Yet instead of busting the power of commercial oligarchies, many on the left would prefer to throw money at environmental pet projects and protect jobs. And for all the future-oriented rhetoric, this strategy is incredibly short term and lacks the daring necessary for the systemic reforms we need. For instance, the best way to drive energy efficiency is to let prices rise and squeeze people into changing their lifestyle. And by pricing in the cost that smog imposes on the community (for example), we can motivate companies and drivers to compete on minimising the impact.
Perhaps the toughest nut to crack, however, is job security, which tends to give large industries an out by generating lots of hysteria about people losing their jobs if legislation fails to support them. Indeed, they often make the argument that lower wages would allow them to employ more people, though I am pretty sure that being able to pay less would give employers a reason to hire the same number of people for a higher profit. And what further complicates things is that the availability of time and money is essential to involving the community in political action (not to mention the fear of job loss provides enough reason to avoid a protest).
Modern activism is not just a matter of getting signatures and generating moral outrage, but also about the careful use of markets. Take for instance, the recent Get-Up campaign against the pulp mill being proposed by Gunns Ltd. First their action slowed legislation, though the proposal still managed to get Tasmanian government approval in spite of public outrage. So Get-Up reacted by using its large member base to threaten a boycott on every bank in the country that considered investing in the project. Failing to secure local investment, Gunns went overseas and is now seeking international funding, but Get-Up has followed by using member donations to place ads in the Financial Times. Clearly, the market is instrumental in modern activism, and while this issue may not be resolved in the immediate future, one can only wonder what activists might achieve by partnering with hedge funds to short stock in concert with the bad press and losses they generate. Activism requires its participants to have disposable time and money.
On the other hand, however, part of the excessive resource consumption that we see in modern society is surely linked to the failure of self-discipline on he part of consumers who do not save and optimise the use of what they already have. In my own case, for instance, the fact that I have rarely had consistent income has given me every reason to be protective of my savings, and for ten years I have managed to avoid purchasing computers by inheriting older machines and optimising their potential with open source software. Yet my younger sister has very little saved because she has always found suitable work.