From the author of Here Comes Everybody, some inspiring ideas…
Wired.com: Can you talk about how social applications could help solve environmental problems?
Clay Shirky: There is no larger collective-action problem than the environment. The three biggest lies of the environmental movement is that every little bit helps, you can do your part, and together we can do it. [Compact fluorescent lightbulbs] are nice, but people going down and changing CFLs in a handful of fixtures isn’t going to cut it.
It’s a collective-action problem. The difference between what all the people can do individually and the global consumption of nonrenewable resources is huge. The tension is … what will it take to get people to act in concert? There isn’t any additive solution to the problem. It will be both governmental and social because that’s the scale of the problem.
And this little zinger about Bill McKibben, who wrote The Age of Missing Information. I concur with Shirky about the book, but for slightly different reasons. I found the book problematic because it makes a false dichotomy between nature and media by using the logical fallacy of a straw electronic man. Of course sitting in a room for a weekend and watching nothing but cable is going to be benal compared to the experience of nature. But few people live in a prison cell watching nothing but TV (but thanks to Bush, that is a reality for more and more people). People’s lives are far more complex, and they don’t own a duck pond. (Still, 350.org may be a solution. More later.)
Wired.com: What do you think about organizing efforts like Bill McKibben’s 350.org?
Shirky: I sort of reflexively dislike McKibben. He wrote a book with a section about the value of a duck swimming around a pond and contrasting that with the vast wasteland of television. But he made a whole point of not telling people about where it was. It’s private property. He owns it and he’s able to go there. Any solution that doesn’t work for cities doesn’t work. McKibben’s natural splendor argument is so unfit for the 21st century. That said, I haven’t seen 350. Maybe his thinking has changed.