A few days ago, I envisioned myself cruising down a river on an enormous yacht, with dozens of other revelers. Everyone was dressed up in party clothes, and they were eating, drinking, and having a gay ol’ time.
Initially, I socialized and small-talked, the way people do at cocktail parties, but, after a while, I became alarmed that the yacht was continuing on its course, given that Niagara Falls lay just a few miles ahead. “I probably should say something,” I thought. So I walked up to a small cluster of partygoers, traded pleasantries for a few seconds, and then struck a casual pose. “Say, do you know that we’re headed directly for Niagara Falls?” I asked. The group responded with glassy-eyed stares, a cackle or two, and some nervous tittering, then they resumed their conversation about American Idol.
So I tried warning a second group, then a third, and a fourth. Each time I got the same response.
“I need to start shouting,” I thought. “This is no time for casual chitchat and subdued warnings. Unless we act now, we’re going to plunge over the edge.”
At that point, the vision dissolved, and then it came to me that for decades I’ve been observing, thinking about, and studying environmental problems. Although I’ve spoken to people about what I’ve learned from time-to-time, I’ve always dialed my intensity waaay back.
Why? Well, for one thing (as I mentioned in an earlier blog), I’m reluctant to express opinions that imply criticism of other people’s views and values. For another, I realize that my perspective is limited. Even when I feel confident that my views are correct, I’m aware that I don’t have all the answers.
The biggest reason that I’m reluctant to set my hair on fire and shout at the top of my lungs, however, is that the results of a number of studies indicate that scaring people about the state of the environment is counterproductive. When people are frightened and see no way to fight back, they take flight, and in their flight they turn to other, less-frustrating, more comforting things. Often those things are consumer goods, so, if the goal is to reverse environmental degradation by reducing consumption, scaring people can backfire.
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I have more to say on this, so chances are good that the next blog will pick up where this one left off. I hope you’ll return for the next installment.