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But Will the Planet Notice?, Gernot Wagner


The very first thing I noticed about this book was glancing over the copyright information and noticing that the author is only four years older than I am; this led to a glance at the book jacket, which lists among his credentials, degrees from Harvard, Stanford, and teaching at Columbia. Odious comparisons aside, the topic of social responsibility and of social economics has been one of interest to me due to the clash between traditional eastern and western values on those issues.

Occasionally at work, prompted by the excessive waste of paper and toner that often occurs due to the policy of “free” printing at the library, we have discussions about the overall impact of recycling, or using LED bulbs, or eating organic and sustainably produced foods. One of the most often retorts that I hear is that individual efforts do not have any useful impact on the overall waste and consumption prevalent today. Wagner takes this argument, and begins applying economics to it; he discusses the cognitive dissonance which we all practice, the ignoring of facts which do not align with our own ways of thinking. He uses illustrations from statistics, such as the bell curve for height; history and ecology, including the collapse of Easter Island; the impact of the herd mentality and what it looks like for one person to try and make a difference versus a few billion.

This is both a frustrating and self-condemning read; frustration at both my own excuses and those on a national level, and self-condemning, for as much as I try to live greenly, recycle, and so forth, I like being warm in the winter, I cook using a gas stove and oven, and I drive two miles to work every day in a car instead of taking the bus. Still, this is a highly recommended read for those concerned about sustainability and want a good overview on how policy and economics can make a difference.

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