IWAC is more illustrative than prescriptive. It draws into sharp relief the fact that prevailing conceptualizations of the 'environmental crisis' drive us towards an individualization of responsibility that legitimizes existing dynamics of consumption and production. The recent globalization of environmental problems - dominated by natural-science diagnoses of global environmental threats that ignore critical elements of power and institutions - accelerates this individualization, which has deep roots in American political culture. To the extent that commonplace language and handy conceptual frameworks have power, in that they shape our view of the world and tag some policy measures as proper and others as far-fetched, IWAC stands as an example of how one might go about propagating an alternative understanding of why we have environmental ills, and what we ought to be doing about them.
A proverbial fork in the road looms large for those who would seek to cement consumption into the environmental agenda. One path of easy walking leads to a future where 'consumption' in its environmentally undesirable forms - 'overconsumption,' 'commodification,' and 'consumerism' - has found a place in environmental debates. Environmental groups will work hard to 'educate' the citizenry about the need to buy green and consume less and, by accident or design, the pronounced asymmetry of responsibility for and power over environmental problems will remain obscure. Consumption, ironically, could continue to expand as the privatization of the environmental crisis encourages upwardly spiraling consumption, so long as this consumption is 'green.'25 This is the path of business-as-usual.
The other road, a rocky one, winds toward a future where environmentally concerned citizens come to understand, by virtue of spirited debate and animated conversation, the 'consumption problem.' They would see j? that their individual consumption choices are environmentally impor- a tant, but that their control over these choices is constrained, shaped, ^ and framed by institutions and political forces that can be remade only n through collective citizen action, as opposed to individual consumer 5' behavior. This future world will not be easy to reach. Getting there s
¡0 means challenging the dominant view - the production, technological, efficiency-oriented perspective that infuses contemporary definitions of H progress - and requires linking explorations of consumption to politically '<2 charged issues that challenge the political imagination. Walking this ¡^ path means becoming attentive to the underlying forces that narrow our ¡2 understanding of the possible.
To many, alas, an environmentalism of 'plant a tree, save the world' v appears to be apolitical and non-confrontational, and thus ripe for success. Such an approach is anything but, insofar as it works to constrain u
-o our imagination about what is possible and what is worth working toward. o It is time for those who hope for renewed and rich discussion about § 'the consumption problem' to come to grips with this narrowing of the •¡5 collective imagination and the growing individualization of responsibility "g that drives it, and to grapple intently with ways of reversing the tide.
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