Translating Environmentalism

Last night I read Paul Chadwick’s Concrete Celebrates Earth Day 1990, as much for the ongoing story as for the relevance to today’s Earth Day. Chadwick pointed out a lot of issues nearly two decades ago that are still incredibly relevant today; global warming, overpopulation, our failure to adopt environmentally sound practices and our failings in communicating environmentalism are all problems we have not adequately addressed.

Much of today will be focused on bringing attention to environmental problems and possible solutions and that is absolutely vital. But how we communicate environmentalism is something we need to look at very closely if we want to be successful in building a world that encourages everyone to live in ways that keep nature vibrant. The Concrete special includes a segment of Concrete talking about the challenge of getting conservatives engaged in environmentalism, and recommends recasting the environmentalist as a patriot. This sort of reframing environmental concern is vital in engaging as large a portion of our world as possible in action to protect life. We need to set aside our idealism and passion for the cause of environmentalism and pragmatically weigh our methods of presentation.

One of the greatest contributions of developmentalism –and integral theory more particularly– is the notion of altitude, or the fact that we have different levels of development as people and societies. People can be egocentric, ethnocentric or worldcentric, with only the latter group –making up only a small percent of the Earth’s population– caring about the entire world innately. Using awareness of these altitudes, we can more effectively communicate with people where they are instead of assuming everyone thinks in the same ways and has the same concerns.

An ethnocentric person, say a fundamentalist conservative, may respond better to environmentalism being in the service of their family, God and country than some of the ideals we, as environmentalists, hold. And we can work with that in ways like the one Paul Chadwick suggested years ago, by changing the messages we use. By focusing on local impact, the cost to humans everywhere and other pieces of the environmental concerns we have that are more relevant and visible for people not plugged in to the environmentalist movement, we can create more and better change. Pointing out the stakes people have in the Earth in a way they can understand and embrace is absolutely necessary if we can to succeed in protecting and advancing the Earth.

For more on environmentalism, I highly recommend Communicating Integral Sustainability and C4Chaos’ Environment blog entries.

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