Let Them Know

You might have a concern for the environment. It may just be a niggling concern, a bother really, something in the back of your mind that can’t quite get rid of, can’t quite shake. It might be a deeper concern, but you have trouble making the connection between your actions and action on climate change. What can one person do, after all? Or you might have a full out concern, combined with a fear and desperation, for the world to change. So much so that you might decide to start changing that which you can control – yourself.

We all make individual choices how we live our individual lives. But we take cues from others, from society. As a result, most of us don’t do things that are considered really taboo, and we generally all act within agreed upon moral and ethical guidelines. We tend to do what those around us do – what we have learned from our family, our friends, from media and society. We start out doing things a certain way, and for the most part, we don’t change unless something pushes us. We like our habits.

Sometimes we do change our habits due to cost, hassle or convenience. But normally, it takes a lot for us to bother to change. We don’t even realize this. We don’t even think about it. We just do the things we have always done.

For some of us though, one day we suddenly “wake up”. One day we learn a bit more about the environment and climate change, and that adds to body of knowledge we held on the subject before, and before we know it, the scales have tipped. We can no longer ignore it. We can no longer rationalize being a bystander. We finally see the cold hard reality for what it is, and simultaneously, see our part in it. In that moment, we discover within ourselves – something new. We discover that the responsibility for changing the world starts with us, with our actions, and that as individuals we have a role to play. We discover that we are compelled to act.

And so, we change.

It starts small, with the little changes, and then grows bigger. Day by day, we discover new ways to change, new habits to form. We find ourselves considering in every decision – what would be best for the environment, for climate change?

At least, this is how it happened to me. But I am sure it is how it happened to you too, at least somewhat (unless you grew up as a hippy child where these kinds of things were already the norm from the start!). You would not be here, reading this, if you did not have at least some interest in being green.

So we want to change our habits, we want to change the world, make it a better place. Now what?

Well our changes are magnified ten fold, when we let others in on them. When non-greenies observe a greenie doing things that they themselves do not do, sometimes the non-greenies pause and reflect. It adds to their body of knowledge on the environment. Perhaps they think “wow, I cannot believe she does that, she must really have a concern for climate change or something. Why is she so worried about it? Should I be worried about it? Maybe I should…”

Our actions will have more of an impact, if they inspire others to change as well. We want to create a ripple effect. We want to be part of the bits and pieces in people’s lives that get them to stop and reconsider. We want to not only change ourselves, but be a catalyst for change in others. 

So when you do something green, let them know.

There is a fine line to walk here. Do not preach. Let them know through your actions, not words. If you must use words, just describe what you do, and then stop there. Don’t get into why everyone should do it, or why they should consider doing it. Nobody likes being told what to do. We don’t want to turn people off; we want to bring them in.

In doing so we discover that do not live our lives in isolation, and we start to notice all the little (and big) connections we have with others. No matter the connection, where you can, and when it makes sense to do so, try gently letting them know.

For example, when somebody asks me about where I park downtown, or how long my commute is, I tell them “oh I take the bus to work so I don’t need parking, I find it much more relaxing than driving and am trying to be more mindful of my carbon footprint.”

I just let them know.

When I meet someone at a coffee shop, I always get a ceramic mug or bring my own. I don’t say anything. If they ask me why I did not get one “to go”, I just say that I am trying to reduce my garbage where I can.

Let them know.

When somebody starts talking about grocery shopping and asks me where I go for the best prices, I tell them that I try to shop mostly at Farmer’s Markets when I can, because I really enjoy eating local and plus it is fun to talk to the farmer that grew your food.

Let them know.

When a server at a restaurant asks if I would like my leftovers wrapped up, I ask her if she could put it in my reusable container if that is okay, it is just that I swore off Styrofoam and I am trying to reduce my garbage where I can.

Let them know.

When I come out of a public bathroom with wet hands and my girlfriend looks at me funny, I just say that I saw the paper napkin delivery at my office building one day, and was shocked at how many pallets were used for only one week! Ever since then I feel guilty using one or something, it is weird. So, I just shake off my hands instead, or fluff my hair, or just swipe them on the back of my pants. Easy peasy.

Let them know.

When discussing the chore of laundry with other moms, I tell them that the one good thing is how they smell when you hang them to dry outside. Plus it is nice to get outside for just a few minutes, and be alone with your thoughts, listening to the birds sing as you hang wet clothes. It is amazing how much electricity a dryer uses; I can see a marked decrease on my bill. Who doesn’t like saving money?

Just let them know.

I have a saying at the bottom of my work email. I wondered at first, if I should put it there. What would people think? But I was compelled to act, compelled to share my views in a small way, in a hopefully intriguing way. I wanted to be that person that stood up for change. I wanted to be that person that didn’t hide. So at the end of every email it reads:

You must be the change you want to see in the world.” – Gandhi

Let them know.

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Greeny Blues

Do you ever feel like being green makes you blue?

When I first started out on this green journey 7 months ago, I felt powerless and alone. What a massive problem – what can my tiny voice do? I am just a regular mom. How is changing my actions going to affect anything? I am just one person among billions.

Then I found a community of like minded people, first with fellow bloggers, then among family and friends. I needed to try, to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. I committed to change my ways.

This propelled me for several months. It was exciting! I was changing my lifestyle left, right and centre. Lights off, laundry hung up to dry, heat turned down, no more plastic bags, no more food in boxes, more bus rides, less mall shopping, more local shopping, more farmer’s markets, no new clothes, more gently used clothes, no more Styrofoam, no more paper napkins, way less food waste…

And then finally – I built myself a real vegetable garden to call my own.

It was fun. I did things one way for a decade, then bam I changed it all up. It threw my husband for a loop – why all the change?  He thought I was crazy. But for me it felt really good, I was doing something about this problem called climate change. I didn’t feel powerless anymore. I had a purpose. I had a reason for my actions. This was incredibly fulfilling.

However along the way I also learned a lot more about the state of our little planet Earth, this small marble of life in a Universe so vast…

The Earth flag is not an official flag, since ...

Image via Wikipedia

I learned that we need to be really scared about the future. I learned that there are great political, social and economic forces against the reduction of CO2, forces so strong, and so well-funded, and so engrained in our very culture. These forces happen to be also very good at spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt about the science of climate change.

I also learned that we don’t have much more time. I learned that our window for turning things around is not measured in decades, but in mere years.

We only have a few years to change.

On one hand I am defiantly hopeful, that there will be enough of us on the good side, on the side that chooses life and sustainability, over convenience and consumerism. That more and more people will figure out what I figured out 7 months ago, and make changes, and inspire others to make changes, who will inspire others, and this whole thing will tip, so that more of us want to do something about it than don’t want to do something, that more of us will look beyond the borders of our little lives and realize that we are part of something bigger, something magnificent and fantastic and we will collectively realize the power we have to change. We will act for each other, for our children and our children’s children. We will act for humanity itself.

On the other hand I am scared. What if enough people don’t join in? What if the governments of the world take just a bit too long to act? What if we keep burning and burning oil, putting more C02 into the sky, and don’t stop before it is too late? We all know that the oil is going to run out one day, and we will have to transition to something else. What if we don’t make that transition when there is still a world worth saving?

Hence, the blues.

Have you ever just cried … for the world? Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed about it all, and it saddens me so deeply and greatly, that I just cry. I cry for the children. I cry for their future.

Am I crazy?

I want to do more, I resolve to do more, I have long lists of things that I want to accomplish, letters to write, actions to take, committees to join. But I struggle. Being a busy working mom, there is just not enough time in each day to do all that I want to do. My minutes feel like tiny raindrops of gold, so precious, so few, so easily lost.

How will I live this life? How will I make a difference? How will I contribute to this groundswell of people now growing steadily, of those committed to living green, spreading green and building a sustainable world for our children? Imagine being a part of something so amazing and magnificent? Imagine being part of the movement that ushered in the solution, in the face of the greatest problem to ever face humanity? I know the stakes are high and the hour is late, I just need to find time between doing the laundry and doing the dishes to pitch in.

Plus I look around me, and everywhere I go, there are constant reminders of how far we need to go to turn this thing around. Pick a category: Food. Transport. Consumerism. Energy. Economy. It all has to change – radically.

We will get there. We have to. The enormity of it all though, has this greenie feelin’ a bit blue.

Economics of Happiness

 Last week I attended a screening of the Economics of Happiness. The film is about how our current mode of life in the West is unsustainable and is not making us any happier. In fact, we are more overworked and stressed out than ever before. We are disconnected from our communities and from our natural world and whether we realize it or not, we need these connections to feel happy and fulfilled.

The root cause of all this disconnection? The movie claims it is due to our highly consumptive lifestyle where we define the sense of ourselves within the image of this consumption – I am defined by the car I drive or the house I live in, by the designer clothes I wear, the furniture in my house and the smart-ness of my phone. What if instead – we were defined by our place in our local communities, our families, our contributions and joy that we bring each other? What if we saw ourselves as part of nature, and realized that we are nature? Right now we are so disconnected from nature and from each other that it’s making us lonely and sad.

What is driving this consumerism and disconnection? The movie claims that it is big companies, big banks, big media. We are increasingly homogeneous on this planet of ours, as we all feed into the same images of beauty, wealth, affluence, success. Local customs, cultures, even languages, are being lost to the Western culture of consumerism.

The solution? Localism – lessening the distance between buyers and sellers, so much so that we can look the seller in the eye knowing that he has produced what we are about to buy, and have a conversation with him and build trust. We will perhaps then better respect the natural materials that went into build it, grow it, and the human effort it took. My goods don’t have to travel across the globe to get to me, I don’t have to contribute to poor working conditions in halfway around the world to get my product. It may cost more, yes. But what if the cost to me was the true cost of the product, including the cost to the people who made it and the cost to the environment?

This movie has really struck a chord with me. It goes against what I was taught in business school, and everything I thought I knew about free trade and globalization.

I remember in one economics class in University, having a debate about globalization. Is it better for large companies to have their goods made in the developing world, under poor working conditions with a barely livable wage, or to have them made in the developed world, under good working conditions with a fair wage? If the goods are made in the developing world, the end price of the product will be cheaper for the consumer. Also – it gives people jobs, without which they might have nothing. Are we doing them a favour by exporting these cheap labour jobs? Who benefits more? The western consumer for the lower prices, or the poor migrant worker with poor working conditions and a poor wage (but without the job, could perhaps be in even a more dire situation)?

In that economics class, I argued that it was better to give the person the job; that it was more efficient to have the goods made there than here as they have more resources of cheap labour, and that this combination brings the most good to both parties.

A poor job is better than no job right?

Now I am not so sure. What right do we have to export all the crap jobs over to China, where there are few worker safety regulations? In the West we could not force people to work in these same conditions, in some cases it would be against the law. How ethical is it to buy our goods from these places, knowing this might be the case?

Back to those people who need the job – if we don’t give it to them what will happen to them? Well this movie argues that people are being taken off the land, away from farming, and moving into large urban centres to work in these large factories to make stuff for us in the West. This is happening all over India and China right now. Migrant workers move away from their families to work in the city, and lose their connection with their communities and with the land. But they are getting a job right? But wait a minute – isn’t farming a job? The movie argues that it is okay to be a farmer; we must not look down upon it, we must not see the mass migration from sustenance farmer to urban factory worker as necessarily a good thing. The sustenance farming communities are often very sustainable, and employ much of the community in the work. Just because people don’t have a lot of material goods and drive cars and have a lot of money, does not mean that they are not happy. In fact, the movie claims that some communities are happier in that they have a deeper connection with their community, with each other and with nature.

So why is success defined through economic prosperity, instead of through a measure of happiness?

The movie also commented on the power large corporations have over governments these days, and how much power they have over us as citizens (consumers). They form incredibly large and well-funded lobby groups; they fund political campaigns and buy off politicians to further their own agendas. They mesmerize us with their commercials and billboards and magazine images. Who exactly is in control here anyway?

This is also something that goes against what I have always believed in. Corporations are key to capitalism right? And capitalism is the most economically prosperous type of system right? Corporations are efficient, they are working towards innovation, they create jobs for people; create wealth for pensions for people. Right?

Now I am not so sure. Why do they have so much control over governments? This is so evident on the issue of climate change. The scientists tell the government that we need to change to avoid disaster and oil companies tell the government that we don’t have to change. Who have the governments of the world listened to? 97% of climate scientists? No. Oil companies? Yes.

This is precisely the reason that 350.org is launching a campaign against the US Chamber of Commerce, which is a large and well-funded lobby group for big business that has been persistently trying (and succeeding) to block action on climate change in the United States. 350.org is asking businesses and people all across the US to sign up and say that the “US Chamber does not speak for me“.

So what can I do? Well I can choose local food, locally made goods, handmade goods made right here in my city, or in my province. Perhaps these goods will better reflect the true cost to the people and to the environment.  I can support local industries, help them flourish. I can be part of the solution. I can limit my purchases of consumer goods I don’t need. I can think twice about buying products from places where the working conditions may be questionable.

Getting local, getting back to our roots, connecting with our communities, with our families, each other, and with nature – it has to be a good thing!

Green City

Just when you are getting frustrated and discouraged by the lack of vision and action on the part of politicians on climate change, they totally surprise you.

Guess what? There are two amazing projects going on right now in my city!

The first one is a long-range environmental plan called the “The Way We Green“, which will be put in front of city council for approval by early 2011. The proposal defines specific objectives to accomplish in the following 7 areas:

  1. Energy & Climate Change
  2. River Water Supply & Quality
  3. Food Security
  4. Air Quality
  5. Biodiversity / Healthy Ecosystems
  6. Waste Management
  7. One Planet Living

I am so excited by this plan. I had no idea that our city was so progressive. We have always been top notch in areas of recycling, but a bit behind the times when it came to things like urban sprawl and efficient public transportation. The fact that this plan could change all that is so inspiring and refreshing and just what I needed to see.

One of the areas of this plan that I am most happy about is the creation of a Food Policy Council for the city. I know that many Canadian cities have this already, so I am glad to see that we are finally getting one too. I am hopeful that this will encourage new ventures of local food production, and increase the food shed of the city and surrounding area. I would love to see a day when local food is widely available and readily accessible by all.

The second development is a big one. Huge. Have you ever sat there and daydreamed about what sustainable green living would look like in the future? What kinds of homes would we live in, how would we transport ourselves, how would our energy needs be met? Due to the massive infrastructure changes that would be required, sometimes I think that this really is only a dream (but one worth having). Perhaps my children or future grandchildren would live in different types of homes and use energy differently, but can I expect to see these kinds of changes where I live in my lifetime?

In short, YES!

There are plans underway to redevelop the city centre airport lands into an environmentally sustainable community to house over 20,000 people in a carbon neutral environment, with no cars. Just think of the urban sprawl that will be averted! Five companies from around the world, including the US, Netherlands, Sweden, Canada and the UK, submitted proposals for the vision for this space. These proposals are now up for display and comment at City Hall and online.

I went to City Hall last week to take a look in person. The displays were amazing. I came away so happy, so excited about what was in the realm of possibility for my city. My favourite proposal, by Perkins + Will of Vancouver, includes these features:

  1. Renewable energy production to power the community and still have enough left over to export electricity to other parts of the city
  2. Urban Farm and greenhouses for local food production
  3. Extensive water recycling system
  4. World class green space and park
  5. Large hill with views of downtown, used for tobogganing in the winter and music festivals in the summer
  6. Cross country skiing circuit
  7. Ice skating rink
  8. Large water feature with a 1 kilometre rowing course
  9. Several community gathering areas
  10. 4 community neighbourhoods, with green “fingers” reaching in from the large central park
  11. Links light rail and bus transit, no cars
  12. Cycling and hiking route that connects the community to the city’s river valley park system
  13. Residential buildings that feature lots of windows and solar panels
  14. Commercial areas to provide services to residents, as well as local jobs
  15. 4 schools – 2 elementary, 1 junior high, 1 high school

Take a look at the master plan! Can you see how the plan plays homage the former runways, respecting the history of this space in the design? 

I think this is a beautiful model of sustainable development. I really feel that this submission, more than any others, celebrates my town as a winter city, and provides many venues for an active social and community gatherings. I was also so pleased to see that it goes beyond net zero, and incorporates local food production as well! If this is built, I would love to live there!  Here is their video submission:

My second favourite submission was from KCAP of the Netherlands.  Their video was fantastic:

If you live here too, you have until February 28th to submit your comments on each of the submissions online. I did this last weekend. The city will be choosing a winner in a few months, and then will embark on a 15 month process to consult with the public and refine and develop the plans. They expect to break ground in 2013.

Bring on the green!

What do you think of these developments? What exciting things are going on in your city?

Free Hugs

Today I stepped off the bus on my way to work downtown, and was greeted by what looked to be a homeless man, trying to sell a community newspaper and asking for money for coffee.  I looked at him, gently shook my head, and gave him the warmest smile I could.  As I crossed the street I thought of Juan Mann, the guy that started giving away free hugs to strangers.  These free hugs were a way to connect himself with the people around him, to help people realize that we are all connected, that we all need love and warmth.  We are a community.  I am connected to that homeless man, even if I don’t know him, even if I don’t understand his circumstance.  Instead of giving him my loose change, maybe I should just give him a hug.

I felt my eyes moisten as I crossed the busy street.  I looked around me.  Everyone was rushing about, on their way to work, focused on their destination and on their own busy day.  I did not feel connected.  I am part of something yet I don’t feel plugged in.  Are any of us? 

I really believe that success in the environmental movement will be achieved partly by realizing our connections to each other.  Why should I save those on small island nations, by sacrificing some comforts of my way of life here, when I will not be the one who will lose my home by rising waters, my whole country even?  I will be safe and dry here on the prairies.  Why should I sacrifice for them? 

It is simple.  I am connected to them through our shared humanity.  They suffer, and we all suffer.  I am also connected to non-human life, which is also at stake.  Experts tell us that extinctions are expected to rise horrifically.  How can I be a part of this magnificent creation of life and not care? 

I decide then and there to strengthen my connections with strangers.  I want to chit-chat with the coffee shop girl, make conversation in elevators.  I must thank the bus driver every single time I get off his bus.  I talk to the vendors at the farmer’s market, and thank them for offering me and my family a new choice.  I will push myself to make conversations when I normally would not.  I will listen to people.  I will sympathize with people.  I will congratulate them on good works.  I will connect.

Yet I still feel torn.  I see these huge global problems and very little movement towards solving them.  The strength of the status quo way of life wears me down.  But then I look into someone’s eyes and smile at them, and they smile back.  We are all in this together.  We are all connected.  We all have the capacity to love.  We must have the capacity to find a way. 

In the end, it can all just start with a free hug.

100-Mile Challenge Show

I just discovered a 100-mile diet reality show produced by the Food Network in 2008, and it is currently airing again on Global TV. It follows the lives of several families in Mission, BC. This small town signed up 100 people to eat within 100 miles for 100 days. The show features the authors of the 100-Mile Diet book Alisa Smith and James McKinnon, and they give ideas and moral support to the challenge participants.

Here is the trailer:

You can watch all the episodes online here. If you live in Canada you can also tune in Saturdays on Global at 7 pm.

The last episode featured a family taking their two young daughters to a farm. They wanted to show their children where their food came from, how it grew, how it was raised. The kids collected fresh eggs from a nice, clean, free-range chicken coup. They toured the sunny fields. The parents wanted to impart on their children a love and respect for food, and the time, effort and passion that went into growing it and raising it. This really resonated with me, as it is exactly how I feel and what I want to teach my children. I found myself with tears during this segment.

Another challenge participant noted that he used to buy whatever he wanted from the grocery store, without even thinking about it. He did not consider where it came from or how it was raised. Now he has a new awareness and a new appreciation. This is exactly my story as well.

The 100-mile diet is not easy. It is not something you can just switch to, overnight. For me, I think it will take a full year before I can eat mostly local foods. However, as I do more research I continue to find new products offered here locally. For example in the last week I have found:

  1. Local wine producer en Santé Winery (the first and only wine producer in Alberta!)
  2. Local beer producer Alley Cat Brewery
  3. Local pasteurized cheese from Smoky Valley Goat Cheese
  4. Local yogurt from Bles-Wold Dairy

 I have also found the Eat Local First site, where I can order local groceries online and they are delivered directly to my doorstep. How easy and convenient is that? An Avenue Homesteader tried it and blogged about it here. I am going to try it for the yogurt!

I did not realize that there was such an undercurrent of local eating here, with a growing list of choices. All I had to do is look a little harder and bam! They were right here under my nose all along. Who knew?

I want to support to this movement. I want to support these local producers and farmers with my dollars, and add my voice to conversation. I have some lofty local eating goals for myself in 2011, which I will elaborate on a little later!

Hmmmm. “Think globally, act locally.” Now I am starting to see what this actually means!

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.

No Impact Man

I just finished the book, No Impact Man by Colin Beavan. I got it from the library, along with the No Impact Man film. I started reading the book, watched the movie, then finished the book. 

I was feeling lonely before, in my quest to be and do all things green. It baffles me, now that I am here doing these things, why everyone is not doing them as well. Perhaps they are not fully aware of the problems of climate change, or they would be doing just what I am doing, right? Is it not the only rationale response to this issue? Perhaps they are aware, but push it so far back into their minds that it does not really register, or impact any decisions. If they put those horrible thoughts back there far enough, perhaps they are not true and will go away…

That must be it.

But not so with Colin Beaven – he was feeling the way I was feeling. He wondered what he could do. He realized that he could talk about it a lot, but his words would not have much meaning if he was living a lifestyle that included eating take out every night and creating 9 gallons of trash over 4 days. He was not happy were the world was going, but also not happy where he was going. So he made some changes. Big changes.

He starts off just like me. He doesn’t know much, he is not a trained environmentalist. He is a just a regular guy who wants to make a difference. Despite feeling like he can’t make a difference (which we all feel, don’t we?) he decides to try. Trying is the most important part, because you never will know at the start the difference you will make in the end.

He decides to live his life in New York City, while having no impact on the environment. His wife (Michelle) and his baby daughter (Isabella) go along with this plan. One year, no impact. This ultimately includes making no garbage, eating only locally grown food, giving up meat, giving up coffee, using only self propelled transportation, buying no new items, no elevators, no take out, no TV, no washing machine and by the midpoint of the project, no electricity at all. This means no fridge, no oven, no stove…

There is a point in the movie where he and his wife and child have all their friends over to their apartment to share a beautiful meal. At the end of it each person holds a lit a beeswax candle and then he turns off the breaker. Darkness falls. The people in his living room all stand there holding candles, looking at each other in amazement. Look what this family will do for the environment. Look at what they will do. They will live in darkness, with only the candles to light their way. They are surrounded by the support and love of their friends. It is a beautiful moment.

His wife, prior to the challenge was a self professed shop-oholic who drank 4 iced quad espressos a day. With each new change she is a bit apprehensive, but by the end she has fully embraced the lifestyle. The hurried rush of their lives slows down. They spend more time talking to each other. They spend more time playing with their daughter. They spend more time shopping for their food, and preparing it. What used to be an inconvenience and required take-out, now becomes time spent nourishing their family.

It turns out that he did make a difference. Once people heard about what he was doing, the radio stations, TV stations and newspapers started to call. He gave numerous talks to children and community groups, and did numerous interviews. He wrote a book, he made a movie, he wrote a blog. He got his message out there big time, and inspired so many people along the way. 

He inspired me.

At the end of the book in the epilogue, he gives real concrete examples on what you can do to make a difference. He provides lists of books, websites and environmental websites to join. He tells you that people seem only to get the message once they start doing things for the environment. It is the doing, the starting, that is the spark. Once they are set off, they start coming up with new ideas and plans and ways to get involved all on their own. They don’t need convincing.

So here I am, doing. As was the fitting last sentence of his book – What will you do?