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Never Shut Up

04/06/2011

Over two months ago I wrote a post in which I suggested the best way to spread awareness about environmental issues is not to preach about them constantly, but to make sustainable changes in your life and wait till others inquire before you discuss them.

I’d like to revise the position I stated in that post. (Changing one’s mind is a privilege not available to all of us. Politicians can’t do it.) I still think it’s important not to “patronize or criticize anyone” and that “the green movement should be an inclusive one, not exclusive.” But I have come to realize that in order to overcome the mounting crises confronting us, we need to harness the power of the Internet to convey the urgency to as many as possible.

We need to talk.

The last couple weeks or so I’ve been discussing the energy crisis, and the numerous courses of action at our disposal. If the public and world governments work in concert, we can sufficiently curtail our energy use to buy us enough time to implement alternative energy. For this to happen, sustainability has to become an ethic central to global civilization.

Talk has served many purposes in recent history. The American Cancer Society has employed talk in order to raise billions to help cure cancer. They dub those who have beaten cancer “survivors”, which helps create a sympathetic network of former cancer patients and friends/relatives of former cancer patients who are motivated to help fight the disease with donations. If the ACS instead called cancer survivors “individuals who once suffered from transformed cell abnormality”, they probably wouldn’t elicit the degree of outreach that they do. Talk–especially effective talk–can accomplish a lot.

The Internet has made disseminating talk a lot easier. In his book Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky writes about a Northwest Airlines flight that landed in Detroit on January 3rd, 1999 and was made to wait on a side runway for nearly seven hours before passengers were allowed to disembark. The food and alcohol ran out, and the toilets clogged and leaked. This resulted in a lot of bad press, and a lawsuit was brought against the airline, but the former didn’t result in any change in policy and the latter was settled out of court.

On December 28th, 2006, something very similar happened: several American Airlines flights were made to wait several hours. A few days later, one of the passengers found an article about the delays posted online and commented on it, giving a passenger’s perspective of the events and asking anyone who had been on her flight to contact her. Within days she had made contact with enough passengers to form the Coalition for an Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights. They started a petition, which garned over two-thousand signatures in the first month. Members of the Coalition were interviewed by major media outlets, and stories similar to the American Airlines delays are now covered as part of a broader issue, not as isolated incidents.

I believe that if the immediacy of our energy crisis is effectively communicated to enough people, we will see the necessary change–both in increased adoption of renewables and decreased consumption of energy.

But it isn’t enough to silently make changes in our lives. We need to talk about it, both online and off.

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