The Psychology of Change

Since the ‘70s, a growing body of people around the world have been sensing and observing that the way we treat our home planet is wrong. Unethical, unworkable, unfair, unsustainable… At first a trickle, then a stream, now a fairly hefty current of “alternative” or “ecologically minded” people are pushing against the mainstream.

What I’m thinking about is, when and how will the balance be tipped?

When will it be normal to live your life within its natural limits, taking the other people, animals and ecosystems around you into careful consideration? When will it be weird to fly to another country for a business meeting? When will coal-fired power stations be the stuff of history lessons? When will it be unusual for a family to have two cars? When will it be weird to cover your garden with gravel instead of raised beds? When will consumerism peak? When will it be seen as uncivilised to waste food? When will it be uncool to wear clothes made by five year olds?

And how will all this come about?

Well, let’s think about human psychology. People copy each other. We copy our friends, and we copy people whom we admire. We admire people who live their lives in a way we would like to, which is of course personal, but in general it’s safe to say we admire people who are successful, beautiful and happy.

We gravitate towards happy people like bees towards flowers. Happy people are more popular, because people enjoy their company. Happiness is contagious.

We also have the mysterious but highly valuable “cool”. Coolness can’t be measured… It’s a slippery notion that can easily slide away if you try to pin it down and study it. However, there’s not much need as what’s cool and what isn’t is generally easily understood by your social circle.

Sustainable lifestyles will become normal lifestyles when people believe that living in this manner will make them look cool and be happy.

Look how happy this nice lady is, doing her gardening...

That’s really what people want. We just want to be happy. Being cool and popular is really just one part of that, because humans are highly social and positive interaction with others helps to make us happy.

So perhaps the way forward is to promote “green” activities not as acts of charity, or righteous self-deprivation, as they often are shown to be in the media, but as normal, positive lifestyle choices that are seen to improve people’s lives.

I’ll admit I’m no wiser as to how to accomplish this, other than that the media has a large role to play as it wields such an influence over society.

The collective ingenuity of the human race is surely sufficient for the challenges we face… It’s just harnessing that ingenuity that’s the problem. Team work, people, team work!

More thoughts on this at a later point…

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