Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What we are up against

There are a lot of niggling details being argued over in climate change and environmental circles. 350 ppm. Peak oil dates. Number of species gone extinct.

But, I've come to the realization that many of these details are, for the most part, irrelevant. We've got a much bigger problem. And it's called apathy. Actually, it's much worse than apathy because apathy suggests something more hopeful. No, what we've got is distrust, disbelief, the desire to prove wrong and more, importantly, hatred.

Until these issues are addressed our message (whatever it is) will just bounce off the heads of those we are trying to educate or encourage. Take my low-heat challenge for example. Plenty of news agencies have covered it and, what I'm suggesting isn't that people totally turn off their heat. I think the message is pretty tame - turn your heat down a few degrees and save money and lower your carbon footprint at the same time. Does it sound nuts to you? I don't think so - it sounds intelligent.

What's the general reaction?
Well, one group goes nuts claiming that there's no such thing as anthropogenic warming (human caused global warming). Their eyes get so crossed by their ideas about it, they don't see the underlying message: reduce your expenses and reduce your energy usage. Instead, they see the suggestion as a threat. By participating in lowering their energy usage, it might seem like they agree with climate change.

The next group takes great pride in doing the opposite. In other words, they state they will turn up their heat just to make up for us idiots who are lowering ours. They are happy to dig their heels in and spend more money just to prove a point.

Another group is the nitpickers. They relish pointing out errors (or perceived errors) in the message without acknowledging that generally interviews are comprised of quotes taken from a much broader conversation or, in many cases, taken completely out of context. The message is lost on them because they are too busy trying to find fault and too busy self-congratulating to listen.

The last group feels threatened. Somehow, reading about how others haved changed the way they live threatens their way of life as if it's some sort of conspiracy to force them to do it too. Just offering the information = "communist environmental takeover". I find it quite confounding. I'm not enacting legislation. How is lowering my thermostat a threat to your lifestyle? Because it just might become more socially acceptable?

It's easy for all of these folks to relegate environmentalists into a hippy, dread-locked, patchouli-wearing, non-shaving group of people that they can ignore because they are easy to spot. So, when the idea is presented by someone mainstream looking, is it even more threatening to them? I would imagine it's easier to ignore someone who fits the stereotype but not so much if we look like them. I think there's a fear that we are infiltrating their camp, disseminating a plot to take over their consumerist lifestyle.

Now, it's not like I'm suggesting that these people start peeing on their plants or doing anything outrageous. Just turn their heat down a tad. If we can't get even a simple message across to the masses, what hope is there for more complicated behavioral changes that actually cost money or take more time (rather than saving it)?

Just when I think I'm sending out a milquetoast message that should be acceptable to the average Joe, I'm taken aback by the vociferous resistance, both social and emotional. So, how do we reach these groups and their knee-jerk reaction to environmental/energy issues? Any suggestions? Do you see this as hopeless or not?


Anonymous said...

I think a lot of uncomfortable information about the state of our beloved planet is finally reaching the mainstream media in a big way and those that would be frightened and then react in anger are doing just that.
You are just sticking out far enough to be a lightning rod for the anger born of fear. Hang in there. It's going to be tough but I believe change is coming and you will be recognized in much more positive ways.
By the way what's wrong with peeing on my plants?

equa yona(Big Bear) said...

I believe you have assessed correctly when you say that what you suggest, i.e. turning down the heat, threatens people. That tiny change is perceived as the slippery slope toward a life style of austerity, something US citizens simply cannot abide! My brother is 68, he works as a school janitor and has to drive 8 miles or so to buy his fuel oil in 50 gallon increments because he can't afford the minimum delivery amount. When i suggested that he turn down his thermostat and put on a sweater and some long johns, he was adamant,"I am not going to live like that!" So, if common sense can not prevail on such an elemental level, what hope is there indeed?

Glenda said...

When people are pushing for widespread change, the things you mentioned -- distrust, disbelief, the desire to prove wrong, and hate -- are pretty common hurdles. That doesn't mean change is hopeless; in fact, I think it's a slap in the face to those who *are* making changes for others to deem things hopeless.

"our message will just bounce off the heads of those we are trying to educate" -- Shift your focus. If someone is interested in what you're saying, it's not going to bounce off their heads. If they're not interested, they're not interested, period -- maybe they will be a year or ten years from now. Instead of being discouraged by the naysayers, be encouraged by those who have already made changes, by those who are just now beginning to look for information (perhaps as a result of the press about the low-heat challenge), and by those who may not yet be looking for info but who are open-minded about new-to-them ideas.

Sparkless said...

I'm not sure you can get your message through to people who are not willing to hear it. What you can do is to continue doing whatever you can and sharing it with everyone. You lead by your example and change only comes slowly to people, unfortunately.

Rev. Peter Doodes said...

I do wonder, at times, if there is a degree of fear with people. The problem of Climate Chaos is obvious, but the human reaction seems to be 'if we ignore it, it may go away'.

Then the need is to cling to every straw that is out there, so every 'scientist' that 'proves' that Climate Change is not for real is publicised 100% and the proof of ones own eyes is ignored.

The same attitude was apparent in the UK (where I am) in 1937-9. The result, when the penny drops, may well be different this time.

Roz said...

Often in science, a paradigm shift (changing of the entire theory or belief structure) can take an entire generation to accomplish, during which time the new theory may be ridiculed and demonized by the fervent followers of the old theory. In time, however, the scientific community embraces the new beliefs, as long as they are valid.

Unfortunately, we don't think we have a generation to convince people to let go of consuming and embrace austerity. We are still probably reaching some people, even if it's only 1 or 2 a day. That drop in the bucket will help us reach a significant amount, eventually! All we can do is light the way and call for people to follow. When they are ready to listen, they will.

Lil said...

Couldn't we just shoot those consumerist douches ?
Just kidding :o)
But sometimes I would be so grateful to have some magic eraser... they're so tiresome, I sometimes feel I haven't enough energy to fight more.

Eco Yogini said...

definitely difficult- there is a backlash against any sort of change.... it's human nature.

We are making changes, by blogging and talking about this topic it becomes more socially and culturally accepted.

I have hope... :)

Tree Huggin Momma said...

We leave them be. I grew up this way, we had a wood stove, and I certainly wasn't getting up at 3 am to put wood in it (and I am only in my early 30s, so no I didn't have an outhouse too).
I find that people who originally thought I was crazy or worse damaging my kids most have accepted that this is who I am and some have even turned there thermostats down (because they need to realize some cash savings).
Getting people to start by turning the heat way down when they are out is a good place to start, but you can't educate the ignorant, you can just wait for them to come around and think it was their idea all along.

And just what is wrong with not shaving and patuli? :)

Rev. Peter Doodes said...

Don't forget guys that at one time the mass accepted theory was that the earth was flat and another, later, that smoking did you no harm.

Yeh, right....

Michelle said...

Sorry, but I am going with hopeless...

Anonymous said...

The thing is, there are still racists. There are still sexists. There are still a determined few who insist the world is actually flat. These types of people are so entrenched in their beliefs, and so scared of change, that you may not be able to get through to them. Try telling my grandmother that it is perfectly acceptable to be a single mother through choice. She us never, ever going to accept that. Why? Because she knows it to be wrong - in her belief system.

So we don't try and get through to these people. We try and get through to their children. Or their friends or their family or someone who will either make the changes they refuse to, or will cause the social dynamic of their group to change, so that the naysayer becomes the odd one out, and changes through the wish to be 'mainstream' again.

Now I'm off to treat my leg hair to a Patchouli rub. Or something :)

Aydan said...

I think there's a fear that we are infiltrating their camp, disseminating a plot to take over their consumerist lifestyle.

You mean we're not?

Huh. Guess I'd better put away my thrift-store-purchased trendy-looking clothes for another day and put my Birkenstocks back on.

I think the impulse to bury your head in the sand and mock anyone who thinks there might really be a problem can be pretty powerful: I know I frequently try to make my homework assignments go away by ignoring them. I don't think it's hopeless, though; five years ago I was convinced environmentalists were a bunch of loons and global warming was a hoax. Obviously, I changed my mind!

Anonymous said...

Your post made me thing of an encounter I had one day at the grocery store. I had put my produce in my home made reusable cloth bag, which apparently annoyed the lady at the check out counter. She snapped " I don't know why YOU people have to be like this!" Seriously? ME people? My response, " Because it helps me sleep at night"

The bottom line is that at the end of the day you can only be responsible for your self and your own actions. We aren't going to be able to make anyone change. We just have to be patient and let them come around on their own. And any converts we get along the way will be icing on the cake.

louisa @ Recycle This said...

Someone on Twitter pointed me at this BBC article the other day -

It uses the example of healthcare reform - how 66% of people in Texas would benefit from it but 87% voted against it - but a lot of the same arguments apply to the climate change debate too.

People don't like having their bad habits/ways reflected back to them. By us making the effort to lowering our heat (oooh! such a huge effort!) makes them feel wasteful and lazy, and it's easier to hit out & criticise others than accept you're wrong and change yourself.

Lisa Nelsen-Woods said...

I think a lot of the backlash is that these low heat stories is that mention you and your turning your temps down to 65 degrees which isn't so extreme, and feature the extremists that go with out heat. The extreme green practices are the hook to get readers to read the story. That's much easier and more interesting to promote than the simple things that I do like caulk all my home's air leaks which allows me to set the temps at 58, wear an extra layer, and stay warm even with the current 32 inches of snow in my front yard.

However when I talk to people about my weatherstripping and low heat bills, they are receptive because it's easy and gives results and it isn't so extreme. Especially in this economic climate, people are looking for ways to save energy and money without going to the extreme of replacing all of their heating equipment or turning it off all together - which in some parts of the country can cause even more problems - burst water pipes for example.

I think the backlash is there because the media - the green media in particular - holds up the extreme green practices and people as the ideal or the only way to do things. I have to admit, sometimes that rubs me the wrong way. I think that there are different options for everything that allows us to reach the same goal.

Tree Huggin Momma said...

Something else to keep in mind this land was build as the land of plenty, where the streets are made of gold. Being able to "afford" to keep the heat high and have all the luxeries is a sign of success, because no one but the individual knows the real story. So suggesting that we admit we are not the land of plenty and they we can no longer afford to be wasteful we might have to become like some other countries where they are responsible with their recources and that scares the people who make money off putting other people in debt.
It also reminds people of our own fragile existence, and that if we are making changes because we need to maybe we don't have enough and if we don't have enough then maybe the jobs we have been giving our lives over to haven't been worth it. They need to get to the point when they see that they have more than enough. If they are willing to wear a sweater in the winter they can have more money for the fun things they look forward to.

My family is used to the change and quite often you see the girls running around in just t-shirts (when I see that I turn the heat down 2 degrees, because if its warm enough for just a t-shirt its too warm ;)

I am always cold, unless I am sweating, for me there is no in between so its not a matter of comfort, when I feel like an ice cube I put on warmer clothes, make a cup of tea and cuddle with a little furnace under a blanket (and then I realize why the kids are in t-shirts they are great furnaces.
My oldest likes to read in my bed before she goes to her bed, and I love it, she is my own personal bed warmer.

Adrienne said...

It's hopeless. Or rather, it's too late. Maybe if everyone went to their absolute outer tolerance of turning down the heat, taking the bus instead of driving, etc., and they all did it RIGHT NOW, *maybe* we could slow down climate change enough to have time to figure out how to deal with it. But obviously that's not going to happen. I turn my heat down anyway, but really, I don't believe it matters at this point.

Anonymous said...

It matters to you and your kin.

Mother Earth is much more resilient than we give her credit for. It has undergone near total extinction several times, just to stand up again and again. We humans are the ones that may not fare too well.

But if you begin to volunteer for the changes that are going to be forced to you down the road, you will have at least the advantage of preparation and skill development ahead of time.

Crunchy Chicken said...

Condo Blues - You see, the problem is that the last article doesn't suggest extreme measures. It just suggests turning down your heat a little and doing some home repairs to keep it feeling warmer. And put on a sweater.

And, still. This totally freaks people out and you get the same response as if we were mentioning unplugging your furnace. I understand the responses to the articles that cover the extreme folks, but really?

Elisabeth said...

Hopeless, eh, maybe in that you can't MAKE people change. Hopeful, yes, in that you can only be responsible for yourself and that there are those of us who are non-consumeristic. People will always love to get their panties in a wad about something. You are reaching people - the very best evidence of that is that you're making people angry!

Lacie said...

I completely agree with something you have said here. The main problem with this country (in my opinion) is not awareness or even dissenting opinions, its apathy. There are so many people out there who don't even care. Some people are so afraid of backlash (as put forth in your examples) that they would just rather not have any opinion at all.

Renee Unplugged - said...

I go back and forth between hopeless and hopefull.
I've been doing/advocating eco and earth-friendly practices for 15+ years, and back when I started I was definitely a bit conservative looking among a group of long-haired, unshaven, patchouli wearing folks. ;) Nothing wrong with any of that!
Now, I frequently have conservation; local vs. factory farmed; home-grown and home-made conversations with my corporate colleagues and no one blinks twice.
Most are willing to try growning a few veggies at home; my friends and I have inspired many to not necessarily give up meat, but to seek more sustainable LOCAL sources; last Sunday, at our Unitarian Church, my husband and I had a discussion with several other people, about getting into raising chickens in a suburban setting.
So that's the hopeful side; the side that says that you don't have to be a LHHF to make a difference, that every-day urban/suburban corporate-emploee types can do some things and not feel put-out or that their lifestyle has to be decimated to make a difference.
The hopeless side is the one you mention in your blog...the head-in-the-sand people; the ones who don't care what happens beyond their life-time; the ones who spew hatred at those who do care. AND THEY ARE LOUD!!!!!!! AND HATEFUL!!!
But, I am still balancing on the side of hope. There are more and more of us, there are more and more people becoming aware - and that is what is making the B@$%rds more loud and hateful.
Don't give up hope.
The people who are reasonable who read/see your message will get something from it - and may not take the time to let you know or thank you. Keep the faith that they are out there...and will spread the message in their way too.

Anonymous said...

I'm with unrefined mama to a point.

There are racists and sexists. But think of how people want to distance themselves from them in public. What's considered mainstream can change fairly quickly, so don't lose hope.

George Marshall from COIN calls it the "medusa effect"--that people are so freaked out by the possibility of it all going to hell (and a LOT of the polar bear, glacier, tropical storms, flood warnings make me a bit scared), they'll get angry or deny it or be apathetic because they don't know how to handle it.

But other people will listen and see sense.

And no, I don't understand why using less energy would make you a horrible person.

Vern said...

Unfortunately, cultural norms and attitudes shift very slowly. I think sustainable lifestyle is becoming somewhat more mainstream, but is slow to become the norm. People in the middle will slowly come around, but the vehement "Antis" will never change their minds. That's why the complete transformation will take a generational change. I say that because kids today, in general, seem a lot more receptive than many of their parents.

I don't think it's hopeless, but it's frustrating and maddeningly slow. And at such a slow pace, how much more damage will be done before improvement takes hold?

Unknown said...

I can certainly sympathize with these concerns about apathy, hopelessness, etc. But, I just visited the article and read the comments, and found them largely supportive. Many people cited their own thermostat turn-down (which is what I've always done as well), plans to bundle up, save money and save energy. There was one argument between two individuals, but otherwise, I thought people seemed really on board. I think you should be encouraged rather than dismayed.

Farmer's Daughter said...

I know a lot of people in my family who turn the heat down or use wood because it's reducing our reliance on terrorist nations. I think that's as good a reason as any in an ends justify the means sort of rationale.

I've always thought that the naysayers are the comments that are made the loudest, the most vehemently. I read the articles and agree, but don't feel the need to comment, and I think a lot of other people feel the same way. So don't let the skewed number of dissenters get you down.

And as far as legislation goes... I'm beginning to think more and more that we NEED to enact legislation or we'll never see positive change. If that means we drag people kicking and screaming into environmentalism, so be it.

Carley said...

This is TOTALLY off-topic, but after reading your blog for a while, I broke down and bought a diva cup. The girl working the register asked me about it, she was pretty intrigued. It is awesome. Thank you for planting the seed in my head.

Sharlene said...

Is it easier to believe that human driven climate change is real and slowly change your habits or to believe that its completely made up by a bunch of hippy scientists and turn the heat up to 80? Obviously- its the latter. Most people don't want to be held accountable for their actions. They don't want think about the plastic bag they let fly away ending up wrapped around some sea life or the batteries they threw in the trash seeping into their ground water. And these are the things that are illegal. We have a right to set our thermostat wherever we want so people feel threatened by the concept of turning it down because they are being held accountable for their carbon emmissions. If it was purely an article about the money saving benefits I bet more people would do it and none of them would feel threatened. Its a sad state of affairs. I don't know what the answer is. I can't even get my mom to recycle....

Anonymous said...

I read a very scary-but-enlightening comment on a frugality-themed blog recently. Basically, the commenter was trashing environmentalists who "worship the earth instead of God." It really sent chills down my spine to think that in this warped mindset, ignoring one's environmental impact could somehow end up justified as "anti-pagan," and thus - PRO GOD! How crazy is that? Now, I know a lot of religious environmentalists, so I wouldn't say this is necessarily a widespread view . . . but if that is, indeed, "what we are up against," then I am afraid.

Kate in NY

Mike Ginn said...

Most of the makeup of the groups you mentioned hate Arabs. If they only realized how much their lifestyle helped the Arab countries.

What you preach is common sense. 10% at the thermostat, 10% more fuel efficient cars, 10% less driving and so on. It all adds up.

You left off another group of naysayers - I call them "misguided fools" who take the first thing they hear from Rush, Fox, or any misleading headline as the gospel.

Keep up the good work.

Rachael said...

I often feel quite discouraged, but it does no good to lose hope. I have to believe that we're reaching a tipping point and that people will change.

I love your blog. Thanks to you for what you do.

Robj98168 said...

I say if they don't want to listen- Fuck em. If they don't want to consider their way of life will change one way or the other- Fuck em. Now that I got my potty mouth out of the way... Keep doing what you are doing, girl. If it is pissing somebody off... Then you are doing it right!

Unknown said...

Deanna, I think this is about the best post of yours that I have read.
It's not really in me to think it's hopeless, but daunting is what comes to mind.
It reminds me of when I stopped drinking years ago. A close friend turned on me in a most vicious manner because I was messing with her support system for the same habit I was walking away from.
I sometimes think that the world would be a better place if we just went away, but we owe it to all the other living things that we share a planet with to make things right.
What worries me is that the machinery we are hoping to manipulate is so vast that we can't really predict what such efforts will produce.

minervabird said...

I gave up a long time ago worrying about what other people think. If they want to classify me as a environmentalist freak because I heat with wood, grow my own veg, recycle, take public transport, won't fly unless an emergency, etc, I simply don't care. I don't say much about how I live to others, I just get on with it. If I'm asked about how I live, I tell people. If they are interested, they'll listen. If not, they won't. The only person's behaviour I can control is my own.

Then again, England (where I live) is a bit more tolerant of eccentrics.

Greenpa said...

So, now you know why I was totally silent for the first 25 years.

I think a lot of the reaction is based on guilt. People are aware they are wasteful, but don't want to face it, and are terrified that someone will now start preaching at them; making them more guilty, and more defensive.

And it's what is called an "intractable" problem- various approaches are not much use.

Max Planck made this observation about "science", which as we know is allegedly a rational process: "Science progresses- one funeral at a time."

Ok, he didn't say that exactly; but that's what he said. :-)

And it's obnoxiously painfully true. Just don't let the bastids wear you down.

Anonymous said...

No one advocates excessive consumption other the ones who where placed in front of a tv from a your age and have been brainwashed. I guess it's not their fault. There is a larger conspiracy at play.
Global warming/climate change is a non issue!! The science has been fudged, financed by the same human hating, kabbalah, Zionist morons trying to set up a global tax scheme trading carbon derivatives. Why not tackle the 83000 chemicals derived from petroleum which is the real problem. Why would these people finance environmental groups when THEIR companies are the largest polluters?

Human beings are a Carbon-12 life form; 6 protons, 6 neutrons, and 6 electrons. Now google the Georgia Guide Stones and Agenda 21

Rev. Peter Doodes said...


I think that reasoned debate is a lost art for some people Crunchy!


Crunchy Chicken said...

I don't think I could even make that up. And I make up some weird stuff.