This article clearly makes the argument that the efforts put into going even greener individually are much less effective than efforts to promote changes at larger systems levels:
Setting an example by doing some simple, logical things to reduce an individual environmental footprint is wonderful. But ultimately, we will not make up, through private spending or lifestyle changes, for the fact that we currently dont invest enough in public goods. Nor will we privately make up for the fact that much of our public spending is directed to the wrong public goods.
Now, I’m not going to start driving or eating corn-fed beef. I’m still going to try to air dry my clothes whenever the weather and time permits, and tend the worms that eat my food scraps. Perhaps I should try to get over my guilt when I have to bum a ride, or buy something packaged, but I know the world is still a better place if individuals keep doing the right thing.
Sometimes a little take-out or a plastic tarp gives an activist the personal energy for the big struggle. The important thing is to continue to support the people who are working for the right things, even if they sometimes can’t maintain every ideal. So I try to feel good about working with the parents who spend hours in their minivans to drive their kids to a half-dozen activities and lessons every day, because they do also help the more important work at the social level get done. And I’m not gonna beat myself up for getting a pizza delivered now and again, and I’ll try to keep my guilt-tripping over new electronics purchases to a minimum (after all, we buy and turn over our stuff at a much slower pace than many people I know). Yes, Gandhi said “be the change you want to see in the world,” but not everyone can be Gandhi all the time (probably not even Gandhi).
The system as it’s currently operating often makes doing the right thing extra difficult, excessively time-consuming, and occasionally dangerous. It’s the mass movements that can bring about the big shifts we need to transform the culture into something viable for the coming century.