By Tyler Paziuk, Green Action Centre volunteer
Chances are pretty good that if you’re reading this, you already recognize that we’re dealing with a pretty delicate planet and finite resources. You’re already taking small steps to reduce your footprint. Thankfully, preaching to the converted is one of my favourite hobbies. Why? Because talking about environmental issues with the unreformed can be a frustrating and demoralizing process. At least that has been my experience.
For instance, when I first became a vegetarian I was so excited about how good I felt – physically and morally – that I told everyone that they should take the leap too: “You’re going to feel great, lighter, less bogged down.” But did any of my friends make the switch? Nope. Not a one. It wasn’t too long before I gave up talking about it.
I once worked at a place that didn’t recycle. I was shocked. In my first couple of weeks, I set up a box next the garbage barrel and wrote “Recycling” on it. I even drew a really shabby recycling symbol on the side. To my delight, a few people actually bought in – I mean, it’s recycling, right? We’ve been doing it at home for twenty years! But then one day I was sick. While I was away someone threw out the recycle bin. I was told afterwards that it was taking up too much space. I gave up. It was just too painful to face the uphill battle.
It would seem there is no way to convince anyone to change their behaviour, no matter how logical the reasons. If it affects the bottom line, if it’s less convenient than what they’re used to, if it takes any effort at all, it just doesn’t happen. And here’s the key: it’s especially unlikely if someone tells them to do it, if they are made to feel guilty about it. See, these methods of influencing behaviour are antiquated. People don’t like being told what to do. They resent the guilt you’re suggesting they should feel. They may even act in an eco-unfriendly manner just to spite you. I’ve seen it happen.
No, you cannot convince others. Because as much as these are global issues, our reactions to them are entirely personal. I chose to stop eating meat not because someone told me I should, but because I sought out the information and came to my own conclusions about how I was going to proceed. When I have access to a vehicle, I make an effort to limit my idling time. I don’t do this because someone told me that it’s the right thing to do, but rather because I personally believe it to be the right thing to do. I recycle, well, because after twenty years of blue boxes, not recycling just feels weird.
So, what do you do? Nothing? No. You lead by example. You ride your bike and take the bus just like you already do. You buy local and organic when you can afford it. You recycle what’s recyclable. You compost what’s compostable. You do as many of the super interesting things promoted by Green Action Centre and like-minded organizations as you can.
And here’s the trick: Inevitably someone will ask, with legitimate and sincere intrigue, why you do this or that thing. That’s your opening. That’s the opportunity to present brief, factual information from credible sources in a polite and non-judgmental manner. And then you leave it at that. If they buy in, they’ll do so independently of you. Every decision is a lot more profound and a lot more likely to stick if it feels like you came to it on your own.
But far be it from me to tell you what to do.