On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of people got together all over the world to spread the word: “350.” According to 350.org, “Scientists say that 350 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere is the safe limit for humanity.”
This was, in essence, an awareness campaign. I believe the idea behind it is that when the number 350 is in everyone’s heads, we can then take action to lower the CO2 in our atmosphere.
But does awareness really lead to action?
Human minds are incredibly complex. There are fields of study, and careers of work, devoted to figuring out how to change our minds. And some also focus on how to change our actions.
Every public health campaign has been created this way – usually each one is tested and retested on focus groups before we ever see it. And every large advertising campaign is even more rigorously tested to find out the most effective way to change our actions. Every film, every documentary, every television show – they all are tested and focused on a particular target audience.
There are various theories surrounding the stages people go through before they change the way they do things. The most basic is this:
At each of these stages, people need some instigating factor that gets them to the next level. It could be a talk with a friend, a change in your life, a new action campaign, or any number of things. And of course this is just an outline. Sometimes you skip one of the levels, or they are a bit out of order, or you fall back to a prior level before moving forward – but this is generally pretty much the way things generally happen.
At least at the moment, the 350 movement stops at #1: awareness. I don’t know if there is a plan that goes beyond this, but would be a shame to lose all that work, all that momentum.
Do You Have To Change Your Life Entirely?
This brings me to a couple of responses to what I wrote a few days ago: “Do You Have To Change Your Life Entirely In Order To Stop Climate Change?” Both Chile and Arduous argue that yes, we all do have to change entirely in order to stop climate change.
I believe they are right. We have a lot to do, and it’s either too late or almost too late to turn back around and go in the right direction. But I also believe this:
- People are inherently different, and the way that they create change and respond to need is different. And whether they start with their own lifestyles, or go into politics, or help people in the developing world lift themselves out of poverty without destroying the planet as we did, or some other way – it doesn’t matter, it only matters that we all start.
- Fear often paralyzes people. Many people become very overwhelmed by fear, and end up doing nothing. Climate change is big, each of us is small. We can’t change everything, so why change anything?
- Even if we can’t turn our CO2 around as quickly as we need to, we still have to turn it around as soon as is physically possible… or things will get exponentially worse yet.
- It does not matter what motivates people to change, only that they do. The world has other problems in addition to climate change. If Red Icculus changes because he wants to be more independent from the system and to provide a good life for his children, or if Maybelline changes her lifestyle in order to be more frugal and personally sustainable, or Deb G starts changing her life to protect her body from toxics in plastics, or someone else is afraid GMOs will fundamentally change the world and so eats local, organic food… isn’t that a good thing? Does it matter why people change, or only that they do change?
From Awareness To Action
How many people do you know who want to change the way they live their life, for one reason or another, but who just never seem to get around to it? I know a lot. It’s hard to change your life. We all resist it.
So how do we bring people from awareness to action, and then from action to maintenance (because one action isn’t enough, we have to sustain ourselves and make those changes constant)?
I spend a lot of time thinking about this when I write blog articles, when I do my work at my job, when I talk with people throughout my day. While I wish that people would stop what they are doing now and make an entire switch in their lifestyles, I have come to understand that this is not human nature. I think about how I started to change the way I do things: I started with driving less, eating locally, gardening, sending letters, protesting at protest rallies. Then I went further, and then further still.
Awareness can be overwhelming. Fear can be debilitating. But we cannot let ourselves become overwhelmed and debilitated, because for one thing, that is not a good quality of life, and for another, those feelings get us nowhere. There are a lot of people talking about change but not really doing anything about it – and maybe feeling guilty that they aren’t doing anything. I believe the best way to handle this feeling of being overwhelmed and debilitated is to just start somewhere, anywhere, big or small. From there, we can support one another and continue on our journey toward change.
So I do not believe you get people to act with more fear. Instead, you encourage people to concentrate on one action at a time, and you encourage people to start where they are most comfortable starting. Generally that means starting close to home: with health, saving money, reducing toxins, and so on. Because starting somewhere is better than not starting at all, and once people start to change it is easier for them to keep going, especially with encouragement.
Once we do start to change our lifestyles, the way to maintain and sustain that change is to build a support network: a blog, a group of friends, a book club, whatever it takes to surround each other with support.
It’s not as straight of an answer as I’d like, but humans are not simple creatures, and there are no easy answers when it comes to inspiring people to change their lifestyles.
What Do You Think?
We know we need to get a lot of people to change the way they do things, and the way governments and corporations do things. If you have an alternative way to reach people who aren’t yet doing anything to change their lifestyles, and to provoke them into sustained action, I would love to hear it!
And if you haven’t taken a look at the many 350 photos taken this past weekend, you should – they’re quite inspiring. What do you think they should do next, though, to capture that awareness and turn it into action??