I am suffering from Environmental Fatigue.

It was absolutely wonderful last week to get such a chorus of congratulations and approval for my blog post about my trip to the Palace to get my MBE, and I realized I’d been missing that feedback while I’ve been blogging about earnest subjects like the environment.

Although I always try to put a positive spin on anything I write about the environment (“we CAN do it – one oarstroke at a time!”) it seems that, no matter how I present it, it does not elicit the enthusiastic response that a brush with royalty does.

Yet, in the overall scheme of things, my MBE is a minor and ephemeral event, while the damage we are doing to the Earth is serious and long-lasting.

It seems that talking about the environment is just not sexy. It’s not fun. It doesn’t make us smile or feel good. It might be vitally important, but it’s often quite boring. The triumphs tend to be long-fought and hard-won, and too often too small in relation to the problems.

Woody Allen
Woody Allen

What do you think? Do you know any good examples of ways to make environmental responsibility more fun and appealing? How can we celebrate our successes in a way that breeds more success?

I shall leave the last word to that well-known environmentalist (?!), Woody Allen:

“Mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”

 

23 Comments

  • Your words are timely Roz.
    All around at the moment I see evidence of environmental progress being rolled back for financial reasons. You know my views about messages needing to hit a persons sense’s to break through.
    I like the RGS 21st Century Challenges series. I’d suggest the issue of our successes being limited and now being rolled back would make a good subject for an evening discussion. A reflection if you like. Then a one day conference/event for everyone/anyone to get together to discuss how we go forward would help.
    Many people are interested but belong to diverse organisations. When do we ever come together to give each other a boost and share ideas? Is there any such thing as an ‘Environmental Show’ anywhere?
    As usual where do we find the cash to put on a big enough event open to all? Got any friends in the City with any money?
    Regards
    John

    • That’s an excellent idea, John. Unfortunately I don’t know anybody able to bankroll this, but I will keep this idea in mind and hopefully we can make it happen!

  • Unfortunately it seems that manufactured controversies by the likes of uninformed climate deniers seem to get lots of hits and comments. Shocking pictures like those of Chris Jordan re: albatrosses eating plastic (http://www.chrisjordan.com/gallery/midway/#CF000313%2018×24) do create awareness and discussion. So maybe leveraging your photography expertise prior to environmental meetings/events/tasks (i.e. things that people can partcipate in) might stir people up. I am sure the Plastic Oceans documentary (http://www.plasticoceans.net/the-documentary/) will help stir people up too.

    Sometimes in the environmental world it’s getting people to refrain from action, like not dumping plastic trash, that makes the world a better place. You have probably influenced thousands to think about how they use plastic, but this might not be commentworthy on a blog.

    Social sharing with points, rewards, badges, leaderboards may stimulate discussion and activity. I’m thinking of how the restaurant reservation site Open Table has acquired and integrated the FoodSpotting app where people take pictures of food. I am wondering if one can engage people in environmental projects in the same way.

  • This is sadly too true. If only there was a magic way to infuse every message about the environment with the kind of pleasure that one gets from experiencing nature up close! A couple of seals popping up their heads 3 ft away from you on your stand up paddle board, dolphins sharing your wave, or a deer in the wild passing by only feet away unaware of your presence. Experiencing these moments always renews my spirit to continue to care for and protect the planet. But how not to sound dreary and doom and gloom when there is so much at peril?? It is a massive, massive challenge.

  • Roz, the good news about your well-deserved recognition for doing deeds that are literally — I do mean LITERALLY — bigger than life, make me happy and I gladly applaud you. I believe that your personal achievements make us all happy for you.

    But the fact is that the wonderful things that are happening in regard to solving the climate and ocean crises we face — although huge and deserving of praise — just are not as inspiring and don’t elicit an equal response, unless one happens to be a real “wonk” or very connected to the fight.

    Take for example, what will happen tomorrow in Ottawa as a result of the coming together of a bunch of wonky lobbyists (Canada Citizens Climate Lobby) and a very outgoing entrepreneur, passionate environmentalist, and free-thinking member of the Canadian House of Commons, MP Bruce Hyer. To a handful of us, this is worth opening a few bottles of champaign and celebrating … it is one small step, but it is hugely symbolic, and perhaps a historic “tipping point” in a seemingly stalemated political struggle:

    Tomorrow, Tuesday, November 19, at about 2:50PM (ET), MP Bruce Hyer will speak:

    “Mr. Speaker, Citizens Climate Lobby is on the Hill this week, calling on all MPs to put a price on carbon pollution — specifically a carbon fee and dividend system. Fee and dividend is far more effective than cap and trade. It’s a revenue-neutral fee that punishes pollution, puts money into taxpayers pockets, and creates jobs. Mr. Speaker, will the Conservatives protect the environment — and tax payers — and support carbon fee and dividend?” -MP Bruce Hyer (http://bit.ly/HyerVision)

    Let’s be honest … this just does not elicit emotions like your MBE, does it?

    I think the only way to appreciate and get all tingly about environmental and climate matters is to be immersed in the struggle and to work as though your life depends on it.

    • Hmmm, I see what you’re saying, but part of me says, “this shouldn’t be so! we should ALL care passionately about the environment!!”…. but realistically I see it isn’t so and isn’t likely to be so. At least not until we have some big Hollywood-scale disaster about to gobble us up, by which point it will be too late.

      • I fear you are right, Roz. That’s why I keep plugging along on my own special project to the best of my ability and don’t worry fret that it may not be “popular” on a massive scale. Perhaps I can make a bit of a difference that could tip the balance somewhere … before it is too late.

        BTW, because of the urgency documented by the German Advisory Council on Global Change (see http://bit.ly/LetsGetGoing ) I am taking my project http://bit.ly/RexCollect into a more assertive phase.

  • My apologies for NOT commenting about the MBE. I did read your account and I think it’s wonderful that you had the opportunity to be recognised for your achievements. The brush with Royalty is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Congratulations. Now on to more important things!

    I disagree that you have to sex up environmental issues or that you have to ‘convince’ anyone. Yes, the sound of crickets is sometimes disappointing, however, we must all continue on doing what we are passionate about- be it blogging, sharing, writing, (rowing) doing our part to use fewer resources, bring back lost ways of doing things (ie: pre cheap oil), teaching. For my part, I am passionate about managing forest resources sustainably, discovering the abundance of forest ‘products’ without resorting to finding value only in killing trees and carrying on the legacy of hand tool woodworking and woodsmanship.

    By doing and sharing our passions with friends, family and community and being the lifestyle we wish to see, we influence others in ways which are unimaginable, even if the feedback is not immediate. We have to have faith that the conversation and awareness is spreading at an exponential rate. Like all things exponential, it is slow at first until it hits the knee of the curve, the tipping point. By setting an example, we provide an accessible way for others to participate and learn if interested. Contagion at the local level is powerful.

    So, I say, trust the crickets and keep doing what floats your boat (pun intended!).

    to: John Henderson – yes there are environmental shows. Eco-Fest in Nelson, New Zealand has been running for 12 years straight now and the show, content and support from the community gets larger every year. I am sure this is just one of many such events.

  • Interesting…what a thought provoking post! I remember when I was a kid visiting England, and I asked one of my cousins if she liked the Queen. She immediately came back with “we love the Queen”. So what gets the royals all of that affection? It’s the same sort of magnetism, that mystical “wholly other” that draws people to have faith in gods, celebrities and impossible stories.

    The environment – the place we live in is wholly familiar in a way…and perhaps that’s why people don’t find it terribly inspiring. It’s there, it’s what we’ve got and we take it for granted. It surrounds us and doesn’t offer escape. I grew up in a place with a lot of natural beauty; mountains, lakes, green hay fields.. and I don’t think I really began to appreciate it until I left it. What’s it like to be surrounded by completely uninspiring surroundings in your formative years? Blocks of buildings and so much haze and light pollution that you’ve never even seen the stars in the night sky? I wonder if the bloom of a flower on a weed struggling up from a crack in the pavement could inspire awe in a child? Perhaps. Perhaps its’ even easier to inspire that sense of the “wholly other” in the city kid?

    How do we get others to love what surrounds us on a daily basis? What’s the message? The cup of coffee to snap us out of the fatigue? Maybe it’s to cast what we have as the wholly other, and third choice from the two given us by Woody.

    Love and appreciation are what need to be inspired.

    • Thanks for your very thought-provoking response, Ian. Sadly, all too soon, things that now seem commonplace may become exotic. Remember “Wall-E”?!
      I’m not sure what will wake us up. But I suspect it might be Mother Nature herself. A planet can only take so much abuse before something switches….. I was very inspired, and somewhat encouraged, by Paul Gilding’s “The Great Disruption”. Maybe that is what we need.

      • I have seen Wall-E…the comfort and removal of the passengers is what comes back the most from that.

        I have not read “The Great Disruption”…I’ll have to check it out.

        We have altered pretty much every system on Earth… sooner or later she’s going to try to rub us off. Like a poorly ridden horse trying to get the nuisance off of her back because it’s not offering partnership…only making demands.

  • Tying yourself in knots about why seemingly silly things trend on twitter or go viral and things we care about don’t can be soul destroying I know. Organised an anti-whaling protest in London last week and ten people showed up. Could have cried but instead realised that ten is better than nine, nine is better than eight, etc. As it turned out, we were invited into the Icelandic Embassy by the Ambassador for a chat (which we wouldn’t have been if we’d been a baying mob I’m guessing). In the immortal words of Jerome Kern, ‘pick yourself up, dust yourself off…’

  • Environment is sexy if you notice it !!!! Sadly you cannot see, co2, global warming etc 🙂 Although the outcomes are obvious to those who look.
    Ocean pollution is impossible for the majority to see first hand ….with the exception of a walk along a beach.
    Damage to our environment is “too big a challenge to reverse”, “too big for me to do anything about it?” So, the whole scale of the problem of environmental damage is seen to be vast by most and, therefore, impossible to confront.
    Given your ability to tackle a vast challenge such as rowing an Ocean solo, by approaching it one stroke at a time , increased understanding could be developed by encouraging individuals to find a single or a few “oar strokes” of contribution towards environmental matters?
    In our small village we have more than our fair share of roadside litter ( we are about 5 miles from the nearest MacDonalds! )..5 of us walk early each Tuesday morning. It used to be just a walk. One of us decided to gather the rubbish en route….now 5 of us go out and gather litter…and walk. One teensy oar stroke on the way to a cleaner village.
    I guess I am really repeating your own philosophy Roz…but perhaps somehow people need to be encouraged to do “an oar stroke” (or two) worth of input..i.e. “doing their bit. Sadly, the challenge is enormous…
    David C.

  • How awful to have a pinnacle like that backfire into a depressing realization. I’m reminded of the wisdom from John Seed and Joanna Macy’s Thinking Like a Mountain, which deals directly with the pain we’d all rather not experience, but which underlies every thought and action concerning the environment. The ritual in that little classic book a good first step. But nothing beats the euphoria of celebrating successful action. Yeah, a day or so later, we’re facing other problems, perhaps bigger ones. But the high comes first. And keeps us going.

    • No need to worry, Vivian – I wasn’t depressed. Just baffled by the relative priorities that we humans put on things. “Thinking Like A Mountain” looks fascinating – thanks!

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