by Zoë Pollock

An excerpt from Maggie Koerth-Baker's new book on the energy crisis:

Smallpox was a scourge that humankind is better off without, but we didn’t get rid of it because individuals decided to quarantine themselves. You don’t fight a systemic problem on an individual level. Eradicating smallpox required us to make big societal investments in the research and development of vaccines and in the infrastructure to get those vaccines to every corner of the globe. … In other words, you could beat your own lifestyle into submission with a ten-foot club — you could do more to save the planet than almost anyone is willing to voluntarily do — and it still wouldn’t be enough. This isn’t about you, and it isn’t about me. It’s about the systems that we share. The answer to the question “So now what?” has to be “Now we change the systems.”

In a follow-up interview, Maggie elaborates:

If you look at the history, what you see is an interaction between bottom-up and top-down enabling one another. Individuals made a case for energy change as a practical thing, which would fit the mission and solve some serious problems. The people at the top made a few changes, and those changes ended up changing not just what the people at the bottom did, but also how they thought about energy. As more soldiers and sailors and airmen became energy conscious, they’ve pushed for more changes, and that (combined with proven results) has led to more top-down action, and more bottom-up cultural shifts.