I think that I was born "green", with a forest in the back yard and a father who loved gardening, wildlife and nature, and nurtured his children to enjoy and appreciate those things without preaching about them. That last part is important for this post, so I'll say it again: Without Preaching About Them. In my opinion, one of the biggest obstacles that faces the environmental movement today is this rather pervasive notion of "I am greener than you are; therefore, I am morally superior. You need to do everything that I'm doing, or the planet is DOOMED!" I'm no psychologist, but even I know with some degree of certainty that most people do not like being told what to do or how to think. As a result, they will rebel, big-time. Not exactly the desired result for growing the green movement.
As a green blogger, I scout all around the web for discussions about the environmental movement, and within the last couple of days, I found two very interesting and thought-provoking arguments (not arguments in the sense of "You're wrong! You stink!", but more along the lines of "This is how I see it--how do you see it?", which, to me, is so much more productive). The first one was on the blog My Plastic-Free Life, in which its blogger, Beth Terry (author of an inspiring book about living plastic-free--I'll be reviewing it soon), posed the question Should Ziploc be welcomed at the San Francisco Green Festival?" Maybe I'm just an eco-nerd, but I found the post and ensuing forum discussion fascinating. The gist was this: Ziploc has started a plastic bag recycling program, so should they have been allowed to participate in an environmental event, giving attendees the impression that plastic bags can be a green choice? My favorite takeaways from the discussion were this: We can't all be eco-warriors. There are many different shades of green, and if we encourage consumers and corporations to do something green rather than nothing green, at least that's a first step. It's highly debatable, though, as other commenters suggested that giving Ziploc a presence at a green event is completely misleading and unethical, and should be discouraged at all costs.
The second blog post and discussion I found was on the Children & Nature Network, with Richard Louv's article: A New Generation of Environmentalists Fighting Global Warming by Reconnecting People to Nature. Louv writes of interviewing Paul Dayton, a Scripps professor of oceanography who is an expert in sustainability:
"[Dayton] expressed fury over his students’ nature deficit, and said that higher education is aiding and abetting that disconnection. Observational science is devalued. Research unversities have dramatically reduced the teaching of natural history, instead favoring the study of lab-created organisms that can be patented for profit."
A commenter on the above thread spoke about how many teens today are highly resistant to the environmental movement because they don't like adults telling them what to do about the world's problems--they also don't like the "alarmism" and the constant threats of doom, so they just tune it right out. As I commented in reply: "That is a daunting observation and there is much truth in the part about teens rebelling against ideas that are forcefully fed to them. However, my main takeaway from Louv's article was his point here: 'To protect anything, you first have to love it. To love anything, you first must get to know it.' If we nurture children from a very young age (long before they hit the teen years) and let them more fully experience and explore nature, then that is more than half the battle. I don't have the answer for what to do about the problem of youth who have made it out of their early childhood years without having been encouraged to explore and appreciate nature, but just as in learning a foreign language, the earlier we can start the process, the better the chances it will stick."
Speaking of efforts for children at a very young age, for the past three years, I've chaired the green team at my children's school (pre-school through 8th grade), which requires me to speak at parents' Back-to-School nights about our green mission for the school year and the related fundraiser to support it. Even before speaking at these events, I can pretty accurately guess which parents will glaze over and start texting, and which parents will support the fundraiser. The simple fact, I think, is this: You're either interested in being green or you're not, and there's very little wiggle room for influence, let alone outright conversion in mindset. This belief can strike panic in the hearts of environmentalists, because on a regular basis, we see that famous photo of the polar bear on the shrinking ice cap, and we hear the planetary clock ticking louder and louder with each passing minute.
Before I even started a blog, I was researching green blogs and found a rather unorthodox tagline at EcoCred: "Gaining ecocred without becoming an eco-douche." Yikes, that's harsh, but I find it hilarious and true, because for people who are not interested in the environment, that's often how they view us "greenies." They get hopping-mad and defensive with environmentalists because they feel we're all trying to get them to donate their cars, buy a bike, live on a farm, grow all of their own organic food, use windmills for power and soy candles for light. And the environmentalists get mad at them in return for scoffing at and dismissing problems which are of paramount importance...to environmentalists. I emphasize that last part because other people have their own causes which are of paramount importance to them. We can't all be passionate about the same things.
My friend (I'll call her Barbara) occasionally buys styrofoam cups and has one of those popular coffee machines at home with the little disposable plastic containers for each serving. She sheepishly tells me, "I'm not that green." BUT, she has a wide assortment of thermoses for her children because she has tried mightily to find the ones that won't leak, instead of buying juice boxes. She also was the one who first suggested that I start our school's green team, offering to help me with it. So, she led me to the green place where I am today, literally changing my life personally and professionally, and I am immensely grateful to her for that. Unwittingly, she has been one of my green mentors and has advanced me much farther along on the green spectrum--so who greened whom? (Thank you, "Barbara"--you know who you are!)
As for being green myself: If there are many shades of green, I would be on the darker end of the spectrum (forest green?), but in no way am I the very deepest green I could be. Unlike Ed Begley, Jr., I don't have a composting toilet and don't ride a bike anywhere except around the neighborhood with my kids, and we don't own any electric or hybrid vehicles. In fact, we have a (gasp!) mini-van. BUT, we also have a Suburu Forester, which is labeled a "partial zero-emissions vehicle" (although I wasn't clear on how a car could be classified as containing "some" and "none" of something until I read this explanation), and we're seriously considering a hybrid when we trade in the van. Unlike Jay Shafer, I don't live in a tiny house (far from it, although I do find his 89-square-foot house charming and cozy, in a rather Hobbit-like way). BUT, we do compost our food scraps at our home, use LED and CFL bulbs, and power the house with alternative sources of energy (wind, solar, hydro) through our electric company.
Notice that I set up those constructs with "Barbara does this un-green thing, BUT then there's this green thing that makes up for it" and "I am not the deepest shade of green, BUT because we do such-and-such at our home, I still consider myself green." These are excuses of a sort--kind of like buying carbon offsets. We do what we think we can, but not all that we actually could do if we honestly set ourselves to the task of being 100% green. However, trying to be "ever greener" or perfectly green is time-consuming, expensive, exhausting, and guilt-inducing. I searched "green guilt" on Google and it returned 48,600,00 results. A survey on earth911.com says green guilt has more than doubled since 2009. Not only can't we all be eco-warriors, but we can't be eco-saints either.
One of the most important lessons I've learned so far (not just related to environmentalism) is that it is very difficult--if not impossible--to change people fundamentally. And yet, if you're really passionate about a topic, it's very difficult to shut up about it. However, instead of trying to preach to people who clearly don't want a sermon, perhaps we should just focus on our own progress, on our own journey along the green spectrum. Can we make some improvements in our own personal "greenification" this year? How can we influence people positively and non-judgmentally--people who are ripe for influencing (our children, our students), as well as those who are receptive to change (green wannabes and eco-rookies of all ages)?
I love the old adage: "You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink." In this case, perhaps it can be amended: "Get off your green high horse, and simply offer a ride." My dad would have approved.
Food for thought: Where do you stand on the green spectrum? How can you personally go greener? How do you share your passion about being green without being obnoxious, sanctimonious, or judgmental about it?
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