I like the word impact, especially in sentences of the type, “The missile impacted on the insurgents’ hideout, killing all inside.” But it leaves me cold and vaguely homicidal to hear it used as environmentalists do when what they mean is influence, as when they ask us to “Minimize our environmental impact.”
The usage battle, sadly, is lost. I acknowledge the defeat, but I can’t bring myself to hold hands with my former enemy. However, since the word is in widespread use, I cannot avoid it; though I can strangle it with quotation marks.
To the real point: environmental activists are asking the impossible. The only way to minimize your environmental “impact” is not to be born. Any other option, including your mother exercising her right to “choose” after you have been conceived, will see you have some “impact.”
Every breath you take is an “impact” on the environment, even those breaths you take in the womb. Even stronger, in order to live you must have food, which means you must kill. To live is to kill: your life necessarily causes the death of many. Thus, the longer you live, the more “impact” you will have.
Given that you are not dead now, the only possible way to minimize your future “impact” is to fall upon your sword forthwith, taking care to tumble naked into a hand-dug shallow grave far from any water shed. There is no other choice—except that a sword may be swapped with a sturdy sharp stick.
These are simple, inescapable facts of logic, given that we accept that great utilitarian Jeremy Bentham’s definition that minimize means “to reduce to the smallest part or proportion possible.” That is also the mathematical definition. The smallest part or proportion possible here is none.
Environmentalists are thus gibbering when asking people to minimize their “impact.” It is obvious they cannot believe the words they have been using, because we have not seen many demonstrations of altruistic earnestness. Instead of, say, Sierra Club officers walking that last mile into the woods to show the world how its done, these wide-eyed folks jet to a distant city to beg for money, funds which are needed so that meetings can be held to decide where to next fly to. No officered activist has ever been seen sharpening his stick.
What about calls to reduce your “impact”? Reducing is not minimizing. It is clearly possible to reduce without having to sacrifice yourself to Mother Earth. For example, you can take one less breath a day, or one fewer spoonful of wheat, drive one less mile, drink one fewer cup of wine. Anybody can reduce!
This isn’t satisfactory, because it is difficult to believe any activist would be satisfied if all pledged, and all fulfilled that pledge, of eating one less spoonful a day. It is easy to see that calls for “reductions” are akin to pleas to “Tax the rich!” Vapid political slogans which are purposely vague. And any moves towards definite, practical definitions are resisted.
The reason for this is obvious. If an environmentalist (or socialist or whomever) says, “By reduce, I mean X” then the danger is that X, whatever it is, will obtain. That is, the details in X might come to pass. And if they do—if X is fully implemented—the activist will be forced to acknowledge his success. But the moment he does, he is out of a job, he will have lost his calling, he will have agitated himself onto welfare.
So it is to his infinite benefit to never say what he means, to use only loose and watery phrases. This way he can ever be safely unsatisfied. And fully employed.