But how? One approach would focus on undermining the dominant frameworks of thinking and talking that make the individualization of responsibility appear so natural and 'common sense.' Among other things, this means taking on 'IPAT.'
At first glance it would seem that advocates of a consumption angle on environmental degradation should naturally embrace IPAT (impact = population x affluence x technology). The 'formula' argues, after all, that one cannot make sense of, much less tackle, environmental problems unless one takes into account all three of the proximate causes of environmental degradation. Population growth, resource-intensive and highly polluting technologies, and affluence (that is, levels of consumption) together conspire to undermine critical ecological processes upon which human well-being depends. Focusing on one or two of these three factors, IPAT tells us, will ultimately disappoint.
IPAT is a powerful conceptual framework, and those who would argue the importance of including consumption in the environmental-degradation equation have not been reluctant to invoke it. They note, correctly so, that the 'A' in IPAT has for too long been neglected in environmental debates and policy action.16 However, although IPAT provides intellectual justification for positioning consumption center-stage, it also comes with an underlying set of assumptions - assumptions that reinforce an ineffectual Loraxian flight from politics.
A closer look at IPAT shows that the formula distributes widely all culpability for the environmental crisis [...]. Population size, consumption levels, and technology choice are all to blame. Responsibility for environmental degradation nicely splits, moreover, between the so-called developed and developing world: if only the developing world could get its population under control and the developed world could tame its overconsumption and each could adopt green technologies, then all would be well. Such a formulation is, on its face, eminently reasonable, which explains why IPAT stands as such a tempting platform from which advocates of a consumption perspective might press their case.
In practice, however, IPAT amplifies and privileges an 'everything is connected to everything else' biophysical, ecosystem-management understanding of environmental problems, one that obscures the exercise of power while systematically disempowering citizen actors. When everything is connected to everything else, knowing how or when or even why to intervene becomes difficult; such 'system complexity' seems to overwhelm any possibility of planned, coordinated, effective intervention.17 Additionally, there is not much room in IPAT's calculus for questions of agency, institutions, political power, or collective action.
[...] Proponents of a consumption angle on environmental degradation must cultivate alternatives to IPAT and conventional development models that focus on, rather than divert attention from, politically charged elements of commercial relations. Formulas like IPAT are handy in that they focus attention on key elements of a problem. In that spirit, then, I propose a variation: 'IWAC,' which is environmental Impact = quality of Work x meaningful consumption Alternatives x political Creativity. If ideas have power, and if acronyms package ideas, then alternative formulations like IWAC could prove useful in shaking the environmentally- C
inclined out of their slumber of individualization. And this could only a
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