The green bastard: That’s how you overcome yourself

Why is it so difficult for us to change our behavior to green, even though we know it would be better? We have a few ideas.

At yoga the other day, my matmate worried me that her friends were turning their backs on her and she on them. “I just can’t understand that they’re so different from me these days: they don’t worry about their meat consumption, continue to fly and drive,” she says. “It separates us. And it depresses me. How can you not see that we are ruining the world with our lifestyle?”

I feel you, I thought, your desperation, your frustration. But at the same time, I’m convinced that we need to stay connected, understanding of each other’s thinking, right now. Because the climate crisis is a crisis that we can only overcome together. And some find it easy to change, for others it is a marathon. But how do we do that as a society? When it’s so hard for individuals to take the train instead of the plane or eat pea patties instead of beef burgers? If 23 percent of young people vote green, but another 23 percent want a party with the FDP that rejects bans and renunciations in the name of sustainability?

Fridays for Future & the young generation

I was also quite concerned for a while: while I was demonstrating peacefully on the street with thousands of strangers, my kids had little use for Fridays for Future. What went wrong? Today I notice that climate change is definitely on their minds. They only close when the index finger goes too high and the changes in behavior are too extreme.

The youth researcher Klaus Hurrelmann confirms my observation: “Young people are very interested in politics, climate change is the biggest problem for them. However, how willing they are to change their behavior of their own accord varies greatly: 26 percent do without meat, for 46 percent this is not an option. 27 percent no longer travel by air, for 39 percent it is out of the question.” The youth, he notes, are not as green as is often assumed: “There is no mental breakthrough in the entire generation. A minority is already living sustainably, some are still thinking, and the majority waits lazily.” I ask myself: how do we take those who are not yet on board the climate rescue steamer with us, now that time is running out? Do we need a different way of addressing people who change at different rates? And above all: can we still do it all?

Anita Habel is a communication psychologist at Psychologists for Future and a social scientist with a focus on social transformation. She says: “For most Germans, sustainability is now an important value. Now it’s about how we implement it – and that’s where the differences between people start.” Above all, other values ​​sometimes get in the way of environmental awareness. This can lead to internal conflicts: individual freedom vs. social justice, for example. Or: On the one hand I want a speed limit, on the other hand I want to move forward quickly. This creates resistance in the mind to change in the direction of green.

Instead of always emphasizing the negative consequences and doing without, we have to find a beautiful image that drives us.

Habel therefore suggests involving more people in the solution approaches: “We need participation, for example via citizens’ councils, to hear people’s fears of bringing in ideas from the population. This leads to more acceptance and counteracts division.” And above all, she believes, “we need a positive vision: What could this new sustainable world we want to live in look like? How can we better imagine it? Instead of always emphasizing the negative consequences and doing without, we have to have a find a beautiful image that drives us.” Fewer cars in inner cities, for example, also mean: more space for encounters, for green spaces, for children, less stress and better air quality.

So more: “I have a dream” and less: “How dare you!”?

Exactly, says Habel: The raised index finger must finally go. No mutual reproaches, instead: support. Ask questions and try to understand the concerns of others without wanting to change them immediately. Fears and worries are often behind it: Will I lose my job? Will I also be able to afford organic food? And we should keep asking: what does it take for people to be able to go along with the changes themselves?

We are creatures of habit

The US psychologist Wendy Wood investigates why many of us find it so difficult to change our behavior, even when we know that it would actually be better. About 50 percent of what we do, she explains, runs automatically – because we’ve always done it that way and because it’s easy. The mechanism behind it: Our brain saves energy when it doesn’t have to overthink every action. That’s why habits are so stubborn. What surprises me: That it hardly helps to know what the correct behavior is. “Habits have very little to do with facts, discipline, and willpower,” explains Wood, “and much more to do with living in an environment that supports the new behavior. So we need to create an environment that makes the new action easy : People who participate, little investment of time, low price for example. Also, it needs repetition and a reward to stick with it.”

An example: In a study, according to the expert, a company wanted to get its employees to take the stairs to the fourth floor instead of the elevator. Information boards on health benefits or CO2 savings made no difference. Only when the elevator opened and closed 15 seconds slower did 30 percent choose the stairs. And stuck with it a month later, even when the elevator was back to normal.

Sustainability must not be complicated

Wood’s insight is good and bad at the same time: good, because we don’t have to constantly feel like we’re failing when we’ve not been able to keep up with a new behavior. Bad, because insight or enlightenment in the climate debate does not seem to make us behave differently. So what makes us move?

“People need a range of choices, but sustainable behavior should be the simplest,” says the psychologist. “For example, transportation costs and resource consumption should be factored into the price of food. Then you can still buy raspberries in the winter, but only if you’re willing to pay $10 for them.” We need to be pushed a lot harder to live greener. The experts call this behavioral nudge “nudging”: i.e. vegetables instead of chocolate, which is at the checkout; Yellow bags that are sent to us directly in the mail so that we really separate plastic waste; Right of way for cyclists in inner cities. And so forth.

The power of the group

What I also ask myself: How many people does it take to make society tip over? I call Ilona Otto, she researches the dynamics of system transformations at the University of Graz. For societies to change, she explains to me, there is no need for a majority behind it. About 25 to 30 percent active believers were enough to get the others involved. “A group can have more power than its percentage shows,” says Otto. “An engaged minority, if they are well connected and use social media strategically, can change norms and become socially dominant.”

Change is constantly happening, it is the result of a long process – often unnoticed at the beginning, initiated by a few visionaries who have crazy ideas. But at some point he picks up the pace and carries more and more people with him. This often requires events that open a window for a willingness to change – like Fukushima or the floods of summer 2021. Or individuals who think big, are passionately committed – like Greta Thunberg. “It takes about 30 to 40 years,” says Otto, “until new values ​​are established.” And with it different behavior, new laws and products.

The implementation is still lacking

Where are we now? “Not in the year zero, even if it seems that way to some,” says the social scientist. “The sustainability movement started in the late 1970s. The data shows that today more than 90 percent of the population is already concerned about climate change. That is the level of public opinion. However, the next step, lifestyle changes, is missing many still in the process of implementation.” But is the social tipping point already there, that moment when an idea or behavior suddenly takes over? Maybe, says Otto. At least he is imminent: “A lot is happening right now, things may change very quickly.”

The problem with the climate is that we are running out of time because democratic processes take a long time.

What makes the researcher optimistic: The prices for renewable energies have fallen, the Greens are in power. In many cafés, people are now asking whether “coffee with milk” also means cow’s milk – and not soy or oats. And more and more companies are aligning themselves with the circular economy and want to achieve a neutral climate balance. “All of this puts pressure on politicians and other companies and shows that social norms are changing,” says Otto. “The problem with the climate is that we are running out of time because democratic processes take a long time.”

So what now: can we make it in time or not? Ilona Otto hopes – but that is her personal view – “that we will still be able to achieve the climate targets in five to ten years. To do this, we now need political measures that set a framework that promotes sustainable production and behavior.”

The futurologist Matthias Horx is basically doing what we should all be doing much more: imagining a good and green future and orienting ourselves towards it. In his “Future Report 2022” he takes a look back from the future 2050 to the present. This unusual perspective shows a life in which the new is already there: renewable energies, green consumption, sustainable technologies.

Instead of whining, just do it

“This is how we manage to stop lamenting the problems and impossibilities,” says Horx. “We say goodbye to the hypnotic fear of catastrophe. And we start to think constructively about the future – and to act.” There is a very activating idea behind this: do we have to save the world at all? Or isn’t it finally time to look at all this in a completely different way? Because that is also in the “Future Report”: There is no normal state in the world – so there is no state that we can maintain. Because nature is always change. For us, according to the futurologists, this means: We will reduce the emission of greenhouse gases and at the same time do everything we can to be able to live well on a warming planet. Whereby good will probably have to be defined differently than before – namely not at the expense of resources or those who already have little. We urgently need to discuss how and whether prosperity can be maintained. We have to set social goals and limits within which new solutions can emerge – such as receiving holiday subsidies from the state if we take the train instead of flying, or car-free inner-city worlds instead of concrete deserts.

Sounds good? I agree. Because I don’t feel like constantly justifying myself anymore when I buy a dress that I don’t need or that I’m going to fly. Let’s stop being negative and get started. We have more power than we think.

In BE GREENthe sustainability magazine from BRIGITTE, you can read tips, tricks and exciting stories about a beautiful, greener life


source site-46