Most people are not interested in the environment. They’re just trying to get by, keep their job if they’re lucky enough to have one, pay the mortgage/rent, feed the family, be happy – or at least, content. How can we wake them up and engage them?
I appreciate the inherent arrogance in this question. Just because I think the environment is important, why should other people agree with me?
This question in turn begs several more questions, which deserve investigation.
First, IS the environment important?
Some people believe that we are in the end times, so we may as well burn it up and wear it out, because in a few years or decades it will all be over anyway. Here is not the place to debate the veracity of this worldview, but I’d just like to say that if there is any doubt at all as to whether it is true, we had best err on the side of caution and hang onto enough resources to last us for the foreseeable future. (More on the notion of “foreseeable” in a future blog post.)
Second, why should the environment be important to ME? (ME in this context being the generic individual, not ME Roz Savage.) The impacts won’t be felt until after I am dead, and I have more than enough immediate worries, so don’t bother me with long-term hypotheticals.
Putting to one side for now questions about how long it will be before serious impacts are felt, I’d just like to challenge this mindset by asking: Where is your sense of legacy? If you believe that this generation is seriously impacting the long-term health of our species and our planet, do you not care how history will judge us? If humans of a couple of centuries ago had bequeathed to us a right old mess of indestructible trash and an impoverished biosphere, wouldn’t we feel justifiably aggrieved? Is that really how you want your grandchildren to feel about you (okay, great nieces and nephews if you don’t have children – which, environmentally, is a great idea)?
Third, nothing I do as an individual will make a difference, so why should I bother?
It is true that there are now 7.1 billion of us, and so it is easy to feel that anything we do is a tiny drop in a very big ocean. But history shows that the impact of an individual can be completely disproportionate. I’m not just talking about a great leader like Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela etc. I’m talking about that person who might be the pillar of your community, or the teacher/pastor/journalist whose views you respect, but most especially the person you get talking to in the checkout line who somehow strikes a chord and makes you see things in a different way – that person who has brought their own grocery bag, or who asks if the fish has been sustainably caught, or chats to the checkout clerk about why they have chosen organic and non-GMO.
Word of mouth is the most powerful method of communication that we have at our disposal. Sure, if you stop eating fish it is not going to stop the ocean ecosystem from collapsing. But talk about it to friends, family, colleagues – not like the self-righteous loony tune that everbody avoids, but just quietly and calmly and rationally – and for the sake of your friendships, better make it briefly, too. People will take it more seriously from you than they do from the media. You’ve got the power to start changing the world – one conversation at a time.
But at the same time, we have to respect other people’s right to disagree. You never win an argument by being right. Human beings are much more complicated than that. Even if you manage to persuade someone to change their mind (congratulations!) it’s even harder to get them to change their behaviour – as the environmental movement has amply demonstrated over the last few decades.
I want to explore these issues over the coming weeks and months – how the quirks of human psychology are getting in the way of good decision-making, especially with regard to the stewardship of our Earth. I’m very open to comments, questions, and suggestions for what directions this might take. Post a comment and tell me your thoughts!