The Case for Incrementalism

I appreciated the Buckminster Fuller quote referenced in chapter 2 of the “The Carbon Efficient City,” which states that “ You never change anything by fighting the existing. To change something, build a new model and make the existing obsolete.” This is an inspiring and empowering message. However, I don’t fully adhere to it. Generally, I reject utopian thinking that point to impossible solutions such as “Capitalism is the problem. If we could just get rid of capitalism, everything would be fixed.” While starting from scratch is an appealing idea, especially in the face of overwhelming global problems, If we want to make change, we need to begin by setting realistic and more importantly attainable goals. I believe that one of the most effective ways to make change is to work from within an existing system and find the most effective leverage points. The difference in these approaches is the difference between total overhaul and incrementalism.


As is the case for many of us this week, the recent inauguration and last weekend’s marches are on my mind. The millions of people who gathered all over the world on Saturday to peacefully protest Trump’s election was one of the most powerful things I’ve ever experienced. Yet on Sunday evening, after the intense energy of Saturday started to ware off, I, like many others started to wonder how to maintain the momentum from the event. What I’ve been so impressed with in the past 24 hours as I talk to peers, read the news and scroll through social media is the unprecedented focus on concrete, incremental action steps to counter the Trump administration. This alone, is what gives me hope for getting through the next four years.
The political system, like many of the others we function in are grounded in logic and shaped by smart, thoughtful and well intentioned people. While I would not hesitate to agree that parts of the political system have completely gone off the rails in recent years, I still don’t believe that building a completely new model is necessary or feasible. Instead, might we ask ourselves “which foundational elements of this framework can we anchor new ideas to?”


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