In the last few weeks I’ve found myself pondering the question of local vs. global in the environmental movement. The philosopher Peter Singer often cites WEH Lecky, a 19th century historian who saw human concern as an expanding circle starting with the self and gradually growing outward to include nations, all humanity and the animal world. Steven Pinker offers this as one plausible explanation for why violence among humans has decreased (yes, decreased) over time: as the circle of who we consider “we” grows, our empathy expands accordingly.
You would think that as major beneficiaries of the expanded circle concept, environmentalists would be doing everything in their power to push the global world view, a la “think global, act local.” Climate change is the most obvious example: an issue that will never be remedied without the broadest understanding of “we” (whether you believe that local change can spark global change, is another question, and a major part of the emissions cap debate here in New Mexico).
But in a few weeks UNM will host guest lecturer Thomas Linzey, an activist and attorney with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. He has been working tirelessly around the country to help individual municipalities craft Community Bills of Rights to protect themselves and their environments, primarily from the extractive industries. I’m not sure if he would consider this localized effort a result of “giving up” on the idea that humans will ever really act in the interest of the broader community (in this case, to reign in corporate rights). It’s a question I’m looking forward to asking when I talk to him in a few weeks. James Howard Kunstler is another environmentally-minded thinker I’ve been following lately who sees our future as “the comprehensive contraction of just about everything.” And now New Energy Economy is hosting a film series on “Local Solutions to Global Issues.” It all makes me wonder: is this a circle that’s expanding or contracting?