I Am Perfect, You Are Not – A Failure Of The Green Movement.


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I have written before about the problems of forcing people to “go green” beyond their comfort level, but today I want to talk about those of you in the movement who look down on people who cannot live your exact lifestyle in an effort to save the planet. I get emails all the time from readers who complain about how some environmentalists try to make them feel guilty for not giving up TV, for not installing $20K worth of solar panels on their house, or for not trading in their perfectly fine Honda Civic for a 1965 Mercedes running on biodiesel. There is such a thing as pushing your agenda too far, and nothing turns people off faster than making them feel as though they are inadequate. Want to move people away from being concerned about the environment? Make them feel guilty for not doing enough – it’s a sure-fire way to chase them away.

We will not get more people on board with the environmental movement by making them feel guilty. I too have gone overboard in the past when talking with people, and it is something I am trying to change within myself. There is no use getting mad at someone for not doing what *YOU* think is right – the best thing to do is to show why your way is just as easy/inexpensive but much better for the environment. Think about the last time someone made you feel guilty for something you did; were you more apt to change your behavior or more inclined to do it again just to spite the person? Thought so.

There are environmentalists out there who are very militant about their beliefs; they never buy new clothes, drive only cars powered by alternative fuels, live and work by candlelight, grow all their own food, and avoid media influence. And that is fine and good for all of them, but not everyone can live like that. Heck, I don’t even live like that and this is my job! We do what we can – we own one car, we buy organic foods, we use reusable bags at the store, we recycle everything, we watch our power and water use, and we avoid buying things we don’t need. But do I live in a cave with only tattered clothes? Nope. And neither do most people, and militant environmentalists need to keep this in mind. You cannot change opinions and behaviors by making people feel bad. You have to educate, encourage, and discuss the issues important to you and hope that people will listen. But I can guarantee they won’t listen if you come off as self-important.

So let’s start encouraging people to be more conscious of the environment rather than getting mad at them for their choices. Let’s start talking with those who would never consider using their own bags at the store, and see if we can get them to just use at least one. Let’s see if we can steer a fellow citizen in the right direction at the store away from the plastic doodads from China and towards the sustainably made wood version of the same product. Let’s see what we can do with some education and encouragement rather than badgering and fear-mongering. It’s something I am working to do better myself and you know what? It works – Give it a shot.

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  1. Very well said. I know that I personally am in no position to point a finger at anyone. I too am growing in my green journey every day, trying to reverse years of not knowing better. Old habits, particularly purchasing habits, die hard. Showing people that change is beneficial to their future is the only way to do it ”” not by preaching or judging.

  2. Great article! The more you push the more others back away. Sometimes it’s just better to lead by example then to force an issue down someone’s throat.

  3. This is completely off topic.. but I was reading that you recently relocated to Taos. What do you think of it? My husband and I are thinking of relocating from Austin… By the way I really like your blog.

  4. Another excellent article! It’s not the easiest time to gauge how much pressure to apply to the average person. People in general are making changes for the better, but the process of change is (and always has been) slow and we should have started a long time ago, which means we NEED big changes. Yet, I agree, making people feel guilty for not wanting to live like a cave person won’t make them particularly open to making any positive change. Still, I do find it exciting to see positive changes occurring. It was not so long ago that even discussing alternate fuel sources and bringing your own bag to the store was considered radical.

    I would personally love to see governments do something more pro-active and offer real incentives to motivate everyone!

  5. I agree with the article to a point. When I see people driving around in Hummers and SUVs that seat 12, I hate those people for not even trying!

  6. Great article.
    I’m doing my best, but I’m sure that my lifestyle is far from what is needed today when we are facing the massive environment degradation. I often feel guilty because I know I could do more.
    But for sure I’m not willing to listen to people trying to force me into something.
    When I speak with my friends and other people they often don’t understand why I have changed many things in my life. But then again, in a year or two, some tell me “Now I understand.”
    And of course, I learn from others who are walking the green path. And they also hear from me “Now I know what you were talking about”.
    I’m also in green online business and our motto is “enjoy eco-friendly living”. Our idea is that people should be motivated to change their lifestyle because they can feel it’s not only good for the environment but for them also. I beleive that showing positive examples is the way to go. And we can all learn a lot from each other.

  7. Thank you David! I live at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, which just means that I am trying very hard to live as sustainably as I can. However, (some) others often interpret my choice as criticism of their choices. So we try to be as kind, gentle and remember that there is joy in living lightly. (I promise, I’m not going to start singing ‘Kumbya’!)

    Here is an interview on Ecosalon.com about our latest efforts to change the world, a little at a time –

  8. I have always been reading about Dancing Rabbit and even wrote a little something about it a very long time ago. Sounds very interesting!

  9. A very good post – when it comes to pretty much everything some people take it too far. I think the environmental movement is now at the point where it’s getting the attention it deserves both in the media and the general populace. It would be a shame for people to be turned off by the extremists in the group.

  10. We do need them to see that people can live that way, but when they cross the line and berate people for not doing enough, it is counterproductive to the movement.

  11. Well, amen. We’re pretty green and there are still people who make me want to run screaming in the other direction, just because they are so annoying about it and I am at heart an obstinate 12 year old. I sometimes wonder if I am that annoying person to someone else.

  12. Now what about when someone is over to my house and they see my resuable grocery bags or my cloth diapers (that I made NO point of showing them, they are just out in the open in my house) and then they get offended? What am I supposed to do/say then? I didn’t even open the topic of conversation up to green living and yet they are offended just SEEING that I do live green? Could this be because they feel they SHOULD be doing more and aren’t?

  13. Wonderful post! That I’m greener than you are attitude turns so many people away. And it’s so silly! We should all be encouraging each other.

  14. I think anything that you preach at someone about whether it be religion, the environment or being a vegetarian is going to turn them off. I definitely have that stubborn streak too and don’t like being told what to do or that I am wrong.

    I do find that there are people who get upset even when you don’t say anything. I’ve been grilled over meals about why I’m a vegetarian when I said nothing about it and quietly ate my food. I’ve often wondered it that comes from guilt because internally they know it’s the right thing to do or if they just can’t deal with someone being different than what they view as normal.

    Thanks for the post Dave!

  15. What i have started at my church is a paper recycling thing which is making people think slowly. Its helping us 2 ways help the environment and we raise money for our trip this summer so they can help us by bringing newspapers and magazines i think that is a level anyone can feel comfort on. Its helping but you dont have to change your life to help

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