“We’re not reaching any new people. We’re just preaching to the choir.”
It’s a familiar lament for most of us. In recent years, though, I’ve started to have a different take on “preaching to the choir.” In fact, I’ve made it my specialty!
What I have realized is that sometimes the choir needs preaching to. Going against mainstream social norms, and exercising voluntary self-restraint, to do the right thing can be exhausting and demoralizing. This blog, and my book, therefore exist to support people who are setting out to minimize their eco footprint.
It occurred to me that people fall into three broad categories, in terms of attitude toward eco action.
One category is people who don’t care all that much about the environment; don’t want to think about it.
Another is people who care but don’t know what to do.
And the third is people who care, and have information about what to do, but need moral support to persevere when the going gets tough.
The going gets tough for two main reasons. One, exercising voluntary self-restraint can take a lot of energy and willpower. (Even just avoiding straws and plastic bags takes a serious amount of effort, when the default is that they are handed out to you.) Two, eco habits can elicit scorn or other unpleasant reactions from the people around us. No one wants to be an approval-whore, but we are social creatures after all. Most of us aren’t Joan of Arc or Greta Thunberg.
My book and this blog are aimed at people in groups 2 and 3. But wait, isn’t that only a minority of the population? Perhaps (or perhaps not — maybe these days we are actually in the majority)! But regardless, I feel it’s most effective to concentrate my efforts on people who are interested in making a difference. I’d rather not squander my finite energy engaging in endless exhausting debates, or trying to convert anyone.
I don’t debate with anyone about climate change, by the way. Or about the power and necessity of personal action in addition to government- and corporate-level shifts. I save my breath, and focus on supporting the people who are on board with climate reality and who love the idea of a grassroots green mobilization.
Here’s my suggested approach for addressing people in each of the three categories:
• Don’t care/don’t want to think: In real life–Ignore; leave alone. (Unless what they are doing is affecting me; then I say something.) On social media–Share other people’s posts that show gorgeous photos of springs, forests, and other natural wonders; butterflies, adorable fawns, yadda yadda. Some of these images might awaken a “don’t care/don’t wanna think” person to care and think. Also, I notice that many people who had once been in this category start getting motivated to care about the environment once they have children. Or grandchildren, or pets.
• Care but don’t know what to do: Provide these folks with relevant information by turning them on to books, articles, tip-sharing groups. Answer questions; give talks; share informational posts; promote webinars.
• Care, and know what to do, but need moral support: Turn these folks on to large, active, effective groups and movements that will help them know they are not alone. Provide moral support via my book, this blog, my public talks, workshops, consultations, and just plain everyday conversations.
Now, here’s a kicker: I have been in all of these categories! And possibly many of you have too.
I have been all of these categories not only over the course of my life, but also now, still — in the course of a single day!
Category 1: Like, when I want an ice-cream sundae, I really don’t want to think about the fact that the ice cream and other ingredients probably came to me via factory farms, underpaid workers, etc. And when I want a bag of chips, I just don’t want to think or care too much about the awful noncompostable packaging. Or back when I was flying a lot, and taking longdistance solo driving trips, I was in denial about the carbon footprint.
Category 2: I am always open to new information. For example, learning about carbon offsets gave me a way to mitigate my travel footprint (though I now still choose to minimize longdistance travel). And when I find out about a place where I can buy treats in bulk, I go there. And if any store around me starts selling vegan ice cream, I’d be eager to try it. Certainly, yummy vegan food in general has made me more committed to increasing my percentage of vegan meals. I also buy eggs only from small local farmers now.
Category 3: Yes, I am still too prone to feeling shamed for being “weird” and “eccentric”; “that girl who rides a bicycle”; etc. My best cure for this is to belong to many large groups such as permaculture networks, zero-waste groups, etc., which range from regional to international. I’m not some weird freak who rebelliously insists on getting around by bicycle and foot; I’m one of millions of people worldwide who do it every day.
Probably some examples of all of the above categories come to mind from your own life. And, as my examples illustrate, you can serve as a guide, motivational coach, and emotional support for yourself as well as for other people.
Fellow self-appointed guardians of our sweet blue-green planet; fellow foot-soldiers in the grassroots green mobilization, thanks for taking on this work. I salute you. And I am always here for you!