[This post is our contribution to sustainablog's Pedal-a-Watt Powered Blogathon this weekend. Jeff McIntire-Strasburg's long-running green blog (and new green shopping site) is publishing for 24 hours straight to raise funds for the Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in Northeastern Missouri. Go join the fun: read post contributions from our colleagues around the green blogosphere, leave a comment to be entered in a drawing for some great green prizes, and join in the Tweetchat at #susbppb]
In the last ten to twenty years, environmental concern in western culture, and in particular in the U.S., has increasingly come to be defined in material terms. Decisions about whether you buy organic food and hybrid cars, and decisions about whether you install fluorescent light bulbs and solar panels are all material at their core.
While living an environmentally-conscious lifestyle may include making the 'right' choices when you shop, I would argue that the social and political choices you make on a daily basis are just as, or more, important.
Why? In the most simplest of terms: Individual actions are important but they are not sufficient.
For us to really make a difference in the direction this planet and its many varied inhabitants are currently headed, we cannot rely entirely on the power of the individual. It would be great if everyone made the environmentally-rational decision every time they bought something. But for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is cost, people make all kinds of 'irrational' decisions. And that's where our social institutions like businesses, community and faith groups, government bodies and even ecovillages perform pivotal societal roles.
The (solar) power of the institution
Institutions can do all kinds of things that individuals cannot. When the institution can step in with pooled resources, suddenly ideas like community solar gardens become possible. Community solar gardens are collectively-owned solar installations that allow people who thought they could never own solar panels -- apartment and condo dwellers, residents of shady streets and steep valleys, etc. -- to get in on a piece of the solar pie.
Community solar laws now being considered in Colorado and in the U.S. Senate would allow groups of individuals to pool their resources to buy a share of a small solar installation in their community. More importantly, these new laws would extend the tax incentives to the solar garden owners.
Given the right policy tools and financing options, community solar gardens could make solar PV affordable and approachable for millions of Americans and others worldwide. No magic. No heavy-handed government. No socialism. Just a good old-fashioned institutional intervention that clears the way for some hometown community action. Nothing wrong with that, right?
Just one thing, you can't do it alone.
The funds raised in the sustainablog pedal-powered blogathon will support learning opportunities at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in organic gardening, natural green building, renewable energy design and installation. If you're interested in checking out Dancing Rabbit for yourself, or taking advantage of some of their educational opportunities you can read more here.
Photo: OregonDOT via flickr/Creative Commons