Monday, April 28, 2014

How to Engage the Unengaged on Green Issues {and Do Small Changes Even Matter?}

Small steps matter because they have the power to shift our perspective.

Last month I discussed how it's tough to get folks to pay attention to issues such as climate change because 1) the consequences are far off and the problem is impossible to perceive with our senses and 2) it's depressing and humans avoid thoughts that cause negative emotions. In light of these challenges, on this blog as well as on Facebook I posed the question:
What are your best strategies to get others to be interested in green issues and to change their behavior?

Thank you to all those who took the time to respond! Responses included:

  • Use a positive "hook" (going green is fun, happy, saves money!) that often involves self-interest
  • Avoid preachy stance (avoid shame, judgy-ness, greener-than-thou attitude; be empathetic; admit own shortcomings)
  • Keep it light (use humor, be lighthearted, skip all the depressing details)
  • Lead by example
  • Provide actions to empower people
  • Focus on the next generation
  • Be aware of the power of language (some uncomfortable being "environmentalists")
  • Seek common ground (for example, everyone who gardens/ farms feels connection to planet)

Some expressed skepticism about the impact of small individual changes, arguing that the problem is urgent and what we need are big changes such as getting climate deniers out of elected office and dramatic policy changes at all levels of government. Of course, how exactly to make those big changes happen is the gazillion-dollar question.

I mostly write about small incremental changes on my blog. In the face of an enormous and complex problem such as climate change, it's easy to wonder if that's useful or if it's enough. Here is why ultimately I think it's worthwhile to continue to do so:
  • Some changes (such as eliminating toxic chemicals from our homes) have the potential to immediately impact our family's and others' health.
  • Some changes (such as buying only slavery-free chocolate) have the potential to immediately improve the lives of others. If one less child is forced into slave labor, that's reason enough for me to shift my buying practices for a lifetime, especially given how easy it is to connect the dots from labor practices to grocery store. It should also be noted that I choose not to beat myself up if I don't immediately act on every piece of knowledge I possess.
  • It's good, in and of itself, to try to take responsibility for the impacts of our own choices. To me, considering the impact of our choices and trying to make choices that are ethical and in line with our values is just good for the soul. 
  • I know I'm not going to change the system all by myself, but I still like to do what I can when I can, if only to stave off feelings of helplessness.
  • By getting others to make small changes, we make it more likely that they will be willing to make bigger changes later. We also make it more likely that they will even be aware that changes need to be made. For example, if I can convince you it's worth paying twice as much for your apple in order to avoid toxic chemicals and to keep toxic chemicals out of the environment, maybe someday you'll call your representative and say you support a carbon cap-and-trade system even if it will directly impact your pocket book.
  • By getting others to take small actions, we make it more likely that they will be willing to take other really important actions (such as voting and contacting representatives or boycotting certain products/ companies) in the future.

In the end, I think it's about getting a foot in the door. Whether you use good feelings, money savings, desire to protect kids from endocrine disruptors, or whatever else to get people interested in the interconnections between humans and our planet, ultimately just getting folks to take notice is a good thing. For additional and more eloquent affirmation of personal changes, check out this 5-year-old (!) post by the Booth's very own Conscious Shopper.

Of course another question is whether it's efficient to put our efforts into making small changes in our own and others' lives. I often wonder about this since we all have a finite amount of time and energy with which to effect meaningful changes. Wouldn't it be more useful to use all that time and energy I spend baking bread to instead picket in front of Congress? Well, that's a topic for a different post, I suppose.



Green Bean said...

I love love love this post, Betsy! I think you are on to something in terms of just getting your foot in the door. AND avoiding certain language - environmentalism, even climate change. I know people who will do the green thing 8 times out of 10 but mention climate change and they want to trade their fuel efficient car in for a Hummer just to spite the "green agenda."

As to whether small changes matter? Yes, it is a topic for another post - or 12 other posts. I do think that small changes, though, can get people invested. It's that foot in the door, sometimes. If you say, hey, there is this massive problem but anything you do won't make a difference, people just throw up their hands. But if you say, if we use less resources and we make this change or that, you keep hope alive. How many of us started out as recyclers and then moved toward more community-oriented events or other forms of activism.

Betsy Escandon said...

Thanks, Green Bean! I actually had myself in mind when I think of small acts adding to others. Although I always thought big issues like climate change were important (as soon as I was aware of and educated about them), I never even signed a petition or emailed a representative until I became part of the green consciousness by trying to avoid toxic chemicals and green my life in other ways.

Green Bean said...

I agree, Betsy. I started out eating organic because no one could convince me that pesticides are healthy. Just didn't make sense. I gradually moved on to lessening my personal impact. The more I did on a personal level, the more invested I became.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin