Seven Reasons Why It's Hard to Be Human and Green

By December 19, 2007
Keywords : Smart city, Green

This morning, I joined the crowd of concerned environmentalists on DotEarth, and lamented with them on the outcome of the Bali talks. And declared, Talk is nice. My concern is what can I do as a citizen, to become a part of the

solution. Here are my resolutions:

1) to continue to explore the psychology of green in my blog
2) to try my best to green my life
3) to join a green business venture, hopefully in the next few weeks
4) to act as a responsible citizen and make sure the right person gets elected as our next President
5) to explore ways that I can spur green initiatives in my immediate community
6) to channel the anger, frustration, I feel as a result of these talks, productively, into positive actions.

What are you all choosing to do on a personal, concrete level?

Later in the day, I decided to go to the gym with Prad. Charlotte saw me grab my car keys. “You are not taking your bike?” Prad offered to ride with me if I wanted to. No, it was too cold, and I just wanted to get to the gym, fast. We drove.

What happened? Why such discordance between what I know to be the right action, and what I end up doing? I have become obsessed with understanding what goes on in my brain during those split seconds, when I decide to not follow my green conscience. Several times before, I have tried to revisit similar moments, to grasp the thoughts, the feelings, that trigger such behavior. I am convinced, if I can reach down far enough, I will retrieve valuable insights, that will help get to the roots of the behavior. If I can nail down the cause, it may be easier to figure out some solutions.

Back to the gym moment. I was tired with a slight cold. The idea of going out in the damp weather, and of spending a half hour biking, did not feel good. Compared with the comfort of our warm car, the bike did not come close. In that moment, all I could think of was, cold versus warm, hard work versus easy ride. I did not feel so good. I wanted warm and comfort. A curtain came down between my green conscience, my morning discourse, and the reality of my present physical need.

I surprised myself with the strength of my response to Charlotte and Prad. ‘No way, I am riding my bike. I am tired and it’s cold.’ Never mind that I was going to the gym to exercise. My heart was set on swimming, not biking. Still, if I had enough energy to swim, I probably could have biked. It is just that I was thinking exercise equal gym. To exercise I needed to go to the gym. Although I was tired, I am very disciplined about exercising every day, and I was willing to make that effort. In my mind, going to the gym, was in the transportation category, not the exercise file. Transportation meant, I was going to naturally choose the option that was most efficient time wise, and comfortable.

Now, why was I willing to make the effort to exercise (swim) although I was not feeling so good, but not to bike instead of driving? The answer is, I consider exercise a direct personal benefit to my health and my well being. Biking instead of driving, because of environmental concerns, does not affect me directly. (that’s assuming I maintain earlier ‘logic’ of biking not as an exercise form, but as mode of transportation). Its benefit gets diluted both in time and space. The big pot problem again. When I exercise, I feel an immediate personal benefit. When I consider acting from my green conscience, it falls in the higher category of ‘I and many other enlightened people know it’s the right thing to do, but it is not part yet of the commonly accepted set of ethical behaviors’. Where I get in trouble is with that latter part. The lack of collective consciousness in the green category, and the resulting lack of environmental laws and best practices, give me license to err.

Am I that selfish of a person that I never do anything for the greater good? Actually, there are many instances when I can act selflessly. My maternal instinct makes sure I always put my children’s interests before my own. I find great pleasure in mentoring my Little Sister. For seven years, I spent my time helping people as a profession. In the green category even, I now make sure that I bring my recyclable bags to the grocery store. I try not to flush. I have diminished my shopping significantly. I only heat the house very selectively. I always turn off the lights. I take the train whenever I go to the city. . . My laziness with biking is one of the last fortresses of my unconscious, not so green self, and a window into the ways most of the civilized world behaves. Here is what I saw:

We are creatures of the flesh. Trapped in our physical body, and at the mercy of our basic needs for physical comfort, pleasure, and immediate gratification. Without the external reinforcement from state or spiritual laws, these primal needs take precedence over our conscience.
We are lemmings. We look around and tend to emulate others’ behaviors.
We are self-centered. Our priorities start with getting our personal needs met first. Needs for security, personal health, financial security, comfort, safety, education, etc. Environmental concerns are at the bottom of the pile.
We are products of our culture. In America that means capitalism, money, greed, consumerism, extremes, convenience, industrialization, technology, cars, invincibility, man over nature.
We are creatures of habits. Our thoughts and behaviors are set in certain ways. To unset them requires tremendous energy and outside forces.
We are inherently lazy. Given the choice, we will most often pick the easiest, most convenient alternative.
We are not rational beings. The way we derive our thoughts is often circuitous, and leads to behaviors that fly in the face of reason.

Next, is how can we take into account these seven characteristics of human nature, and formulate winning behavioral change strategies for a greener planet. Plenty of material for another article…

By LaMarguerite, A valued contributor of Atelier.

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