To first describe my personal position: I’m not ready to go vegan, but I try to be as responsible as I can in food shopping, recycling, and buying stuff. As soon as I’m done with this blog post, I’m going to repair my vintage stereo (needs some new light bulbs which I purchased for the king’s ransom of $6.40, other than that works pretty good after 30 years). I take too many Hollywood showers (as opposed to Navy showers), and own a car, which fortunately I haven’t used in months. I take the subway/bus/walk—I don’t own a commuter bike (and the race bike is not getting locked up outside in NYC no way no how). So there I am, imperfect but doing at least something, aside from studying cognitive engineering.
Oho, cognitive engineering! To ‘encourage’ people to make the choices that –someone- deems more rational and more positive in terms of environmental and social impact. The philosophical question is here is who is that someone, and how do they decide what the best interest is? Science acts on interpreting the information at hand, and rational policy follows science. So, one would hope that this approach would offer better outcomes than the current free-for-all.
This is where cognitive engineering and good policy would be best able to intervene. In Ithaca, NY, you pay for garbage, but recycling is free. This shift of cost from hidden (folded into your taxes) to obvious (you need to buy trash tags at the store) quickly changes behavior, and from my recollection, few people fall prey to the fine for untagged trash bags/cans at the curb. It would be even better if there were community composting, like in San Francisco, but this is a pretty good system.
More interventionist, I say policy should work to overturn the concept of the ‘American dream’ which has become a nightmare. A carbon tax would be pretty simple to implement and the trickle down effects would be felt everywhere. Maybe the styrofoam plate users would switch back to washing their tableware if the cost doubled, tripled, or if Styrofoam (a pretty nasty material) were only available for uses like insulation panels. And I doubt they can taste the difference between Styrofoam and reusable plates—but if they can, they should be worried about ingesting some unpleasant chemicals.
In terms of design policy, standards for buildings and products should be much more stringent. Fortunately for me, I haven’t had to use my apartment’s heat once this winter, but it’s a kind of bad system—an air-source reversible heat pump like a hotel room, where I get complete control, and the apartment building gets to put the whole cost on my electric bill. Good for them, bad for me (in terms of cost, if I used it) – and inefficient compared to larger building systems.
In terms of maintaining a good standard of living, there need to be interventions in the micro scale (personal behavior) and in the macro scale (government action, policy changes). I’m involved in making those changes with my master’s program, IDSA involvement, and life trajectory.
- preserve essential liberty
– Expression is a necessary part of the human condition, without that there really is no point to living
- maximize sustainability
– As defined by the Brundtland Commission, “[meeting] the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
- maximize utility
– make life as pleasant for as many people as possible: i.e. no one working in a sweatshop, and people on the other side having better products they can enjoy more.