Earth day: Whatcha gonna do

Considering I have a curiosity about roadside garbage, it is probably fitting that I comment on Earth Day. Rather than posting the common “we are killing the Earth” rhetoric that dominates this day, I find it more fitting to consider whether Earth Day is still a positive event.

Why Earth Day is good: Any time a person is made more aware of his or her impact on the environment, it is a good thing. Even if that person takes no action, the fact the issue is being contemplated is a positive step. Hopefully, awareness will lead some people to make different choices and alter their lifestyle in a less-wasteful direction.

Why Earth Day is bad: When people feel they are being told what to do, negative emotions emerge and people react opposite of the intended purpose. Thus, if Earth Day becomes too associated with a particular political ideology, or is viewed at as inconvenient, vain, or authoritarian, behavior may move in a less environmentally respectful direction.

Which side is winning? Are people being persuaded to consider their environmental impacts, or are they numbed by patronizing rhetoric? There is little doubt that significant environmental progress has been made since the first Earth Day in 1970. Air and water are cleaner, and environmental impacts of new construction projects are at least considered.

On the other hand, there is a growing backlash against things labeled “green” to the point that opinions are being formed before the issues are even presented. This happens from both sides, where one side is inclined to agree with an idea just because of its “green” label, while the other side is immediately against anything labeled “green”. The benefits or negatives of the subject in question are never rationally considered.

In my opinion, Earth Day does some good, despite invoking the gag reflex of many. But environmentalists need to be careful about severely alienating the opposition. Additional progress is not made by reinforcing those who already agree, it is in changing the minds of people who disagree. Here are five approaches the environmental crowd can use to be more persuasive:

1) Don’t imply or suggest that that people need to give up conveniences or technology in order to live harmoniously with the Earth. Not everyone is keen with letting yellow mellow, so don’t push the idea that everyone should or else be damned.

2) People don’t like to be belittled, patronized or guilt-tripped. Many people own 4×4 pickups for legitimate reasons, and there is no reason to label everyone who drives one as an Earth-hating redneck. Unless you know their circumstances – back off.

3) Don’t force it. Frankly, the “green” rhetoric is overwhelming. Even grocery stores are featuring “Earth Day” specials. Everything does not need to be green, and green items should stand on their own merit. Perhaps if people are given an educated choice about buying green products rather than forced in that direction, public acceptance would be greater.

4) Keep an open mind. There are valid reasons why people choose less environmentally friendly products, such as cost, availability, or caution regarding gimmicks. There are plenty of people who are making great environmental strides without buying a hybrid car or putting photovoltaic panels on their roofs. Don’t ignore these people.

5) Don’t be a hypocrite. Nothing turns off people more than hypocrisy. Have you ever heard a person brag about their environmentally friendly Prius, only to watch them drive the mile and a half to work every day? Is that person being more “environmentally friendly” than the person who owns an old ford, but walks that distance to work every day?

I suggest we all spend Earth Day listening to the arguments of the opposition. Perhaps we can learn something about how to better convey our message.

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