Transition Ottawa

Building Community Resilience Through Action

Howdy folks,

 

     Like most of you I'm sure, our knowledge of the state of the environment has directly translated into action. We know that greenhouse gases are responsible for climate change, that resources are finite and that we have reached/are about to reach both Peak Oil and Peak Phosphorus. For most of us this this leads us to do what we can to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, purchase carbon credits, recycling, composting, posting a "no junk mail" sign on our mailbox, eat less meat, signing up with Bullfrog Power, maintaining naturalized backyards, etc. Unfortunately, for a large fraction of the population, awareness of environmental issues is not enough to lead them to sustained action.

 

     I was wondering if anyone out there has any advice on how to get the message through. From my own experience, I have learned that bombarding people with statistics and doom and gloom does not work. Making them feel guilty about their actions is also not productive! More recently my approach has been to simply lead by example, to maintain a positive attitude and to invite friends and family to see environmental movies and volunteering but with no pressure to join. So far, this appears to be a much better approach.

 

    So to me, leading by example is the #1 way of effecting change. Initially, only the most devout environmentalists adopt the new way of doing things (e.g. installing a rain barrel or a solar panel). As more and more people do it, it eventually gains acceptance by the general public and eventually begins to look like the fashionable or cool thing to do. The attached figure illustrates this point (http://www.sustainablecommunities.fcm.ca/Sustainable_Communities_Co...).

 

    Any thoughts or advice on all this? Cheers.

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Yes, I agree.

In the early days of Transition Ottawa, we used to post a lot of those doom and gloom pieces that you still see in the media: "Things are bad and they're getting worse", "There's nothing we can do about it, so why even try", and this theme, that we still hear a lot, "What good does changing a light bulb do when new coal plants are going online every 10 days": that sort of thing. Posting less of them isn't a question of sticking our heads in the sand, but it does work to change the perspective.

Fred Irwin, the past chair of Transition Town Peterborough, the first Canadian transition town, is fond of saying that in this sphere, there is no act too small, no initiative too unimportant.

At the risk of over-quoting Margaret Mead, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

I am full of admiration for the SLOEs (Sustainable Living Ottawa East), the SLOWs (Sustainable Living Ottawa West), an the KENs (Kanata Environmental Network) of Ottawa. These are the pioneers: the "innovators, visionaries and rebels", to use your graph's terminology. And there are many others: Just Food, Ecology Ottawa. The list goes on.

And you're right. Where they lead, others will follow, even, eventually, the reactionaries.

/ jd
Hi Gabriel,
I'm with you on exampling change. In another of Dan Dolderman's books, he gave this example: A sign was put up in the shower room "Please turn of the water while you soap down." Only 4 or 6% of guys did. Put one guy in the shower who turns off the water when he soaps down, it's up somewhere like 47%, and if two guys are turning of the water, it's up in the 60s %. Add in language like, "these days most people turn off their shower while soaping down" - turning off the water now becomes a social norm. Part of the human psyche wants to be 'normal' and to be seen to be doing the same as everyone else is.
I ride a bike through winter, and visibly carry my bike helmet when I arrive. My bike is covered on every surface with phrases like "burn calories not oil." I talk loudly about the joys of picking fresh salad in the middle of winter (from my passive solar greenhouse made from recycled materials). I haven't seen a whole lot of tangible change, but I know the message is at least being heard. And say you come along, and hey, you're riding your bike through winter too. Well, now there's not just (possibly eccentric) Kaia, there's Gabriel, and, oh, here comes another biker...
It's probably going to be a slow process like this unless there is some incident, (collapse, squeeze or breakdown in the system) to move people on more quickly. Should such a thing happen, those who are living more simply will be so much better adapted than the oil-reliant. In the mean time, the simple livers at least enjoy the many benefits of better health, financial saving, and empowerment through self-reliance. Even if people can't sufficiently feel the environment directly to intrinsically respond, perhaps in time the health, financial savings (which if you don't run a car amounts to working a day-and-a-half less per week for an average income) could become attractive goals.
I honestly don't understand why people aren't responding to the news they are hearing. I can only surmise that they are so deeply programmed with advertising that their behavioural default setting is 'consume maximally.' (Sigh!)
Kaia
Inspiration seems to work better than the doom and gloom approach. Eating local and in season 'tastes' better. Biking gets us to use our muscles, puts us on the beautiful river trails instead of being stuck in traffic during rushing Public transportation allows us to meet the folks in our neighbourhood, to see various 'slices of life' unfold in front of us that we'd otherwise miss if we put ourselves in a 'car bubble'. Working in the neighbourhood or working less means that we have more time to enjoy each other's company, cook real meals (which are more sustainable than convenience food).

I wonder if folks respond or change because they have connected to something they care about whether it be a love of animals, food, children or an intimate experience of nature. Facts and stats can be effective, but experience is undeniable.
In my experience, people respond positively to "happy" stories. Like this happy cheapskate story. Stu Mills, CBC radio news, shared his eye glasses story with the folks on FullCircles Ottawa yesterday. Stu is always proud of the things he does to save money.

Here's Stu's story of how he saves hundreds of dollars on glasses. It's fun and might actually encourage people to copy his behavior.
This is inspiring:

The power of the 'mob' and 'buycotting'. Partnerships between consumer-activists and businesses are set up so that businesses can green-up their operations. Moves away from small, individual actions towards a collective action that can have affect on a systemic level. Viral activism?

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/food-and-wine/a-little-mob-mone...
Hello All,

Gabriel, I'm with you on modelling the kinds of lifestyle choices and behaviours we value. I think "being the change" is incredibly powerful. From my own experience, I'd say that modelling change, together with listening and gently offering some information, has influenced people, who I thought "would never understand and would never change", to make their OWN CHOICES to change. I don't think we can push people into making lasting or meaningful change; I think change comes from deeply understanding and being ready and empowered to act, which sometimes comes slower than we'd like!

How to reach people and share with them my deepest concerns about our collective well-being and survival is something that I've been wondering more about in the last few months. I really want to convey my urgent concerns about how oil and climate may affect our lives - and in a way that would invite the listener to listen and engage, with openness and curiosity.

I wrote two related blog posts recently...

Nonviolent Communication - An Attitude of Cooperation in Activism and Environmentalism
http://www.eco-logicalsolutions.com/nvc-activism

The Alchemy of Feelings and Needs - Personal and Social Transformation
http://www.eco-logicalsolutions.com/content/alchemy-transformation

If you feel inspired, I'd love to hear if these posts resonate with you, if you find them inviting, if there is something specific that you are wondering about or wanting more of...

Thanks for the conversation and sharing!

Bonita :)
@Julie - I love what you said about inspiration! Focusing on the fun, delicious, beautiful, joyful, healthful, warm and fuzzy! May I quote you on that some time?
Hi Gabriel and All!

Oh such a good discussion! I totally agree Julie - how can someone not want to do something when they have a great experience doing it? It's something that is starting to be on the radar for those in the transit industry - wanting to make sure that someone's first experience taking the bus is a good one (otherwise you have just lost a customer for life!) Some transit companies are now turning to "individualized marketing" where potential customers, if they show interest, can even request "a guide" for their first trip - to show them the ins and outs - how to read a bus schedule/map, how to navigate a station or pay for a ticket. For the Olympics in Vancouver, access to buses was part of the ticket to an event and transit ambassadors were stationed at all stations to help people get to where they wanted to go. I heard that even if the lineups or crowds were crazy the spirit was still enthusiastic so I think in the end, Vancouver may have been able to showcase their transit system in a very positive way!

Community based social marketing is an approach that many organizations are taking to get messages out. There is a great website and it's Canadian-based: Fostering Sustainable Behaviour (http://www.cbsm.com/public/world.lasso) which has articles, case studies, strategies. There was also a great report that I came across a couple of months ago on how organizations can target different groups when they try to communicate Social Change messages:

Yale's Center for Environmental Law and Policy's Report: Global Warming's Six Americas 2009 addresses one of the first rules of effective communication for those in the environmental field: "know thy audience." The report outlines six American audiences in terms of climate change:
- The Alarmed (18%)
- The Concerned (33%)
- the Cautious (19%),
- the Disengaged (12%)
- the Doubtful (11%)

From their website: "This research provides a solid foundation, grounded in social science, to facilitate the changes required to achieve a transition to a low-carbon future." If anyone is interested, you can download their report here: (http://envirocenter.research.yale.edu/BlankOfTheMonth/34/67)

But on the personal level, it is hard to figure out how best to influence change. I do agree that positive messages, enjoyable experiences and the subtle "exampling change" are probably the best tactics.

One last thought, the Tamarack Institute had a great webinar last week on "The Power of Collective Wisdom" (which is also a book). They talked about six steps to allow more meaningful dialogue and get groups of people to engage and work together towards common goals. I don't have my notes with me but the webinar speaker (John Ott) outlined what was needed to create a solid foundation - a place of connection which would then foster this collective wisdom. It was a great webinar on how to get diverse groups on the same page. I'll see if I can find my notes.

These thoughts are kind of scattered but I hope some of this will help!


P.S. Kyra - would love to learn more about your passive solar greenhouse made from recycled materials!! : )
Hi Katherine,
re: greenhouses made of recycled materials:
If you cover plants with some kind of see-through material, they will be warmer. I've read that clear plastic over little hoops raises the ground temperature by 12 degrees.
Basically, you work with whatever you have - windows picked up from the street, bits of wood, clear plastic all oriented to capture the most sunlight in some delicious green leaves.
My greenhouse is a temporary structure with the windows hung on a frame using a couple of hooks each. In winter, the sun is never more than 25 degrees from the horizon, which means at that angle you can stack plants on shelves without them shading each other. This way a small area can grow more produce. The rest is about experimenting with soil and soil nutrition. I've been tinkering with this for a few years now, and delight myself in little projects like trying for perpetual year round tomatoes (micro amounts, but still it is possible).
Most Canadians seem to assume that nothing can be grown in the winter. I've been exploring just how much is possible. After all, we're at the same latitude as Venice - no shortage of sunlight, we just need to capture enough warmth. I see a future in which all buildings are created with passive solar south faces with layered shelving growing succulent salads that can be fresh picked for the table, plus fans blowing surplus hot air into the home - carrying the sweet smell of earth and lettuce with it. An added bonus of these covered areas is getting sun on your skin in the middle of winter. Pure luxury. I can't imagine why every home doesn't have a glassed area growing lovely edible things.

Katherine Forster said:
Hi Gabriel and All!

Oh such a good discussion! I totally agree Julie - how can someone not want to do something when they have a great experience doing it? It's something that is starting to be on the radar for those in the transit industry - wanting to make sure that someone's first experience taking the bus is a good one (otherwise you have just lost a customer for life!) Some transit companies are now turning to "individualized marketing" where potential customers, if they show interest, can even request "a guide" for their first trip - to show them the ins and outs - how to read a bus schedule/map, how to navigate a station or pay for a ticket. For the Olympics in Vancouver, access to buses was part of the ticket to an event and transit ambassadors were stationed at all stations to help people get to where they wanted to go. I heard that even if the lineups or crowds were crazy the spirit was still enthusiastic so I think in the end, Vancouver may have been able to showcase their transit system in a very positive way!

Community based social marketing is an approach that many organizations are taking to get messages out. There is a great website and it's Canadian-based: Fostering Sustainable Behaviour (http://www.cbsm.com/public/world.lasso) which has articles, case studies, strategies. There was also a great report that I came across a couple of months ago on how organizations can target different groups when they try to communicate Social Change messages:

Yale's Center for Environmental Law and Policy's Report: Global Warming's Six Americas 2009 addresses one of the first rules of effective communication for those in the environmental field: "know thy audience." The report outlines six American audiences in terms of climate change:
- The Alarmed (18%)
- The Concerned (33%)
- the Cautious (19%),
- the Disengaged (12%)
- the Doubtful (11%)

From their website: "This research provides a solid foundation, grounded in social science, to facilitate the changes required to achieve a transition to a low-carbon future." If anyone is interested, you can download their report here: (http://envirocenter.research.yale.edu/BlankOfTheMonth/34/67)

But on the personal level, it is hard to figure out how best to influence change. I do agree that positive messages, enjoyable experiences and the subtle "exampling change" are probably the best tactics.

One last thought, the Tamarack Institute had a great webinar last week on "The Power of Collective Wisdom" (which is also a book). They talked about six steps to allow more meaningful dialogue and get groups of people to engage and work together towards common goals. I don't have my notes with me but the webinar speaker (John Ott) outlined what was needed to create a solid foundation - a place of connection which would then foster this collective wisdom. It was a great webinar on how to get diverse groups on the same page. I'll see if I can find my notes.

These thoughts are kind of scattered but I hope some of this will help!


P.S. Kyra - would love to learn more about your passive solar greenhouse made from recycled materials!! : )
Hi All,

There seems to be a desire to bridge individual action and wider scale action (that of organizations, governments, environmental groups). It seems that we are pretty clear on how to 'example' change on a personal level but I wonder if substantial shifts could happen if small groups of individuals ‘example change’ together. There is a power to acting in numbers. I've been giving this some thought and I think it's a bit disempowering to 'be the change' individually and quietly hope that folks around us will get on board.

Just some ideas. Imagine if there could be a network of folks showing off their wonderful garden produce from their homemade greenhouses to the press/radio/farmers’ markets/online/schools. What if a whole neighourhood, a BIA (Business Improvement Area) or even just one city block would commit to no pesticide use, green energy, back yard farming and food sharing and was very public about it? A viral non-violent communication challenge? (Oxymoron - Bonita?) What if we had fun, organized, public tours of exemplary organic home food gardens? (There was a Centretown art tour last year where various artists opened their studios for the general public. It was a lot of fun.) What about a preserve, canning, cheese-making gang who show up at various neighbourhoods during the fall to demonstrate/teach their skills (can-offs? cheese-offs, perserve offs?)?

We live in time where our technology facilitates ‘getting the message out’, where an organized, empassioned few can make a difference. Perhaps 'the message' is about connection, sharing, enjoyment and creativity while becoming sustainable.

I found this inspiring piece on the potential of small groups and networks to make substantial change from ‘The Hope: a Guide to Sacred Activism”.

http://www.andrewharvey.net/freeexcerpt.php
I like where you are going with this Julie! And what a great link/inspiration. We need at least six people? We've got seven in this discussion - that's a start! : )

How can we do this while making it "fun, delicious, beautiful, joyful, healthful, warm and fuzzy" - so that everyone goes away excited and inspired?

I love the idea of a tour of organic veggie gardens, butterfly/bird/wildlife gardens, rooftop gardens downtown! (And if we could have some other activities to advertise while people are there - i.e. later this summer join us for some preserving, canning or other classes - hand out flyers for the event.) Or organize some bike tours (for different levels of cyclists) with a cool destination at the end - like an afternoon at the one CSA farm in the city-limits! And that gang idea - that could really work - target some neighborhoods and get people to come out.

It is about building a momentum, a critical mass - "exampling" but with a viral effecting - it just keeps growing.

We should meet up and discuss! (I definitely want Kaia's greenhouse on the tour!) : )
We could think about doing a Jane's Walk next year if we had enough people within a walkable area with green roofs, garden roofs, extensive container gardening, pollinator gardens, etc. and maybe connect with some of OTESHA's vegetable gardens in other people's backyards project.

Heather

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