Moving the Needle

As environmentalists, we can’t control what other people do. We can’t make other people care more about the impact of their activities on other people, other creatures, and the planet.

What we can do, by our choices and by our public declarations/demonstrations of how those choices, is help re-set the mainstream norm. Move the needle, so to speak. (This terminology comes from old-fashioned speedometers and other instrument gauges, I think. Old-fashioned as in having a red needle that points to a number, as opposed to having a digital display of just the number itself.)

We can publicly share (verbally and by living example) how our more eco-friendly choices are improving our lives while also helping the planet. And when it comes to our own personal living choices, we get to be as “extreme” as we want, because we’re not trying to tell anyone else what to do. We’re simply acting in accordance with our eco values, plus other values we might cherish, such as valuing our own time and money and energy.

By being more public and vocal about our choices, we furnish additional data points to the world. We give data points that are “further off in left field” (a metaphor from baseball, if I’m not mistaken), and by so doing, we contribute to a shift in where the “middle of the bell curve” lies.

I used to be reticent to publicize my practices such as aiming to use only 10 gallons of water per day (often it is much less), or keeping my electricity use to about 5-10 percent of the USA average. I figured I’d turn people off; scare them away from trying to lower their eco footprints. Instead, I’ve learned that setting the bar high gives people new reference points.

Shifting the societal norms of consumption is a major part of our work as self-appointed freelance guardians of Mother Earth. It’s actually a lot less work than fighting to verbally convince people what they “should” do.

One way I have moved the needle in my neighborhood is by turning my yard into a lush micro-oasis of native and edible plants that also happen to be pretty. Now a bunch of my neighbors and friends are starting to incorporate a few native plants and fruits/veggies into their yards.

Whew! Very relaxing. Much easier and much more effective than yelling at people for using leafblowers, ruining the air quality with their excessive mowing, etc., and trying to tell them why they should not do that. Or ranting on social media about the endless expanses of scalped grass along roadsides (far better to show beautiful photos of the roadside meadow corridors that are flourishing with the blessing of some highway departments).

So go forth and move the needle in some area of your choice today! Your eco choices, especially when you are visibly enjoying the benefits of those choices, set a great and much-needed example in the world.