The past few weeks, I’ve been acting more environmentally friendly than usual, and to be honest the upkeep of the blog is more difficult than actual green behavior! Why, then, don’t more people try to decrease their impact on the Earth? This question has been crucial in the resurgence of the environmental movement – if you don’t know why someone isn’t being environmentally responsible, you don’t know how to change their mind! Personally, I think my sustainable change has been simple because my general behavior is already tailored to being sustainable. I was raised in a home where I was constantly being reminded to turn off the lights, take short showers, recycle, and go outside to play. I got to appreciate nature in a largely untouched area, and was conscious of how my actions affected the world around me. In college, I became a member of the Outdoors Society, LEAP, and I live in TREEHouse (http://www.lafayette.edu/about/news/2010/12/03/treehouse/), and all of these organizations inspire me to continue my green behavior on campus. Unfortunately, not everyone is exposed to these types of behaviors. If it weren’t for my parents encouraging sustainable behavior, I would likely have a very different mindset myself.
Never being exposed to green thinking can be a major roadblock in getting more people to be sustainable. After all, how can you support something if you don’t know anything about it? In this case, education is key. These days, it is safe to assume that everyone has heard different ideas on this such as global warming and what’s good for the environment. Individual perceptions on these issues are a little more complicated- imagine putting a person who believes in global warming in a room with someone who does not believe in it. The important point is that people are actually thinking about these sorts of issues.
Many people don’t participate in green behaviors because the means are not readily available to them. The obstacles here can be varied. For example, many consumers avoid eco-friendly products because they are more expensive (ignoring products such as CFL lightbulbs, which will save in different ways). But eco-friendly detergents, etc, do have a higher price tag, which instantly takes them out of consideration for many people. Also, many people are not directly in charge of their environmental impact. Imagine working in an office building where you cannot control the temperature and it is too hot in the building, so you open some windows. The heater is still working, but is serving no purpose. Or only being offered one-time use plastic-ware at a picnic or something. These situations are very common. If you’re not in charge of the options, you may be at a disadvantage in your environmental crusade.
I think that the biggest deterrent for most people is the fact that they don’t think being environmentally friendly will make a difference, or can’t see any direct benefits for themselves. This, admittedly, is very frustrating. Sometimes when I meet people with this outlook, I start to doubt my own efforts. Am I actually making a difference? However, I am very comfortable with my decision to live an environmentally conscious life, and am even looking to tailor my career to make more of an environmental impact! I believe that in order to have large-scale, collective action, we must start on small individual changes. Sensationalism doesn’t do it for me- I’d rather have my curiosity piqued and investigate an issue myself. It leads to decisions that much more resolute. If a few of us are persistent with our choice to be environmentally conscious, others will begin to open their minds to these alternate possibilities. The going will get tough sometimes, but keep your head up!
Even small actions, such as limiting electricity consumption in a dorm room, can add up to great changes when everyone is doing them. It’s not that difficult of a lifestyle change, and you can see direct benefits (lower energy bill, anyone?) as well as long-term effects. What are you waiting for? Go unplug something!