    Exactly. And speaking of cows and water, I always shake my head when environmentalist vegetarians complain about how many gallons of water cattle drink each year. Do they think that once the water goes down a cow’s gullet it disappears to another dimension? That water will come back, folks.

    • #8
    • May 27, 2019, at 8:11 AM PDT
    • 8 likes
  9. SkipSul Moderator

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    Hank Rhody, Drunk on Power: “Don’t waste water” is excellent advice in California, where you’re never more than ten feet from a wildfire. It makes less sense here in Wisconsin, where anywhere the cows aren’t standing is probably a lake.

    Exactly. And speaking of cows and water, I always shake my head when environmentalist vegetarians complain about how many gallons of water cattle drink each year. Do they think that once the water goes down a cow’s gullet it disappears to another dimension? That water will come back, folks.

    But recycled through a cow! Ew! Right?

    https://what-if.xkcd.com/74/

    The average “residence time” of water in the oceans—the amount of time a water molecule spends there before moving into another part of the water cycle—is about 3,000 years,[14] and no part of the water cycle traps water for more than a few hundred thousand years. This means we can assume that, over timescales of millions of years, Earth’s water is thoroughly mixed—and dinosaurs had plenty of time to drink it all many times over.

    This means that while the chances are that most of the water in your soda has never been in another soda, almost all of it has been drunk by at least one dinosaur.

     

    • #9
    • May 28, 2019, at 10:15 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  10. SkipSul Moderator

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    Hank Rhody, Drunk on Power: “Don’t waste water” is excellent advice in California, where you’re never more than ten feet from a wildfire. It makes less sense here in Wisconsin, where anywhere the cows aren’t standing is probably a lake.

    Exactly. And speaking of cows and water, I always shake my head when environmentalist vegetarians complain about how many gallons of water cattle drink each year. Do they think that once the water goes down a cow’s gullet it disappears to another dimension? That water will come back, folks.

    Another thought: I was reminded of a CS Lewis quote about charity (I’m paraphrasing here). He was walking with a friend and saw a beggar. He gave the beggar some money, and the friend chastised him saying “You know, he’s only going to squander that on drink.” Lewis thought about it and said, “Well, so was I.”

    Resources like water or money just keep circulating. If the rain falls, and no cow drinks it, or if a cow drinks it, it still ends up back in the ocean. Eventually. And money spent is still money spent, whether by you or me. And neither of us may be spending it wisely at all.

    • #10
    • May 28, 2019, at 10:19 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  11. Judge Mental Member

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    Hank Rhody, Drunk on Power: “Don’t waste water” is excellent advice in California, where you’re never more than ten feet from a wildfire. It makes less sense here in Wisconsin, where anywhere the cows aren’t standing is probably a lake.

    Exactly. And speaking of cows and water, I always shake my head when environmentalist vegetarians complain about how many gallons of water cattle drink each year. Do they think that once the water goes down a cow’s gullet it disappears to another dimension? That water will come back, folks.

    But recycled through a cow! Ew! Right?

    https://what-if.xkcd.com/74/

    The average “residence time” of water in the oceans—the amount of time a water molecule spends there before moving into another part of the water cycle—is about 3,000 years,[14] and no part of the water cycle traps water for more than a few hundred thousand years. This means we can assume that, over timescales of millions of years, Earth’s water is thoroughly mixed—and dinosaurs had plenty of time to drink it all many times over.

    This means that while the chances are that most of the water in your soda has never been in another soda, almost all of it has been drunk by at least one dinosaur.

     

    I would guess that that ocean number is an average that includes deep water, and would further guess that some molecules recycle much faster. Surface evaporation falls as rain on waterlogged land, therefore runs off immediately to a river that puts it right back into the ocean. On the other hand, on non-waterlogged land it could percolate down into the soil and not be seen back in the ocean for a million years.

    • #11
    • May 28, 2019, at 10:21 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  12. Randy Weivoda Moderator

    Judge Mental (View Comment):
    I would guess that that ocean number is an average that includes deep water, and would further guess that some molecules recycle much faster. Surface evaporation falls as rain on waterlogged land, therefore runs off immediately to a river that puts it right back into the ocean. On the other hand, on non-waterlogged land it could percolate down into the soil and not be seen back in the ocean for a million years.

    But in the meantime, it will have likely passed through the intestines of many bugs, worms, and quasi-intestines of microscopic organisms.

    • #12
    • May 28, 2019, at 1:26 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  13. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    Hank Rhody, Drunk on Power: “Don’t waste water” is excellent advice in California, where you’re never more than ten feet from a wildfire. It makes less sense here in Wisconsin, where anywhere the cows aren’t standing is probably a lake.

    Exactly. And speaking of cows and water, I always shake my head when environmentalist vegetarians complain about how many gallons of water cattle drink each year. Do they think that once the water goes down a cow’s gullet it disappears to another dimension? That water will come back, folks.

    Another thought: I was reminded of a CS Lewis quote about charity (I’m paraphrasing here). He was walking with a friend and saw a beggar. He gave the beggar some money, and the friend chastised him saying “You know, he’s only going to squander that on drink.” Lewis thought about it and said, “Well, so was I.”

    Resources like water or money just keep circulating. If the rain falls, and no cow drinks it, or if a cow drinks it, it still ends up back in the ocean. Eventually. And money spent is still money spent, whether by you or me. And neither of us may be spending it wisely at all.

    I will say this about that, though; in areas such as CA where water is dear, growing feed to feed cows is a tax cost (or lost money elsewhere). I don’t have a problem with it as such, but when some of the costs are not borne by the consumer it is suboptimal – pointlessly wasteful. 

    • #13
    • June 27, 2019, at 7:44 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  14. Randy Weivoda Moderator

    TBA (View Comment):

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    Hank Rhody, Drunk on Power: “Don’t waste water” is excellent advice in California, where you’re never more than ten feet from a wildfire. It makes less sense here in Wisconsin, where anywhere the cows aren’t standing is probably a lake.

    Exactly. And speaking of cows and water, I always shake my head when environmentalist vegetarians complain about how many gallons of water cattle drink each year. Do they think that once the water goes down a cow’s gullet it disappears to another dimension? That water will come back, folks.

    Another thought: I was reminded of a CS Lewis quote about charity (I’m paraphrasing here). He was walking with a friend and saw a beggar. He gave the beggar some money, and the friend chastised him saying “You know, he’s only going to squander that on drink.” Lewis thought about it and said, “Well, so was I.”

    Resources like water or money just keep circulating. If the rain falls, and no cow drinks it, or if a cow drinks it, it still ends up back in the ocean. Eventually. And money spent is still money spent, whether by you or me. And neither of us may be spending it wisely at all.

    I will say this about that, though; in areas such as CA where water is dear, growing feed to feed cows is a tax cost (or lost money elsewhere). I don’t have a problem with it as such, but when some of the costs are not borne by the consumer it is suboptimal – pointlessly wasteful.

    The environmentalists of which I spoke weren’t necessarily talking about cattle raised where water is scarce. They’re just talking about cattle, period.

    • #14
    • June 27, 2019, at 8:49 PM PDT
    • 1 like