In Defense of Sympathy for Change

One thing I don’t like about “going green” being trendy is the insecurity and coping strategy of “holier than thou”ness that goes along with it.

This article, called “It’s Inconvenient Being Green,” was written in last November’s Time about “eco-anxiety,” apparently diagnosed as an actual mental condition (dubious, but it makes a point).

Living has an impact on the planet, and Americans are famous for having 20 times the impact on the planet than the rest of the world. Driving is part of our culture, shopping bags are part of our culture, and landfills are part of our culture.

We’re figuring out how to change our culture. There will be the unbelievers who will dig in their heels. Most people, though, can be changed with a little persuasion.

In my view, it does not help to accuse. Most cultures on the planet buy things, and consuming “green” has been found to unearth an emotional struggle in a 2007 study performed by the University of Leeds and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. Says Dr. William Young, “Consumers find that being green or ethical is a very hard, time consuming, and emotional experience.”

Ironically, shopping at my neighborhood co-op is much more uncomfortable for me than shopping at Cub. I walk to the co-op and bring my own bags, and I bring my soap dispensers to buy soap in bulk… so why do I feel so out of place? Sometimes when I’m at my co-op, I feel like apologizing for breathing air and eating food.

So, this is a plea to fellow environmentalists – be nice. It’s the best way to win people over to your cause.

As the Guardian suggested earlier this year, “green finger-wagging killjoys would be better off directing their efforts at big business.”

So – to end on an optimistic note – keep on living greener. If you are a decision maker at a business, consider suggesting or implementing process changes to pollute less and save more resources. The small stuff adds up, and the more you do, the more you will inspire others. Save the activism for the public sphere, and be gentle to your fellow person.

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