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Energy Analog: 60s Litter?

August 1, 2008

I had an interesting conversation over breakfast with MetroNetIQ.com blogger and fellow Green Geek, John C.  We were comparing the social paradigm shift about litter that occurred in the 60s to the needed change about energy.  In the last 60s, litter was a massive free rider problem where people felt totally OK throwing trash everywhere.  Industrial pollution and dumping were also rampant.

I still vividly remember the anti-pollution adds (albeit from the 1970s).  Through a combination of laws and social change we have radically altered society’s opinion about pollution and litter.  They are simply not accepted – they have become social taboos.  We need the same change for sustainability.

An enduring icon for anti-pollution

An enduring icon for anti-pollution

The change took huge political will power.  It was an major economic burden on the businesses.  People individually took action and changed their behavior.  So what happened to change us? Why is this different than the nascent energy paradigm shift?

I believe that the pollution problem was directly in people’s back yards and visible.  Water and air quality in-your-face disasters.  It also fit with the culture of the era.  So far, our energy problem has been growing silently – terrorism and climate change are hard to link to daily actions.  The recent surge in prices is motivating people to change, but I don’t see a paradigm shift.

What icon will emerge for sustainability?  How bad will it have to get before we have a universal icon?

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