How to change the world

This interesting article in the New York Times got me thinking again about something I’d been working on a few years ago – the question of how to we can gain the level of change needed to tackle big global issues like global warming and just what role we as individuals can play in this.

The article made me wonder whether we’re getting it the wrong way round when we take things like the carbon footprint of the world and divide responsibility for it between individuals, as individuals are often not the agents whose actions and decisions will produce the level of change that is needed – it’s companies, countries and other institutions and groups of people.

So, if we want to seek change on big issues, perhaps we need to redistribute the level of responsibility for these things – and assign more responsibility to those agents with the level of influence and power to make the big changes . This doesn’t diminish our responsibility to live good lives as individuals – but simply rebalances the burden of responsibility for change to those agents that have the power to make it happen on a big scale.

This also affects the way we might go about seeking change in the world as individuals. It doesn’t mean we should stop ‘doing our bit’ or stop leading planet-friendly and compassionate lives – as these are part of living in line with our everyday values as individuals, and this is a vital part of what it means to live a good, dignified, fulfilled human life. But what it does mean that if we’re seriously looking to change the world as individuals we should be prioritising something else – and that is to do everything we can to influence the real agents for change on these issues.

So, if each of us is serious about getting a better world, let’s separate the actions we can take to live in line with our values as individuals (like planet-friendly living) from the actions we can take to gain real change (like lobbying companies, voting, becoming politically active) – and then do both of these things.

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