Resolutions

Ah… a fresh new year, a new decade even. Around this time I always find myself reflecting on the year that passed. My 5-year old son and I actually took our 2010 family calendar down from the fridge this afternoon (the one that is scribbled and scratched upon beyond recognition), and paged through it month by month, remembering the events of the year. Some of it was not so great (such as a hospital stay for my daughter last January for pneumonia) and some of it was wonderful (such as our family vacation to Waterton). I think it helped him better understand the passage of time and the seasons.

With reflection comes resolution for the year ahead. This year – it just feels different. Instead of making my typical resolutions like “exercise more” I am making resolutions that I am really excited to do, not just what I should do. Somehow making resolutions that are less about myself, and more about the world I live in, is way more motivating. Here is what I have come up with:

Resolve to LEARN:
1. How to compost my food and garden waste
2. How to make natural cosmetics and soaps
3. How to make natural household cleaners
4. How to grow a vegetable garden

Resolve to DO:
5. Reduce kilometres traveled in my vehicle
6. Reduce spending on brand new items
7. Track and reduce all energy and water use
8. Become more political

Resolve to WRITE:
9. New weekly series called “Foodie Fridays” – each post will be about eco-food choices and recipes. I decided to do this because it seems like many of the green changes that I am making right now come back to food. Food definitely has its own footprint, both on the planet and on our health. So let’s try to minimize the former while maximizing the latter!

10.  New bi-weekly series called “Letters to Leaders” – each post will be in the form of a letter that I will write and send to either a politician, or a leader of a company. The purpose of this is to lend my voice in a rational and open way, to hopefully engage these people to consider alternatives. I want to start discussions, I want people to take me seriously and I want to share what I am doing with you.

This list beats “exercise more”. Totally beats it! I will inherently be exercising more due to resolution #5, which will undoubtedly involve more walking. This list is so exciting for me, because I will be learning new things and doing new things, and adding my voice to where it is desperately needed. Knowing that I may do some good, not for myself but for others and for our fragile climate, is so much more motivating. I feel more connected, engaged, alive.

Happy New Year.

Make a Change

The reason I started this blog was for my children. I was scared and fearful of their future, and did not know what to do. I felt helpless and powerless. How can one person make a difference? The situation seemed hopeless.

Then I realized that I had no right to feel that – my children and all future generations deserved better. I did not know the impact I could have on the climate change issue, but I did know that I could add my voice to it. I had to try.

So I started making some changes. Things I did for 15 years one way, I now do differently. It is actually fun, to shake it up a bit, add variety to the ol’ routine. It is interesting to see how easy it is once you take the plunge, making some big, and some little, changes. I am just a regular city mama, making green changes day-by-day. Next year I will step it up a notch and become more political too. To quote MJ:

“If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change”.

I love that song; it has such a powerful message.

The change today – a brand new blog header! What do you think? I am so proud of it, as did it all myself using (if you can believe it) the drawing tools in excel. It is inspired by my children, and how I hope we will change in time to leave them a beautiful planet.

Green Team

Okay… um, I think I just suggested that I would set up a greening office program at work for an office of about 800 employees. Ya. Also, I did it in my written performance review. I just blurted it out at the very end and then sent it off to my boss before I could change my mind. Say whaaat?

I am not sure what his reaction will be. I hope he shares it with his boss, and that together, they think it is a good idea. Worst case scenario – they think I am a nut.

What business do I have with this idea? I am an accountant, I work in Finance, I work with numbers and excel all day long. I am not HR or Communications or Facilities Management or anything like that. I don’t even really know anyone in these departments.

I was actually inspired by Bill Gerlach of the New Pursuit. He started a grassroots movement at work to green the office. When I read about what he had done, it hit me. Why can’t I do that too? I am looking for things to DO. I want to HELP. I am greening my life, but what else? What else what else what else? I know! Green the office!

Here is a little known secret. Back in the day, when I was a mere 19 years old, I worked for Environment Canada as a co-op student. I was on the “green team” which was mostly comprised of other students. It was organized by the internal communication managers, and we were the grunt labour. We posted green “did you know” facts inside bathroom stalls (these were mostly annoying), we took away everyone’s garbage can and replaced it with 1) a recycle bin 2) a tiny garbage can that could sit on your desk and 3) a compost keeper. Then we set up worm composting in the office. Worm composting! This was 1996 people! The worms were so popular that we had to go from 2 bins to 4 and then eventually to 8 bins, to manage our office organic waste.

So I have some experience in this area I suppose. I remember that the Finance department was mad that we took away their garbage cans, so some people brought in big ones from home. C’mon people – roll with it! It was only the accountants that took issue though, which was good. I would have a bigger problem with people who study fish and wildlife rejecting the transition. But hey – now I am an accountant and look at me! I want to start a green team all on my own!

I will keep you posted on developments. I say there is a 50/50 chance of “brilliant idea Sherry” and “Um…no”.

Tipping Point

Review of the Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell
This book discusses the phenomenon of social epidemics – how they are started, how they take off, and how they reach the tipping point so that they are subscribed to by the majority. Malcolm Gladwell suggests that there are 3 laws that work together to create an epidemic:

1) Law of the few – there three groups of exceptional people out there, 1) ones who are interconnected (Connectors), 2) ones who have lots of information and love sharing that information (Mavens) and 3) ones who are very good at convincing others (Salesmen). These people are vital to the transmission of a new idea. For a new idea to take off, you need groups of these people on board.

New ideas are adopted at different rates by different people. He categorizes people as follows:
• Innovators
• Early Adopters
• Early Majority
• Late Majority
• Laggards

Innovators and early adopters are visionaries and risk takers. They may be the “cool kids”, they may be activists. Many ideas fail to take off because they cannot be translated from this eclectic group to the mainstream of the early majority. You need those special people – Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen – to translate the radical ideas that have been embraced by the innovators, and tweak them and repackage them in a way that the majority can understand. Not only do these special people transmit the message, they send it in the language of the majority.

2) Law of Stickiness – the idea has to be memorable and resonate with people. It has to appeal to them on a deeper level. This can be done by “tinkering, on the margin, with the presentation of the idea” (pg 131), and packaging it in such a way to make it irresistible.

3) Law of Context – the situation surrounding a new idea has an impact on whether it will take hold. Ideas hold better in smaller community groups, preferably under 150 people, where everyone knows everyone else. “In order to create on contagious movement, you have to create many small movements first” (pg 192). Also, people are better at looking at complex thoughts when rephrased in the social context. Finally, a new idea will not take hold until the environment is ripe for that idea to take hold.

“Starting an epidemic requires concentrating resources on a few key resources” (pg 255) because small changes to who is delivering the message, how the message is framed, and the context surrounding the message can have a large impact on the success of adoption by the majority. Small changes on the margin are important.

In the end, you must have a belief that people can radically change, with the right kind of impetus.

Application to Climate Change
So can we apply these principals to create a social epidemic relating to action on climate change?

1) Exceptional People
First of all we need those Connectors, Mavens and Salespeople on our side. These are the exceptional people that rapidly translate ideas in a way that the majority can understand. If you are not one of these people, then you must find them, or hope that your message finds them so that they can pass it on. I have often thought that involving celebrity culture may be the ticket, since so much of North America is drawn into that. However, we all know people who know a lot of other people, who are connected, or are natural sales people. If they embrace our message, there is no telling what could happen.

2) A Sticky Message
The environmental dilemma is in itself, is a very sticky idea, as we are talking about the survival of life here on our planet. However, many people either believe that:
• The idea of climate change is a hoax
• There is nothing they can do about it anyway (what difference can one person make)
• If they don’t think about it, then they can convince themselves that it is not real.

How can you increase the stickiness of the idea for these people? For those that think it is a hoax, I am not sure what will change their mind. They probably will only listen and consider information from sources close to them that they trust. This may or may not be you.

For those who think the problem is too big and they will have no impact, remind them that all they have to do is openly live a lower impact life, with less carbon, less garbage, less consumption. Their family and friends will take notice, some will be inspired. The ripple will continue. People who are in denial might start to question themselves, when they see a friend making environmental changes. Also, everyone can vote with the environment as their number one issue. You can send letters to politicians, emails even. We can engage in the political process more than every 4 years people!

Some people may want to do these things, but then not follow through. They are busy and care about other things that have more of their immediate attention, such as providing for their families, and managing their jobs.

But a lot of this stuff is not more work. It is simply making different choices. Stickiness would be increased by showcasing how easy it is.

The idea must also include the human condition, and more personally, how it will impact your family, your children. It must include the message that we must do it for the children. What mother or father or grandparent does not want to secure a sustainable future for their children? This is very sticky indeed.

The idea must be phrased to include some humor. The humor draws people in, so that they can be entertained while being informed. Doom and gloom will probably not draw them in. Most of the people we want to draw in know about the doom and gloom, but are in denial. So lighten it up a bit.

Framing the idea around high tech solutions for use by the everyday person will also increase stickiness among the younger generation. This could include personal applications or devices that they could use to monitor or reduce their carbon footprint, their water footprint, their garbage footprint, their plastic footprint…

The idea has to include urgency, as we really don’t have much more time to wait. Everyone is aware of the problem, but most don’t really know the severity and how much little time left we really do have.

The idea must resonate with hope. Without hope, there is no impetus for change. We have to be optimistic.

3) Context Ripe for Change
Are we finally ready to change? That is the big question. We were definitely not ready 10 years ago. Now however, it seems like there is daily news on developments and setbacks related to the environment, so the information is out there. Most North Americans probably don’t want to change their heavily consumptive lifestyles, but might be willing to buy a hybrid car next time, just to follow a trend. They might live in a large house and commute a long time in a car to work, but would be willing to support caps on emissions as long as it did not reduce jobs. Or would they?

It really comes down to this – whether people individually believe that a vote for the environment will negatively affect the current economic condition in their own family. Some people don’t believe that it will – that we can make up for the downturn in fossil fuels by an increase in green collar jobs. Some people think it will impact the economy and don’t care, they will vote for the environment because they see the bigger picture. Others will never give up something of theirs for the greater good. They especially won’t do this if they don’t believe in climate change.

Let’s face it – people are scared of the impact the environment is going to have on jobs. It is hard for people to get their minds wrapped around what a green economy would look like. People are scared, so they just say no.

Maybe they have to be more scared about climate change than about economic change for this thing to work. However we have already been told that the “doom and gloom” tactics don’t work. So what to do?

In short, we have to assume the context is ripe for change, as we really don’t have much more time to wait.

What caused me to change? It was a sequence of exposures to the idea, over and over, that caused me to get to my tipping point. The ideas became stickier with each repetition. I watched a few documentaries on the idea, and that got me voting for the Green Party. However, I did not really change the way I was living or talk too much about it with other people or engage in political discussions. Then I read the book, Now or Never by Tim Flannery which really had an impact on me and forever changed how I see this issue. However, I am not sure that I would have tipped if I did not have children; that was my context. The future scares me. I love my children so deeply that I felt that I had no choice but to try and do my part to make the Earth a good place for them to live.

Conclusion
I believe that the only way people who are not yet convinced to join us early adopters, is to hear it from us directly. They probably won’t listen to the next documentary, or listen to the next news issue on the environment. They will probably change the channel because they don’t believe it, don’t want to believe it, or don’t believe they can make a difference anyway.
They may listen to their neighbour though, or see what their co-worker is doing and take pause. They might hear their daughter talking about it over Christmas dinner, and what was at first dismissed, is now mulled over with deeper reflection. If they have young children or grandchildren, they might stop for a minute and think about the world they will be inheriting.

That is why we all need to deliver a sticky message. We all need to provide it through living as an example. As Gandhi said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world”. We must deliver our message with sincerity, with humour, with urgency and yes, with hope.

Imagine

This week it was 30 years since John Lennon died. When I think of John Lennon, I always come back to the song Imagine. This song was actually my grade 12 graduation song. When it was chosen I remembered being puzzled. What does this song have to do with new beginnings, starting our lives? Huh?

Well now I get it. It is a song about hope, love and human kind. It asks us to reframe our thinking, so that maybe we can see our world as one. It basically tells us to take down all the barriers that set us apart, and then take another look.

We are so set in our ways and caught up in our lives that we forget to pause every so often and take this look. We know in the back of our minds that there are bad things in the world. There are wars, desperate poverty, hungry children… There is the threat of climate change, which will harm these vulnerable people more than it will harm us in the western world. But these thoughts stay back there because it is just too depressing to think of them that much. We just go on with our lives. What can we really do about it anyway?

For me I always think about the children – the ones around the world, but also mine. What does their future look like?

What can I do to make it better?

What?

Well I can start by imagining their future and holding on to hope.

Here is the last bit of lyrics from John Lennon’s song:

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

Amen to that.

Green, Friend?

I am feeling weary.  I might be hitting a wall.  I am so excited to keep making all these green changes in my life, but, I kinda feel all alone.  I want a green friend.

 In short, it is not easy being green (I couldn’t resist):

Seriously though, I have been unsuccessful in even finding another blogger who is doing what I am doing, feeling what I am feeling.  Most environmental blogs that I see are all new-sy, bringing us the latest developments in green energy, green tech, green politics.  There is very little in the way of green living, day by day, and the challenges involved.  Perhaps those bloggers are out there, but I have not found them yet.

 The hardest part has not been air drying the laundry or turning down the thermostat (I am actually getting used to the chill now!) or any of the other green changes that I have been making.  It has been the feeling alone part.  When I go out into the world I see all the consumerism and idling cars and lunch garbage.  All these people obviously don’t feel the same way that I do.  I despair that being alone in this process means that we have such an uphill climb ahead of us.  What if we are not able to all do this thing, change, and save ourselves?

 What if people are too selfish?

 In the end, it must be the love we have for each other that will propel us to change.  There will be no other way.  We must find the love in our hearts, to act to save each other and future generations.  It will take community building on a massive scale.  It will take the coming together of the entire world, all acting for the common good to get this thing done.  We have never seen this before in the history of humankind.  Can we even do it?  Is it even possible? 

 Achieving this, I believe, will signal a new level of human advancement. 

 Won’t it be amazing?

 We are the world
We are the children
We are the ones to make a brighter day
So let’s start giving

 

Look what this group of people did together for Haiti:

This stuff brings tears to my eyes everytime.  There are good people in the world, we do love each other.  We must hold on to hope.