According to Rodale.com, "the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on the Interface Between Psychology and Global Climate Change studied decades of research on environmental issues and human behavior, and came up with the factors that are preventing people from taking immediate action" on global warming.
The study discusses six factors, but the two that are most interesting to me are the ones that illustrate why a commitment to meaningful and deep lifestyle change (by which I mean giving up the car or committing to eating locally as opposed to just changing your lightbulbs) actually helps the people around you believe that global warming exists and that they can do something about it.
“People believe their actions would be too small to make a difference and choose to do nothing.”
In fact, according to the study, for some people, the fact that they don't believe they can personally do something about global warming causes them to deny that it exists at all. Thus, when large numbers of us commit to meaningfully making our lives more environmental, we demonstrate our power to effect change and help other people to accept that global warming exists and is something they have power to change too.
“Ingrained behaviors are extremely resistant to permanent change while others change slowly.” Habit is the most important obstacle to pro-environment behavior, according to the report. A study at Baylor College of Medicine found that when people tackled two bad habits at once, they were more successful in achieving permanent change than people who attempted to change the habits one at a time.
What interests me about this, is the idea that getting someone to commit to more radical lifestyle change is more likely to be successful than just getting them to make "little changes."
Crucially, it is important to remember that little changes aren't going to save the planet from cataclysmic climate change, anyway. Only a wholesale change in our systems--agricultural, transportation, and energy production--combined with cultural lifestyle change will do the trick.
My feeling is this: the systemic change is not exactly speeding its way down the pike. So while we work for that systemic change through actions like 350.org's, we can kick start the cultural change right now by changing our own lives.
Colin Beavan (that's me!) is now leading a conversation about finding a happy, helpful life at Colinbeavan.com. If you want to know how people are breaking out and and finding authentic, meaningful lives that help our world, check it out the blog here and sign up to join the conversation here.