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The Monterey List:

Growing toward a sustainable future for ourselves and for the planet

*Now available in paperback!*

To purchase either the paperback or the Kindle edition, click the cover image at left.


The Monterey List originated as an actual list I made in a Monterey, California hotel room one November night in 1997 (hence the name). The items on the list were all short observations pertaining to sustainable living on this planet, couched as aphorisms, mostly made up on the spot. There were 112 of them. Over the next few years I rearranged the aphorisms into a coherent order, combined a couple of them with others (there are now 110), expanded them into essays, and collected them into a book. I am currently releasing the book on this web page - one essay at a time, once per week. This will take approximately two years. If you are impatient, you may purchase the whole thing from Amazon as either a paperback or a Kindle e-book by clicking the image at left. Then you will be able to read all of the essays without waiting. Otherwise....well, patience is a virtue, and anticipation can be sweet.


89. There always has to be a payoff.

Human capacity for self-sacrifice is limited. You cannot expect other people's deprivation to pave the way to what you want: there has to be something in it for them, too.

This is actually the way successful protest movements work. A well-organized protest will disrupt the lives of its targets, but will stop short of the level of intolerance: the target individuals (legislators; regulators; the public) will be made uncomfortable enough to desire the protests to stop, but not so uncomfortable that they feel personally threatened. Threats bring retaliation; discomfort brings only a desire to change something. If what is changed satisfies the protesters, the protests will stop. A life that is once again free of disruption becomes the payoff.

This is why protests, by themselves, rarely accomplish lasting reform. Opinions have not been changed, only positions. It is an inefficient process: the targeted individuals must be made uncomfortable enough for a long enough time that the changes the protesters seek - which the targets originally obstructed - will seem comfortable by comparison. This comparison rapidly fades, leaving a new status quo which may be less pleasant than the one that existed before the protests began. The seeds are thus sown for counter-reform, and disobedience of rules, and the kind of vague social discontent that breeds bigotry and class warfare. The movement the protesters represent will be held responsible for any ills that follow, whether or not a connection can be proved. Discomfort during the protests will be tied to discomfort after the protests, and the protesters will be handed the blame for both.

For all of these reasons, protests should never be used except as a tool of last resort. Wherever possible, means of reform should be chosen that will raise comfort levels for everyone. Making people uncomfortable in order to offer them the option of becoming less uncomfortable is at best roundabout. At worst, it is counterproductive. Short-term gains are traded for the type of long-term polarization that makes more gains tougher to achieve. Creating positive payoffs from the beginning may be harder in the short run, but it will make things easier the rest of the way down the road.

What kind of payoffs should be looked for? Obviously, the easier to see, the better. Money is best, if it can be arranged: this is why bottle-deposit bills do such a good job at controlling litter, and why tradeable emissions permits are the best incentive to clean up pollution (the ability to sell your excess permit capacity to someone else means that cleanliness is a bankable asset). But money is not the only usable currency. For a city which takes its drinking water from a polluted river, for example, cleaner water is itself a payoff. If those who have polluted the river also benefit from the cleanup, they will be happy to become part of the solution. Only when the costs to them exceed the benefits they will reap are problems likely to occur.

Next week: Section 90, "Eliminating waste should lower costs, not raise them."


CLICK ON THE LINK ABOVE to obtain a free copy of the first ten chapters of this book. The 57 sections comprising the remaining ten chapters will continue to be released on this website at the rate of one section per week, but they will no longer be accumulated here; each will be available for only one week. To obtain a complete copy of the book for a modest price, please click on the image at upper left.