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Posts Tagged ‘eco-psychology’

More potent than the most virulent tirades from flaming climate deniers, are the silent thoughts that circle in our minds and negate even our greenest intentions. It takes trained attention to catch these thoughts. Right now, for instance, I am about to go grocery shopping at Whole Foods. Only a few miles away. No objective reasons for why I can’t bike. Still, my mind is already made up:

I am going to drive. Don’t ask me to be good. Don’t ask me to be green. I don’t feel up to it. Need to be pampered. Out of sight, out of mind. Plus I am angry about stuff. Can’t deal with all that other shit. I fall back on what’s familiar, what I know best. Can’t, don’t want to make the extra effort. Right now, it is just me, me. Could care less about the planet, and what’s going to happen in ten, even a few years from now. It is too much work. I want simple. No room for other considerations. 

See what I mean?

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Someone very dear to me has been reminding me that nature’s got its ways, and that we, humans better listen. Someone very dear to me is suffering from a weakened heart, as a result of too much exercise and not enough food. She was in the hospital two weeks ago, and got out, barely out of the danger zone. Forgot the doctors’ orders, and started walking, and biking all over town, like before. A visit to the doctor yesterday brought some sobering news. My loved one’s heart is showing signs of weakening again, and a second hospitalization is on the horizon. That, she does not want. The memory of her first stay in the hospital, and how horrendous that felt, is still very fresh. Finally, she is hearing what her heart has been trying to tell her, and she is taking steps to heal. It’s taken that much for her behavior to change. 

My point is we can only ignore nature’s callings for so long. Our planet is heating up, sending us distress signals all over the place. Many of us are listening, but not really. It is business as usual. Driving, flying, whenever we feel like it. Firing up new coal plants to power our consumption habits. Building new and bigger homes. Drilling for more oil. Eating daily Happy Meals. Like my loved one, we need an experience akin to her first hospital stay. Something extremely unpleasant, that makes clear, the connection between our old behavior and the inevitability of personal disaster if we do not change. 

Of course, this begs the question of, can anything be done to change such a course of events? Can humans be reasoned into a wiser course of action, sooner, and without having to pay the unnecessary costs of  their foolishness? Psychology teaches us that the first step is to become conscious of our thoughts and our actions. There needs to be a public discourse around the personal dimension of climate denial. I have spent many posts in this blog, exploring that aspect, using myself as subject for such self-exploration. That is just a start. Other psychologists, journalists, bloggers, meditators, need to jump in and expose further, the various mental blocks of the climate denying mind.

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Michael Pollan‘s got it all right in ‘Why Bother?‘, his long and well worth reading article in today’s New York Times. And puts back the responsibility for climate change right where it belongs. On I, on you, on us. Here is the part that really struck a chord with me:

If you do bother, you will set an example for other people. If enough other people bother, each one influencing yet another in a chain reaction of behavioral change, markets for all manner of green products and alternative technologies will prosper and expand. (Just look at the market for hybrid cars.) Consciousness will be raised, perhaps even changed: new moral imperatives and new taboos might take root in the culture. Driving an S.U.V. or eating a 24-ounce steak or illuminating your McMansion like an airport runway at night might come to be regarded as outrages to human conscience. Not having things might become cooler than having them. And those who did change the way they live would acquire the moral standing to demand changes in behavior from others – from other people, other corporations, even other countries.

All of this could, theoretically, happen. What I’m describing (imagining would probably be more accurate) is a process of viral social change, and change of this kind, which is nonlinear, is never something anyone can plan or predict or count on. Who knows, maybe the virus will reach all the way to Chongqing and infect my Chinese evil twin. Or not. Maybe going green will prove a passing fad and will lose steam after a few years, just as it did in the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan took down Jimmy Carter’s solar panels from the roof of the White House.

Now, I need to be honest with myself, and all of you, and face up to all the reasons why I have not made more changes yet in my still very carbon polluting lifestyle. The impatience I shared in ‘Lots of Talk About Sustainability, Little Action‘ was as much about my own behavior as about the persistent apathy in my fellow Americans. Sure I have made progress compared with one year ago when I started on this journey. I have cut down my shopping to the bare necessities, mainly food. I am biking, and walking, and taking the train, more and more. I remember to turn off the power strip for my computer most of the times. I am planning my groceries a lot more efficiently. I do laundry only once in a blue moon, and save the dryer only for the small items. etc . . . One could say I am doing better than most.

Better than most is still not good enough. I know it. I am still letting my seventeen year old daughter drive her SUV, because ‘if she wants a new car, she’s got to buy her own, and the SUV is the only old car we can spare’. I still have not resigned myself to condemning the pool. We don’t heat it, but the filter goes on year round. I am still quick sometimes to grab the car keys, when ‘I am in a hurry’, or ‘it is too cold out’, or ‘it is getting dark’. You get the picture. The reality still has not completely sunk in.

On a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 not bothering at all to 10 being 100% committed, I see myself as a 6. How about you?

 

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The bathroom sink seems to be the most propitious place for my ah-ah moments. This morning, as I washed my face, the realization of the water running a bit too long threw me into deep thoughts. What will it take to drive the global warming message home? What will it take for my new habits to become second nature?

I started playing with this notion of first and second natures. First nature for most of us is a world infused with assumptions of abundance and demands of convenience. Second nature needs to become a way of living based on limited material resources and respect for the laws of the natural world.

I wrote before about ‘What’s Bred In the Bone‘ and our propensity to fall back onto our old ways. The best that I can come up with, is that I – we – need help to develop and support that second nature. Help in the form of technologies, sensory/automatic reminders, consequences, practical solutions, consistent messaging, inspiring leadership, and supportive social networks.

Going back to the running faucet example, a simple solution would be to install a timer on the faucet. So that the environment trains me to behave.

 

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From Greenbiz, I learned about a recent survey from the UK Co-op amongst its 100,000 members. The survey provides a very telling picture of people’s mindsets relative to all things green. Because if its scale – 100,000 members polled, the findings are significant. Co-op shoppers were asked the following question: what is your top ethical priority (when shopping for food)? Here are the results:

Ethical trading 27%
Animal welfare 25%
Environmental Impact 22%
General animal welfare issues 21%
Fairtrade 14%
Food Quality, Diet and Health 12%
General environmental impact 9%
Community Retailing 9%
General ethical trading 8%
Packaging and waste 8%
Sound sourcing (inc child labour) 5%
Animal testing 4%
Climate change 4%
Sustainable sourcing 1%
Other 5%

A common interpretation of those results has been that ‘Brits Care More About Animals Than Climate Change’:

Paul Monaghan, the Co-op‘s head of ethics, said the group believed that consumers’ apparent indifference to climate change was likely to be the result of believing they have little influence to force change: “They may believe they are powerless on climate change. People can choose to buy Fairtrade or Freedom Food labels, but there is no carbon label yet. We think shoppers see climate change as an issue for corporations and governments.

This is consistent with most of the research we have seen so far. Climate change is perceived as a global issue, to be addressed globally. Until it is made personally relevant and people are given the solutions to address it, it will most likely remain so.

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Found this morning in my Inbox:

Andy Hobsbawm sent a message to the members of Do the Green Thing.——————–
Subject: Two groundbreaking announcements about using body warmthBecause Feb’s Green Thing is about Using Body Warmth and turning your heating
down a bit or off a bit, this Valentine‘s Week you can take part in two daring
experiments in communal warmth and trust. 

Red Heart

1) The world’s first global experiment in decentralized cuddling.

For five days between 10am – 6pm GMT this week, brave
Green Thing volunteers are turning their heating off and shivering like jellies
unless you send them a body-warming hug.

Just mosey over to hug.http://dothegreenthing.com and press the big, green HUG
button and see what happens. You can chat to them too – even make special
requests.

2) And if that wasn’t enough there’s also the world’s first Body Warmth Flash
Hug in Soho Square, W1 this Valentine’s Day lunchtime at 1.30pm.

The plan: turn the heating down or off for a bit in your homes or offices, come
to Soho Square at lunchtime, hug some beautiful people (or some of the Green
Thing team) then go back to your unheated homes and offices with a huge body
warmth boost. (Green nibbles like celery or apples may be provided).

You can sign-up on this FB event page, or just show up: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=8199023999
*walking to Soho Square good, flying to Soho Square bad

Such a brilliant, zany idea. I can’t say enough about it.

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GreenBiz reports on a recently released joint study from Yankelovich and Getty Images, the ‘MAP Report 2: Aspirational Environmentalism‘:

Firms seeking to advertise their green credentials should shun generic images associated with climate change such as polar bears and melting ice floes, according to a major new survey of green advertisements and consumer attitudes.

The study from picture agency Getty Images assessed 2,500 advertising campaigns from last year for its annual “What Makes a Picture” (MAP) report and concluded that many of the conventional images used to promote green campaigns were in danger of becoming visual clichés.

“When it comes to the visual language of the environment, we are in danger of killing it as a meaningful symbol with visual cliché,” said Lewis Blackwell, creative advisor at Getty Images. “The first lesson we must learn in order to grab any attention is to make Death to Environmentalism our mantra and kill off the clichés of ecology.”

Rebecca Swift, global creative planning director at Getty Images, warned that pictures of ice caps and polar bears in particular “will not resonate with consumers in the future.”

How to talk to people about green stuff

The report recommends that advertisers instead embrace more localized images that are relate more closely to consumers’ experience of the environment. “Whatever the product, the closer to home you can pitch the communication the better the opportunity to win over the hearts and minds of consumers to green products and behaviors,” it claims. “This is probably not good news for communicators who have been enjoying economies of scale in recent years by running global campaigns.”

It also advises advertisers to challenge consumers’ negative attitudes towards the environment head-on, arguing that campaigns should not shy away from addressing issues such as consumer indifference, concerns over greenwashing and resentment about the commercialization of a social cause.

These are important findings. At the same time, the study does not tell us anything we could not infer from previous research, and also good marketing practice. Advertisers and marketers need to empathize with their target ‘consumers’ – I use this term reluctantly, as I believe we should increasingly relate to people as citizens instead of consumers. Empathizing means acknowledging the reality of where people are:

  1. a combination of apathy, frustration, resentment, some of it that can be linked to Steven Running theory of Climate Grief
  2. cynicism and doubt bred by experiences of greenwashing
  3. guilt from being asked to make life changes that are impossible to achieve, given present solutions
  4. a thirst for information
  5. a physical reality linked to place, time, and personal experience; make it personal, make it local.

Practically, this means giving people solutions to real problems, not trying to force upon them products and messages decided by wannabe green marketers. The ‘Green‘ magic can only go so far.

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