Your ideas for changing the world may be desperately important. But if you can't find a way to engage the interests of the people around you they may never take off, argues John-Paul Flintoff. The environmental movement has often been guilty of making people despondent, either by talking about 'problems' in a way that makes listeners feel powerless, or by presenting solutions as miserable duties. It needn't be that way. Instead, we could try to make doing the right thing appealing, rather than merely necessary - and one way to do that is to offer people a chance to say hello to their neighbours.
The environmental movement has often been guilty of making people despondent, either by talking about 'problems' in a way that makes listeners feel powerless, or by presenting solutions as miserable duties. It needn't be that way.
Instead, we could try to make doing the right thing appealing, rather than merely necessary - and one way to do that is to offer people a chance to say hello to their neighbours.
Perhaps the greatest environmental and economic challenge of our age is that we have substantially depleted our oil reserves, and entered the era of 'peak oil'. Reading about this in the abstract, the problem sounds both dreary and chilling - a reason to retreat into ourselves and do nothing in particular besides panic.
Certainly, when I first found out about 'peak oil', in 2005, I was desperately worried. I told my wife that the future as we had always imagined it was an illusion. (This didn't go down very well.) I wanted to act, but felt lost until I heard about the startlingly upbeat approach of Rob Hopkins and the other Transition Town pioneers, who seemed to have found ways to turn this catastrophic prospect into an opportunity.
'Realistically, only a very small percentage of people will think that life beyond abundant oil could be preferable to what we have now,' Hopkins told me. 'But I don't think it has to be a dark age. It could be a most extraordinary renaissance.'
Hopkins and his allies used a technique that we could all use to find motivation, whatever our mission of change. They sent themselves, in effect, a cheerful postcard from the future. They used 'imaginary hindsight' to picture what the world could be like in a hundred years if humankind gets it mostly right - and they concluded that local communities will all be much more self-sufficient than today, and more close-knit.
Then they worked out backwards how to get there, year by year. The steps for change included: teach people to grow food, and make and mend clothes (and other items), hold workshops to give energy conservation advice, and form clubs to install renewable power facilities. In each case, as these strategies were put into practice, the leaders of the movement found out something remarkable: that people actually enjoyed coming together with a common purpose, picking up useful and engaging skills and (in the process) building a greater sense of community.
Article continues at ENN affiliate, Ecologist
Neighbors Talking image via Shutterstock