To Go Green, We Must Hope (Not Just Fear)

In a post called Obama and the Vision Thing, green business expert Joel Makower makes a great point:

For decades, environmental leaders in business, activism, and
government have expressed frustration that the public isn't behind
them, except in disappointingly small numbers, despite a litany of
increasingly dire environmental problems. These same leaders express
bewilderment at the painfully slow uptake of green products and
personal habits, from buying organics to recycling to energy
conservation. Even when people understand the issues and consequences
of everyday actions — the direct relationship between inefficient light
bulbs and the threat of global climate change, for example — they
usually fail to act.

We've long known that fear is a limited motivator. Think of how
persuasion has changed. A generation ago, we were told by advertisers
to worry about ring around the collar, iron-poor blood, waxy yellow buildup, and the heartbreak of psoriasis.
Madison Avenue believed that driving fear into the hearts and minds of
the public would unleash a wealth of sales and profits. No longer.
Today, profits come from imbuing visions of sexual appeal, personal
freedom, and a life without worry. Those positive images are the ones
that inspire people to take action and, for better or worse, make
choices in the marketplace.

What is the positive image of "green" that will inspire a nation —
indeed, the world — to transform itself in the way that Obama and
others are hoping: that create jobs, build economic opportunities,
engender energy independence, attack climate change, improve public
health, reduce environmental degradation, and ensure national security?

As it happens, I recently interviewed Andy Lipkis for Grist, and he brought up some of the happy consequences of change…and how kids can make it possible with relative ease. 

We were hired to help design and launch the Los Angeles recycling
program by the city, but I don't think the authorities thought it would
work. They planned to build a train line to take it to the desert.

It's part of the same myth that says that people won't conserve,
that they won't change. Many changes are possible without diminishing
our quality of life at all. We've seen that with recycling, and we
could do the same thing with transportation. Would it be fun to have
family outings on the bus once a week? If you want to implement a
change, talk to kids. Kids can do things quickly, that don't require a
lot of capital. Politicians cannot mandate lifestyle changes. But kids
can help attract people to the idea of change rapidly and positively
without a great upheaval.

But the fact that some activists can see the attractive aspects of change doesn't mean Makower is wrong. Far from it. We must see — and show — the good in change, and not just fear the consequences of inaction, even if, as our new Energy Secretary said this week, "We are on a path that scares me."

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