Creating A “Green” Future: The American Revolution, Consumer Action, and “Ecological Intelligence,” Part 1

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About two months ago, I read Daniel Goleman’s new book Ecological Intelligence. It’s terrific and I recommend it.

Among other things, he examines the ways in which consumer behavior can function as the catalyst for substantive, indeed, profound, ecological change.

One part of his argument is this: Thanks to the powers of digitization, it’s possible to track the “ecological life cycle” of any good — ham, shoes, mascara, flooring, etc. — and to inform consumers of that good’s life cycle, so that consumers can make point-of-sale decisions about whether to use Brand X or Brand Y, depending on its ecological history. (This life cycle history, by the way, is known as a Life Cycle Assessment.)

He argues that consumers will act ecologically when they have ready access to information; “ready” in this case meaning at the point of sale: while standing in the grocery or furniture store thinking about making the purchase. (Again, I’m simplifying a more complex argument.)

I was curious to know what other readers thought, so I went to Amazon. At the time (again, this was a couple of months ago), the only review consisted of the following:

Goleman’s narrow view of ecological intelligence is limited to how to be a better consumer. He does not address the fundamental questions of our culture’s core beliefs about our place as individuals in the greater ecosystem.

If you’re looking for fresh ideas on expanding beyond relating to the world as a marketplace, you will probably be disappointed.

My reaction was “Gee, that guy doesn’t know much about history.” Because if he did, he’d know that the American revolution was fueled in large part by consumer-based action.

“Huh?” you say. “Consumer action? I thought the American revolution was about taxes and representation. What’s consumer action got to do with it?” Almost everything. Sure, taxes, representation, and Parliament’s excessive intrusion into colonial life helped fuel the revolution, but so did the colonists’ understanding of their actions as consumers.

Next time: Revolution, American and otherwise

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