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Lions Roar : November 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2011 42 When it comes to planet earth, what you do counts more than what you believe. That’s the credo for a green movement that has been popping up here and there for many years in a variety of highly visible, hands-on forms: urban farms, green-collar job programs, edible schoolyards, recycling flashmobs, naked night- time bike rides, cityscapes with natural features and birdsong, and more. Proponents of this movement—sometimes called trans- formational ecology (because it’s about transforming how we see the world)—have been learning from brain science that behavior (what we do) is more likely to change attitude (what we think) than the other way around. The old green often tries to persuade through piling up fright- ening statistics and playing out grim scenarios in the expectation that the information will move us to action. It has made great strides in abating many forms of pollution, protecting species, and creating regulatory frameworks. But it has not significantly changed the lifestyle and behavior of the average person. That’s the next frontier. Almost fifty years after Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring—the ostensible birth of modern environmentalism—our planet is in an ever more precarious state and our rapacious appetite continues unabated. For example, the International Energy Agency announced in May that, despite an economic slowdown in many parts of the world, global carbon dioxide emissions last year rose by a record amount. Oakland activist Van Jones, author of The Green Collar Econ- omy, says we’re in the middle of the era of “third wave environ- mentalism.” To oversimplify, the first wave, in the early twentieth century, espoused conservation; the second, beginning in the sixties, fought against pollution; the third seeks to change how we behave day in and day out and how we see the world. Many of us think green thoughts and take small actions we learn about in the free eco-mag from our bank, but in general we don’t do very much to alter our footprint. Advocates in the new green movement respect how hard it is for us to change, so they’re intensely curious to discover how people really do change. Many are long-time environmental warriors and have tired of pounding away at us with logic and rhetoric, and they’re being joined by a new generation who will soon be the move- ment’s leaders. They want people to discover that living green is not wearing a hair shirt. It’s biting into a tomato that is so juicy and flavorful you have to stop and really enjoy it. To care about the earth, you have to appreciate living here. “E NVIRONMENTAL ISSUES COME FROM sep- arating things into lots of pieces,” according to Jonathan Rose, who started the transforma- tional ecology initiative at the Garrison Institute in upstate New York. “For example, we make economic deci- sions as if they weren’t ecological decisions. We need to see the interrelationships and shift our mental model of the world from linear to holistic and interconnected.” Rose and his wife, Diana, founded the Garrison Institute in 2003 to bring together con- templative practice and engaged action. Jonathan, a prominent national real estate developer, has been the main convener of a series of annual meetings that brings behavioral science and contemplative discipline to bear on climate change challenges. “We’ve learned that within our brains,” Rose says, “we have what you might call a ‘me system’ and a ‘we system.’ The me is single-issue, single-response. It’s not designed to deal with com- plexity. I’m threatened. I do something about it.” The me system only kicks into high gear if we feel truly threat- ened. Vague pronouncements about future climate dangers, no matter how shocking and shrill, rarely move us. Advertisements about saving money by energy-upgrading our homes garner a tepid response. “But if you’re able to make it an energetic group thing,” Rose says, “a neighborhood thing, akin to a barn raising, the we system switches into gear and many more people participate.” Spurring people to act holistically, Rose says, is more about coaxing and cajoling than convincing. Providing good informa- tion is clearly part of the picture, but effecting changes in behavior If you coax someone into riding a bike or rooftop farming, the new behavior reshapes the brain in a way that changes their attitude. — JONATHAN ROSE Interweaving sustainability discussions with con- templative practice helps us make better decisions. We see ourselves as part of a bigger picture. — RACHEL GUTTER PHOTO:JACKALLRED