Eating Well Magazine article by Lynne Curry.
THINK YOU’RE GREEN?
Go meatless more often. Drive less often. Switch to LED lightbulbs. Give up plastic straws. Give up plastic—-period. While there’s no simple solution to climate change, we constantly hear that if we all did even one of these things it could, collectively, make a difference for our planet. If 40% of the country gave up meat once a week for a year, for example, it would be the greenhouse gas equivalent to taking over 1.6 million cars oﬀ the road. Compelling right? But there’s a catch. The complexities of climate change can activate some strange psychology, turning our good intentions into stumbling blocks instead of building blocks.
HOW WE GET IN OUR OWN WAY
Research has found that, when it comes to this scary global subject the human brain responds in a more emotional way than a logical one. Hearing stories about starving polar bears, catastrophic wildfires and coastal flooding triggers anxiety. And when we feel overwhelmed, we subconsciously seek a single, quick fix - like bringing metal straws when you go out to eat - to help us feel better and get on with our lives, according to Princeton University psychology professor Elke Weber, Ph.D. Certainly doing something is better than doing nothing, but the problem is that once we check oﬀ one Earth-friendly to do, we may stop making other positive changes.
This once and done tendency is called “single-action bias.” Even though the action hasn’t solved the issue (because no one thing of climate change hinges on just giving up plastic straws), the mind feels relieved by taking that step. Once the fear is alleviated, we tend to stop going further because the motivation to act is gone.
Don’t beat yourself up if you realize that you’ve been stuck in this psychological rut. It’s only human! If you truly don’t have the bandwidth to do more than one thing, no judgment. But what you can do is focus on an eﬀort that has the biggest impact. According to the climate research group Project Drawdown, this includes reducing food waste, eating less meat, supporting organizations that fight deforestation and buying or voting for renewable energy measures (like wind and solar power). You can also vote with your wallet by purchasing items from ecologically minded companies, since their carbon footprint is larger than yours.
BEST YOUR BRAIN
But there are ways that you can work around-if not overcome- single-action bias.
First, try expanding on what you’re already doing. Consider Meatless Monday: “Surveys show that about half the people who have done Meatless Monday are able to reduce meat beyond that one day in one way or another.”says Becky Ramsing, M.P.H.,R.D.H., senior program oﬃcer with the John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. How can you put yourself in the group that keeps going, as opposed to those who don’t? The diﬀerence may be confidence. Research has found that a key component of building a habit, one that continues to grow, is feeling capable of actually doing it. “We hear people who started with Meatless Monday say, “Now that I know what this tempeh or tofu is and know how to prepare it, I’ll try in again,” says Ramsing. So take what you’ve learned by going meatless one day and carry it in the rest of your week. The more you do it, the easier it’ll become.
Also effective: adding other behaviors that are related to your current one. According to a review of studies published in the journal Global Environmental Change, humans innately want to be consistent, which may make us more likely to pick up other behaviors that are in the same pro-environmental view. If you’re a recycler, for instance, use those sorting skills to put coﬀee grounds and food scraps into the compost bin instead of your trash. The researchers say other behaviors that cluster with recycling are conserving energy and water, reducing the amount of packaging you buy and shopping with reusable bags.
Finally, try using a climate checklist. Columbia University’s Center for Research on Environmental Decisions says that prominently posting a list of eco-friendly steps to take reminds you to go beyond a single thing. Better yet, jot down why each action is important to you. Studies show that personalized prompts help people stick to new habits. Check out the United Nations’ Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the Planet website for ideas (un.org/sustainabledevelopment/takeaction). Because while doing one thing can be a good thing, doing more to adopt a low-carbon lifestyle - to the best of our abilities - is worth striving for.
-Submitted by Carol Campbell for the Green Team
We hope to help our community become stewards of creation.