Day 20 of Daily Footprint Project. Time to pause and reflect on the changes that took place, or failed to happen. During these twenty days, I became aware of sixteen non green behaviors. The intent was not for me to try to change those necessarily, but to let the process of consciousness take its course. Here is the list (in green, behaviors that I chose to change, or that changed on their own; in red, behaviors that have not changed):
- Cut down on shopping
- Remembering the reusable grocery bags
- Diminish use of paper towels, saran wrap, aluminum foil
- Subscribe to Green Dimes
- Bring my own cup at coffee shop
- Start composting
- Cut down on food waste
- Use dryer less
- Get a bike and start biking instead of driving
- Unplug appliances
- Limit takeout
- Shop to farmers’ market more often
- Bring my own containers to bulk and deli sections
- Replace ‘hazardous cosmetics’ with green alternatives
- Replace toxic household cleaning products with green products
- Set green limits on children’s behavior (less driving their car, less laundry, less dryer, turning off light and appliances, not throwing away food leftovers)
I wonder if the list would have been different, had I done my research earlier, on the ‘Top Three Green Actions to Reduce Your Ecological Footprint‘. Staring at these three percentage numbers, really gave me a much clearer picture of priorities. Getting a bike is no longer an abstract consideration, but rather something I need to, want to do. Focusing on that one item makes it a manageable goal, and I can start planning the details of how to get there. And not worry so much about addressing all the other red things on the list.
Turning my attention to the green items on the list, I had to wonder, why was I energized to make some of those changes and not others? Of particular interest, are number 14 and 15. In both cases, I had to spend a significant amount of time researching the best options, shopping for the new products, and physically removing the old products. I could feel the drive. My personal health was at stake, and I had a direct interest in taking action. In contrast, all of the other items only affect me indirectly. It is a matter of global versus personal matters. In order to get mobilized for these less directly relevant actions, my mind has to step in, and I need to go through an elaborate intellectual gymnastics. It requires more work, and more outside reinforcements to make up for the lack of natural energy. This is probably the most significant finding to date for this project:
People are more likely to make behavioral changes when they feel personally threatened into action. In the case of climate change, the problem is not felt directly, but rather as a vague global threat. The intellectual translation that is needed, to turn climate change into a personal problem, relegates it to the ‘I should’ category, as opposed to the ‘I have to take action’ priority pile.
What are some practical implications? I can think of two.
First, is the need to make climate change risks as personally relevant as possible, not in an abstract, intellectual manner as is currently the case, but in a direct, immediate way, linking them to people’s everyday concerns. Going back to the voters’ poll results I highlighted in The Inconvenient Truth About America, the environment is way behind the war in Irak, national security, health care, immigration, and economy/jobs, in terms of Americans’ top concerns. Of those, health, jobs, and economy are very personal and can be linked to environmental action. Rather than trying to motivate individuals with high goals such as saving the planet for future generations, a more effective strategy is to entice them with direct personal benefits from green lifestyle changes:
- personal health, including children’s health
- financial gains
- job opportunities
Inciting people to drive less, not because it’s good for the environment, but rather because walking and biking more, could help them lose weight, and be in better health, is the perfect example. Darmok just wrote a great post about the rising epidemic of obesity in America. And today’s San Francisco Chronicle features an article on new research from Stanford Medical School, showing that people who use a pedometer are more motivated to walk than those who don’t. Rather than asking people to drive less, maybe a better strategy would be to ask them to start walking more, and launch block competitions of who walked most in the neighborhood this week, using pedometers.
Second, is the acknowledgment of the reality of climate change as a global problem, requiring global solutions. Rather than chastising people for not changing their lifestyles, maybe we should look at their non action as indicative of the reality of the problem. It strikes me that I can so easily motivate myself to work on finding global solutions to the problem, while at the same time, having an incredibly hard time making personal changes, even as simple as getting a bike, for instance. The media gave Al Gore a very hard time for the same thing. Here is a man who has done a phenomenal job in the service of the environment, and yet has been said to have a poor record as a green citizen. Maybe we are assigning responsibility where it does not belong, and we are pursuing impossible goals by trying to inspire individuals to initiate personal changes on their own. What I am suggesting instead, is a shift, towards placing responsibility in the hands of policy makers. Climate change solutions are akin to building infrastructures at the federal, state, and municipal levels. No roads, bridges, or railroads would be built if it was not for the state’s intervention. Those are jobs that are just too big for individual or private initiatives. Same thing with climate change remediation.
Given the magnitude of behavioral changes that are expected from millions of people, shouldn’t green psychology play more of a role in the search for climate change solutions? Only through a real understanding of the dynamics at play in the collective and individual psyche, can we develop environmental strategies that will succeed in eliciting the full cooperation of all people.
Daily Footprint Project Daily Log Day #20 Water personal: flush toilet 3 wash face 2 brush teeth 2 wash hands 4 shower at pool 2 mom: rinse dishes wash raspberries communal: Electricity/gas personal: electric toothbrush 2 microwave tea 2’ microwave oatmeal 4’ laptop on half day microwave takeout soup mom: cook omelet toast bread communal: lights microwave oatmeal for guest Food personal: tea organic milk organic chocolate organic raspberries organic oatmeal organic yogurt two pieces of organic bread leftover takeout soup organic persimmons fruit tart at farmers’ market mom: two organic egg omelet organic raspberries restaurant lunch pastry at farmers’ market communal: organic oatmeal for guest Waste personal: toilet paper soup carton mom: raspberries plastic box communal: 3 newspaper plastic wrappers Recycling personal: mom: communal: 2 papers junk mail yogurt container (reuse) Transportation personal: drive to orthodontist 4 miles mom: drive to daughter’s college 80 miles communal: drive to pool 6 miles Non food shopping personal: mom: communal: