I've been in Indianapolis giving a talk to the Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts. So interesting, and for so many reasons. The people have been so kind and welcoming.
Back in New York we talk about water conservation in terms of run off from storm drains and building roofs and roads, and to be sure, in Indiana, they talk about that as it relates to urban environments.
But mostly, the talk here is about how to deal with the water run off from the farms. How do you keep the cow poop out of the water? How do you keep farm chemicals out of the water?
It is so interesting--and so important--to see how the agenda differs so much from one place to another.
I had a conversation with a water consultant here who makes a business of going around the state talking to farm organizations and real estate developers trying to convince them to take water conservation measures.
She said the only chance they have here of improving things is through individual action. I did a double take. Often, back on the coast, people say just the opposite. That the only chance we have is through regulation.
The woman I was talking to explained that Indiana is a state where the people traditionally like to keep the government out of their affairs. Fighting for regulation is more of an uphill battle that persuading the developers and farmers to take the measures you need them to take.
That means you have to use different rhetorics and different tactics as an environmentalist when you're working in one place or another. That's so obvious but so important to be reminded of.
When you're talking about farms of thousands of acres, too, the individual action of just one farmer or one developer makes a huge difference.
Convince a New Yorker to take individual action and you end up with 1000 less disposable cups in the garbage stream. Convince an Indiana farmer to avoid runoff into the streams and you end up with a few thousand acres worth of soil sediment and chemicals not flowing into the reservoirs, the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.
Sometimes regulation might be best. Sometimes individual action might be best. But round here, if you can get the right individual to change his mind...
Who is that individual in your community?
Someone came up to me after my talk. She said, "You gave a really good talk, and I bet your message goes over really well back in New York."
Don't get me wrong, my talk went swimmingly. People laughed at my jokes. They smiled when I showed a picture of my daughter Isabella (I love a discerning audience). I'm told my talk gave a lot of people food for thought and was "challenging." That's my job. No use preaching to the choir.
But you know what the lady's comment proves? What I've been saying for quite some time now. That if you want to deliver a environmentalist message, you need to speak in the language and to the concerns of your audience, not in the language you use when you talk to people who already agree with you.