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Posts Tagged ‘environmental psychology’

Every French kid knows the story of The Grasshopper and the Ant, one of La Fontaine‘s most popular fables. I remember reciting it to my third grade class:

The Grasshopper having sung
All summer long,
Found herself lacking food
When the North Wind began its song.
Not a single little piece
Of fly or grub did she have to eat.

She went complaining of famine
To the Ant’s home, her neighbor,
Begging her to loan her
A few grains to subsist
Until the new season,
“I shall pay you,” she said
“Both interest and principal,
Before next August, on my word as an animal.”

The Ant was not so inclined:
this not being one of her faults.
“What did you do all summer?
Said she to the grasshopper.
“Night and day I sang,
I hope that does not displease you.”
“You sang? I am so pleased.
Very well! Go ahead and dance now.”

Are Americans like the Grasshopper in La Fontaine’s Fable?

La Fontaine‘s wisdom is more relevant than ever. How much longer are we going to keep on singing, and dancing, without worrying about the consequences of our irresponsible behavior? Merry Christmas is right around the corner, and the malls are full, the cars are out in force, and the light decorations are on every house. One day when the party is over, will we be like the grasshopper? Feeling sorry for ourselves, for not having planned and acted as better stewards of our resources?

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The latest Pew Report confirms earlier data from a New York Times/CBS News Poll: that the American public still has not awakened to the reality of global warming as an urgent matter:

Global warming became a much more visible issue in 2007. Former Vice President Al Gore‘s crusade against what he calls a “planetary emergency” won him an Academy Award and a Nobel Prize. Yet the American public is not fully persuaded that global climate change is an imminent problem. Fewer than half rate global warming as a “very serious” problem; among those who view it as a problem, only a modest majority (55%) says it requires immediate government action. For liberal Democrats, at least, the environment is a top tier issue in the 2008 campaign. But it rates as far less important for other voting groups, including conservative and moderate Democrats. However, the 47-nation Global Attitudes poll found rising concern about environmental and pollution problems around the world, with many nations blaming the United States for these heightened global threats.

What this says: the message about global warming is not getting through to Americans. This is in contrast to the public in other countries. Environmental bloggers and environmentalists in general tend to live in a green bubble, and fail to realize the reality of the Not So Green Exposure problem that impacts the majority of the American public. Although, it may seems that the media are getting saturated with more and more dire warnings about global warming, the share of voice for the green message is still ridiculously small. Major contributor to the problem is the substantial amount of disinformation spread by conservatives and our leadership. There needs to be a more thought out green media campaign. In his post today, Andrew Revkin asks his readers for suggestions regarding ‘elevator pitch’ for global warming message. It’s a start.

Any ad agency willing to take on the global warming challenge as pro bono account? I am willing to pitch in, for free. Actually, I may even start to write an advertising strategy brief, just like that.

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In my green memory bank, today I retrieved a moment long ago, with my parents, walking up a  path, in the French Alps. The image is fuzzy, there are pine trees towering over us, and forming an imaginary kingdom. The damp earth is soft under my feet, and I take in the smell of possibility of mushrooms. Drunk from the mountain air, I feel happy, totally.

What is in your green memory bank? How many  moments, stored away, and still potent with the intensity of childhood, can you go back to?  And access the  love you felt in the midst of nature.

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This morning, I joined the crowd of concerned environmentalists on DotEarth, and lamented with them on the outcome of the Bali talks. And declared,

Talk is nice. My concern is what can I do as a citizen, to become a part of the solution. Here are my resolutions:

1) to continue to explore the psychology of green in my blog
2) to try my best to green my life
3) to join a green business venture, hopefully in the next few weeks
4) to act as a responsible citizen and make sure the right person gets elected as our next President
5) to explore ways that I can spur green initiatives in my immediate community
6) to channel the anger, frustration, I feel as a result of these talks, productively, into positive actions.

What are you all choosing to do on a personal, concrete level?

Later in the day, I decided to go to the gym with Prad. Charlotte saw me grab my car keys. “You are not taking your bike?” Prad offered to ride with me if I wanted to. No, it was too cold, and I just wanted to get to the gym, fast. We drove.

What happened? Why such a discordance between what I know to be the right action, and what I end up doing? I have become obsessed with understanding what goes on in my brain during those split seconds, when I decide to not follow my green conscience. Several times before, I have tried to revisit similar moments, to grasp the thoughts, the feelings, that trigger such behavior. I am convinced, if I can reach down far enough, I will retrieve valuable insights, that will help get to the roots of the behavior. If I can nail down the cause, it may be easier to figure out some solutions.

Seven Reasons Why It’s Hard to Be Human and Green

Back to the gym moment. I was tired with a slight cold. The idea of going out in the damp weather, and of spending a half hour biking, did not feel good. Compared with the comfort of our warm car, the bike did not come close. In that moment, all I could think of was, cold versus warm, hard work versus easy ride. I did not feel so good. I wanted warm and comfort. A curtain came down between my green conscience, my morning discourse, and the reality of my present physical need.

I surprised myself with the strength of my response to Charlotte and Prad. ‘No way, I am riding my bike. I am tired and it’s cold.’ Never mind that I was going to the gym to exercise. My heart was set on swimming, not biking. Still, if I had enough energy to swim, I probably could have biked. It is just that I was thinking exercise equal gym. To exercise I needed to go to the gym. Although I was tired, I am very disciplined about exercising every day, and I was willing to make that effort. In my mind, going to the gym, was in the transportation category, not the exercise file. Transportation meant, I was going to naturally choose the option that was most efficient time wise, and comfortable.

Now, why was I willing to make the effort to exercise (swim) although I was not feeling so good, but not to bike instead of driving? The answer is, I consider exercise a direct personal benefit to my health and my well being. Biking instead of driving, because of environmental concerns, does not affect me directly. (that’s assuming I maintain earlier ‘logic’ of biking not as an exercise form, but as mode of transportation). Its benefit gets diluted both in time and space. The big pot problem again. When I exercise, I feel an immediate personal benefit. When I consider acting from my green conscience, it falls in the higher category of ‘I and many other enlightened people know it’s the right thing to do, but it is not part yet of the commonly accepted set of ethical behaviors’. Where I get in trouble is with that latter part. The lack of collective consciousness in the green category, and the resulting lack of environmental laws and best practices, give me license to err.

Am I that selfish of a person that I never do anything for the greater good? Actually, there are many instances when I can act selflessly. My maternal instinct makes sure I always put my children’s interests before my own. I find great pleasure in mentoring my Little Sister. For seven years, I spent my time helping people as a profession. In the green category even, I now make sure that I bring my recyclable bags to the grocery store. I try not to flush. I have diminished my shopping significantly. I only heat the house very selectively. I always turn off the lights. I take the train whenever I go to the city. . . My laziness with biking is one of the last fortresses of my unconscious, not so green self, and a window into the ways most of the civilized world behaves. Here is what I saw:

  1. We are creatures of the flesh. Trapped in our physical body, and at the mercy of our basic needs for physical comfort, pleasure, and immediate gratification. Without the external reinforcement from state or spiritual laws, these primal needs take precedence over our conscience.
  2. We are lemmings. We look around and tend to emulate others’ behaviors.
  3. We are self-centered. Our priorities start with getting our personal needs met first. Needs for security, personal health, financial security, comfort, safety, education, etc. Environmental concerns are at the bottom of the pile.
  4. We are products of our culture. In America that means capitalism, money, greed, consumerism, extremes, convenience, industrialization, technology, cars, invincibility, man over nature.
  5. We are creatures of habits. Our thoughts and behaviors are set in certain ways. To unset them requires tremendous energy and outside forces.
  6. We are inherently lazy. Given the choice, we will most often pick the easiest, most convenient alternative.
  7. We are not rational beings. The way we derive our thoughts is often circuitous, and leads to behaviors that fly in the face of reason.

Next, is how can we take into account these seven characteristics of human nature, and formulate winning behavioral change strategies for a greener planet. Plenty of material for another article. . .

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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):

  1. Cut down on shopping
  2. Remembering the reusable grocery bags
  3. Diminish use of paper towels, saran wrap, aluminum foil
  4. Subscribe to Green Dimes
  5. Bring my own cup at coffee shop
  6. Start composting
  7. Cut down on food waste
  8. Use dryer less
  9. Get a bike and start biking instead of driving
  10. Unplug appliances
  11. Limit takeout
  12. Shop to farmers’ market more often
  13. Bring my own containers to bulk and deli sections
  14. Replace ‘hazardous cosmetics’ with green alternatives
  15. Replace toxic household cleaning products with green products
  16. 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:

  1. personal health, including children’s health
  2. financial gains
  3. 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:

 

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Day 19 of Daily Footprint Project. The paper recycling basket keeps filling up.

All That Paper’s Got to Go

The newspapers, I take responsibility for. Reading the papers in the morning gives me great pleasure, and I am not ready to let that indulgence go. At least, not yet. What troubles me is all the junk mail. Several times, I have discussed with Prad, my intention of registering with Green Dimes. Prad thinks the city already has a similar program, and why pay the $15 to Green Dimes? Well, I went on the city’s website and they do not have such a thing. Still, Prad thinks I have not gone far enough in my investigation. I should be calling and talk to a live body.

The result is, my resolve has waned, and I have given up on the whole junk mail bit. This morning, though, the basket came back into my field of consciousness. Flouting me with its pile of useless junk mail, that serves no purpose at all other than being a source of disagreement between me and husband. Shall I dare Prad and go ahead, pay the $15 to Green Dimes?

Daily Footprint Project
Daily Log
Day #19

Water

personal:
flush toilet 2
wash face 2
brush teeth 2
wash hands 5
shower 1
mom:
rinse dishes
communal:
wash vegetables

Electricity/gas

personal:
electric toothbrush 2
microwave tea 2’
microwave oatmeal 4’
microwave milk 2’
laptop on half day
mom:
communal:
lights
stir fry zucchinis
stir fry fish

Food

personal:
oatmeal with organic milk
organic oranges
tea
organic milk
organic chocolate
organic raspberries
mom:
Starbucks fruit and cheese platter for Little Sister
Whole Foods takeout mashed potatoes for Little Sister
lunch out at restaurant with Little Sister
communal:
fried organic zucchinis
fried wild fish with mushrooms

Waste

personal:
toilet paper
raspberries plastic box
mom:
communal:
3 newspaper plastic wrappers

Recycling

personal:
mom:
gave old clothes to Little Sister’s family
communal:
2 papers
junk mail

Transportation

personal:
mom:
communal:
drive Little Sister to Turkey Trot 12 miles (stop at Starbucks on the way)
drive to restaurant 4 miles (stop at Whole Foods on the way)

Non food shopping

personal:
mom:
communal:

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Day 18 of Daily Footprint Project. It’s been sitting by the fireplace. Daring me with its unopened carton. Must have been a week already.

All the Reasons Why We Still Have Not Installed the Composter

Our new Feelgood composter. Prad ordered it. ‘Now you put it together.’ Of course, I have got a good excuse. I had gum surgery on Monday, and I have been feeling lousy. The few days before that, I was too busy, and the composter did not even make it once on my daily to do list. Plus, shouldn’t Prad take care of it anyway? I thought he would be the one in charge, in the composting department. He usually likes that kind of stuff. I know what he is thinking. ‘It’s about time you walk your talk. I have done enough as it is. Let’s see if you come through here.’ I am being tested on the authenticity of my declared green-ness.

The truth is, I love blogging about green psychology and green living. It comes easy to me. And I am seduced by the idea of composting, of returning what comes from the earth, back to the earth. It feels so right, poetic almost. Taking the box outside, unpacking the composter, assembling it, now, that’s another story. I can always find something better to do. Why is it so difficult for me to translate my intention into action?

I am happy with my life the way it is right now. The prospect of the satisfaction from composting does not outweigh the inconvenience of having to put it together. If someone else did it for me, I would use it, as long as it does not require too much extra effort. I think of all the greenies who are going to read this, and I anticipate their judgment. If it was not for the blog, I would definitely keep all this business to myself. I feel ashamed. No, I need to remember, the main thing is to be honest.

Let me take on my marketing hat for a second. What I am voicing is a very real pain. I want to be green, but I need some help. Will someone, please, make green easy on me? Set things up for me, hold my hand as I undertake the heroic task of greening my life.

Daily Footprint Project
Daily Log
Day #18

Water

personal:
flush toilet 3
wash face 2
brush teeth 2
wash hands 4
shower 1
mom:
rinse dishes
communal:
run full load dishwasher

Electricity/gas

personal:
electric toothbrush 2
microwave tea 2’
microwave oatmeal 4’
microwave milk 2’
laptop on all day
mom:
heat cream of wheat
microwave half potato
broil steak
fry bokchoy
communal:
lights

Food

personal:
oatmeal with organic milk
organic oranges
tea
organic milk
organic chocolate
organic raspberries
mom:
cream of wheat with organic milk
organic raspberries
organic buffalo steak
organic half potato
organic baby bokchoy
communal:
dinner out

Waste

personal:
toilet paper
raspberries plastic box
mom:
most of cream of wheat (leftover from breakfast)
paper wrapper for steak
communal:
3 newspaper plastic wrappers
rotten sweet potato
old half potato

Recycling

personal:
mom:
communal:
2 papers
plastic milk bottle

Transportation

personal:
mom:
communal:
drive to electronics store 2 miles
drive to restaurant 4 miles

Non food shopping

personal:
mom:
phone for Little Sister’s family
communal:

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