[Part 3 of the Getting Green Done book review]
In Getting Green Done, Schendler makes a confession: a lot of enviros drive him batshit.
As Aspen Skiing Company’s Executive Director of Sustainability, Schendler sometimes gets calls like this:
“I wanted to talk with you about your season passes. Is there a way to recycle those?”
We’re talking about pieces of plastic the size of a credit card here. Or sometimes the caller will say: “Can you make them out of corn?” (p.33)
Folks like this probably believe they’re thinking globally, acting locally, but they’re missing the point. Here’s what he tells them:
“If you are focusing on season passes, you are missing the bigger picture. In fact, by focusing on the small and irrelevant, you’re not just taking your eye off the ball, you’re doing active harm to the environmental movement. Because you’ve become distracted from what really matters.” (p.33)
What these folks lack is what I call a Movement Perspective. They don’t think strategically. They aren’t asking, given that we only have so many brain cells and resources available at any one time, how do we get the best Green bang for our attention/action buck?
They also aren’t thinking about the scale it takes to win.
Meaningful action recognizes the scale of the climate problem and response at scale. We’re simply not going to solve climate change by asking motivated individuals to drive Priuses, install solar panels, or replace their old refrigerators… The actions they’re capable of are ultimately insignificant, even if every single one maxes out their opportunities…
What matters less is what you personally do to cut emissions; what matters more is ensuring that everyone on the planet is also doing what you do. Both actions are meaningful, but the bigger picture is more important and should be our primary focus… Unfortunately, many of us see personal measures as an endpoint. (p.35)
The other problem with season pass enviros is that they’re often so smug and self-righteous that they “may very well be turning off more people than [they are] converting.” Take the anti-SUV sticker campaign. It drives Schendler nuts, because where he lives,
most people who drive an SUV, even in the city, probably consider themselves to be outdoors people. And outdoors people are often environmentalists… You may not like driving behind the guy in the Land Cruiser on I-80, but he’s probably voting for open space in his community, supporting wilderness bills, and contributing to the Sierra Club. With a little prodding, he might support even more radical environmental measures. Same with the woman in the Winnebago. But slap a stealth climate change sticker on the bumper, and you’ve radicalized them. Now they hate “environmentalists” and begin to define themselves as something else. (pp. 37-38)
Turning down your thermostat so you’re a bit colder but you reduce greenhouse gas emissions is one thing. But giving up the self-righteous pleasure that comes with it? For some folks, that’s a much bigger sacrifice.
A Movement Perspective acts as a counterweight to those feelings. It reminds us is that people power requires lots of people. If you don’t win over enough people, you don’t win. And for some strange reason, most people don’t like being told, I am better than you, you should be like me (unless you are really hot, in which case you may get a pass).
A Movement Perspective doesn’t require that you give up the small pleasures of feeling superior that come with making change. Change is hard, and if we all had to just feel virtuous feelings when we were doing good things, nothing would ever get better. But wearing those feelings on your sleeve is not a recipe for success.
Stepping back, looking at the bigger picture, and forcing yourself to ask not what the most personally satisfying or most comfortable act we can take but what’s the most effective action — that’s what the Movement Perspective is all about.
Up next: business, government, and going green