Monday, January 14, 2008

Why hasn't everybody turned green yet? (Part 1)

You'd think every one of us would have turned at least light green by now, wouldn't you? So why haven't we?

Is it that despite all the publicity about climate change, peak oil and environmental crisis there are still lots of people who still have not realized that the human species is wrecking the planet it lives on, endangering its own survival and that of many other life forms?

Is that they have heard about it but they are assuming that someone else – the Government, the technological experts, the United Nations, God – will fix all the problems?

Is it that they know about the problems and know that nobody else is going to fix them but the whole thing is so big and awful to contemplate that they stick their heads in the sand and pretend it is just not true?

Is it that they know about the problems and that nobody else is going to fix them and have decided that since the problems are unfixable and everything is going down the tube anyway they may as well just have a good time and to hell with tomorrow?

I suppose the answer to my question is 'all of the above'.

It would be surprising if there really was anybody left in total ignorance of the environmental crisis since the media are full of stories about it these days. But your average daily newspaper is quite likely to run a story about global warming, another about some species of furry creature that has just joined the endangered species list and a third about how disappointed the retailers are because the Christmas sales figures were down a notch. And not a word about the deep connection between these three stories. No joining of the dots.

A neighbour sitting near me on the bus the other day was loudly lamenting the closure of yet another little local food store. And even as she did so, she was clutching on her lap a plastic bag full of food from the supermarket she had just been shopping at. A highly intelligent woman, but obviously not good at joining dots.

I think this is one of the main reasons why there are so many people who have not yet turned green. It is not that they don't know about the problems our species is facing. It is not that they are in denial. It is not that they know but don't care. It is that they haven't really joined all the dots together yet. They have not really got it that it is we ordinary folk who hold in our hands the power to change things, to live differently, to turn green and to create a new, sustainable way of life for everyone on the planet before it is too late.

The newspapers and radio and TV programs are not going to join the dots for us because their existence depends on our continuing to buy stuff from the companies whose advertising keeps them in business. We have to do our own dot-joining.

So why don't we do more of it, and faster? I have some thoughts about that, too. Watch for the next post.

Meanwhile, if you haven't yet seen that wonderful little video
'The Story of Stuff', click on the title to do so.


Anne O said...

Hi Marian

You pose an interesting question. How come we don't connect the dots?

I live with my son, daughter-in-law, and two grandsons. I'm retired, I have a small amount of money and lots of time to read and think and connect up dots. My family however have two full-time jobs, two kids, very little time and just barely enough money to make ends meet. They're pretty aware and concerned and I know they would Do The Right Thing if they could.

We've reduced a lot of our buying habits and we shop as locally as we can afford. We're in the process of "greening" our grocery-buying habits but it's a real struggle. We have a big discount supermarket a block away and it is so cheap and easy to shop there, even though we know that's Evil. But in the frenetic lifestyles so many people are forced to live just to stay afloat, it's like swimming against Niagara Falls to Do The Right Thing.

Some of us are trying, but I have a lot of compassion for my family who are trapped in this machine we call western culture, just trying to get by. Lots of folks have so much on their plate just doing the daily living thing that they keep their heads down and try not to look at the Bigger Problems, because if they did then they would have to act and right now all their energy is tied up in daily living, and they don't even want to think about where they're going to get the energy for anything more than that.

The people who are in a position to know better and act on it are mostly reduced to silence by being enmeshed in our culture. Don't bite the hand that signs the pay cheque or the investment dividend. A belief that if we just keep society ticking along a little longer maybe someone somewhere will come up with a fix that ain't goin' to cost me...

I took a look at that website you suggested and it looks like a really good idea, but just finding the time to sit down and watch the whole thing, never mind act on it, is kind of hard for people in my family's position.

It's very frustrating.

Elderwoman said...

You're absolutely right, Anne. Millions of people feel trapped by the system, in exactly the ways you describe.
What's even sadder is that when it comes to the end of the working day and they are too exhausted to do anything else, most of them flop down in front of the TV and, in their psychically weakened state, absorb yet another dose of brainwashing that tells them they need more 'stuff'. It is the most vicious of all vicious circles.

willow said...

A great post (and I love the picture you chose to go with it)about this very frustrating situation.

As Anne said in the first comment, there are many people who would like to do more but find their circumstances don't allow it. Unfortunately I think there are even more people who could do more but choose not to, people who could afford to buy local food but prefer to spend less on food so they can spend more on more "stuff", people with an adequate quantity of clothes who still buy more for the thrill of something new, etc.etc.

I remember reading about a report about attitudes to green living, I can't remember all the details but I do remember that the authors sub-titled the report "I will if you will". They found that people were reluctant to make changes in their own lifestyle while their friends and neighbours did not even though they understood that such changes were neccesary. Why should they buy a small car and holiday locally while their neighbours drove a huge car and went on two foreign holidays a year?

Perhaps the way green lifestyle changes are presented makes them sound like deprivation rather than a positive thing to do. Once the "tipping point" is reached and there are enough people being green (not neccesarily a majority, just enough to be visible) then I think things may change rapidly. I don't know what can be done to reach the tipping point but I have a horrible feeling that it will take some sort of huge environmental catatrophe.

I am looking forward to your future posts on this.

Carolyn H said...

Another example of not joining the dots: it's been abnormally warm here in PA this January. And yet virtually every lead-in to the weather news starts with the anchors talking about how "nice" the weather is and how they are enjoying the warm weather. Hello! Warm weather in January is not "nice." It's abnormal, and if more people and news anchors treated it as abnormal, perhaps more would start to connect the dots.

Carolyn H.

Elderwoman said...

Willow, I agree that "...the way green lifestyle changes are presented makes them sound like deprivation rather than a positive thing to do."
Sadly that's often true, especially as regards TV and radio programs - many of which are doubtless made by people who are not very 'green' themselves. On the other hand, books, such as my own 'Lilypad List: 7 steps to the simple life', Duane Elgin's classic 'Voluntary Simplicity' and many others in the simplicity genre, written by people who have personally 'downsized', simplified and backed away from the consumer culture, ALL stress the rewards and pleasures, the happiness and delight that come as a result. That 'delight factor' shines through blogs like yours, too.
The trouble is, more people watch TV than read 'green' books and blogs. And as Carolyn's example illustrates nicely, TV presenters are not doing the kind of dot-joining that's needed.

Rhea said...

The Story of Stuff is really good. I just watched it a few weeks ago. There was a 60 Minutes (I think) program on the glaciers melting, etc. Who can possibly deny what's going on?

TheElementary said...

This is a wonderful blog- you're so thoughtful in your words.
People don't connect the dots because somebody else will do that for them, they hope. And in the meantime, as the seconds tick away, there's less chance of redeeming ourselves on this planet.