Changing Our Behavior

There was a good discussion on the post Reducing Our Own Emissions 10%.

Before I get to what these and other Friends (and some non-Friends) are saying about changing our greenhouse gas behavior, the origin of the discussion:

I wrote If We Could Move Like Centipedes in part to address people’s sense that “there is nothing I can do” because “I am just one person”. If enough of us could move, we could get out of danger, and this post suggests several ways for us to act. One of these is to reduce our own emissions 10% in the coming year. I took these ideas to Friends General Conference, to both a workshop and an interest group, and the ideas made it into an epistle for Friends everywhere. Then two California Friends Meetings in Pacific Yearly Meeting began considering committing to 10% reductions in GHG emissions in the coming year for all Friends in the Monthly Meeting.

There are several other actions that count as motion: educating ourselves about the science, impacts, policies, and the emotional and spiritual aspects of what will happen — from negative emotions like guilt to positive ones like responsibility for the solutions — and behavior change. Educating ourselves about how to communicate on climate change. Laboring with legislators, and if that is unsuccessful, replacing them.

It would not have occurred to me to ask all Friends to change our GHG behavior. Now that the question is being asked, I am interested in the discussion. It is useful to ask hard questions of one’s self, even if today’s answer is “not now”, because it is important that we try to walk in God’s path consciously.

Positives (from the comments, and what I’ve been hearing – what have you been hearing? Let us know):

• Don exudes pride and enthusiasm. (He deserves to feel this way!) This is typical: changing our lives, so we are happier with who we are, feels really, really good. I don’t know how much time Don put into these changes, but most of us spend much longer thinking we should do something than the something actually takes. There are several suggestions in these comments on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Bob and another Don point out there are numerous easy changes in the house.

• Those who have already changed the most are better able to see how to make more changes. It often doesn’t feel like an obligation, more like walking further on the path. Many still use the word joy months or years later.

Others I know are taking the bus locally even when they own a car, or taking trains short distances (24 hours), particularly to Friends events.

• Liz, Pam, and Gretchen discuss psychological and family conflicts: travel feels different when it’s to visit sick family members (and so rules about whether the airplane is OK are different). The family/housemate likes warmer winter temperatures, cooler summer temperatures, short flights over long bus trips, and no clothes line. (Gretchen’s comments include many more details.) It’s much harder when the desire to fly long distances for vacations is more vital than, or at least strongly competing with, the desire to reduce GHG emissions. Chris also talks about the difficulties – he’s created a life where he accepts jobs and committee meetings far from mass transit and then needs a car.

Chris also discusses the benefits of community efforts, like the “One Less Car Day!” October 4. It must be a trend, because I bicycled by an elementary school 20 miles east of SF, where a big sign announced October 2 – 6 is “Walk to School Week”. (As teachers know, students who get to school by a combination of muscle power and bus arrive more settled and ready to study.)

• Anonymous says record-keeping, ugh. He (or she) also faces the family member/tenant/housemate challenge, but sees working with housemates as a behavior to change – from not at all to more often. Instead of cutting back 10%, he suggests a 20% reduction from however much you consider necessary (what is necessary for a typical American or Canadian? others?). He walks and bicycles more than he flies and drives (I’m assuming that the actual numbers given were typos, walking 1/10 as many hours as one flies is a lot of flying!)

• Several people point out that much can be accomplished by higher efficiency in distribution power, switching away from coal, etc, We need to work with our legislators to mandate improvements. And taxing GHG emissions (through a cap and trade program), and taxing ourselves to pay for third world improvements.

OK –here’s the question – are people actually working with their legislators, other than signing those petitions no one reads? Personal visits to legislators from a group are more likely to be effective, particularly if you are prepared. If not, we shouldn’t list this under behavior change.

Gretchen’s new bike is inspiring her to help with local bike transportation issues.

• Others like the idea of planting trees or buying carbon offsets. This can help, as can working for nuclear power instead of coal (or solar or wind power, but at this point, they are not ready to displace an entire large coal power plant.) (For the question on replacing your car with a more fuel-efficient model, see post on how airplanes and cars compare. But don’t trash your inefficient car, as it may be an improvement for someone else – one person told me that he makes sure each car he buys gets at least 5 mpg better than the previous one.)


• We find it easier to talk about changing light bulbs than changing behavior, beyond turning off lights in empty rooms.

Transportation is particularly difficult: many see no alternative to current choices. Alternatives do exist, but we have trouble seeing them. Sort of like the days of slavery, when so many could not imagine cooking their own meal or planting their own crops. Life can change – but we can’t see it, even if it leads to a way of living that makes us happier with who we are.

It is hard, but relatively easier, to personally buy more efficient bulbs, shift electricity away from high GHG emitting sources, mandate better buildings and more efficient appliances and cars, and decrease industrial GHG emissions. Low GHG substitutes for fuels will be harder to come by (some can be replaced by cellulosic biofuels, but we will also be burning lots of coal to liquids, or synfuel, soon). Most of us find the roundtrip flight once or several times/year, or long car trips at high speeds, hard to reflect on. Most of us find it hard to shift toward a world (in the US anyway, worldwide some are already there) where people live and work near good mass transit, and use it, or to restrict ourselves to activities accessible by muscle or mass transit. Where we schedule longer vacation and work trips to accommodate the extra time required for bus and train. Where we make longer trips, because we will schedule many fewer of them.

• While some cities/towns both have good transit and are affordable, this is often not the case in the US. It is important that our cities be places where the poor (and middle class) are welcome, and where they can get around.

• Some appear to be relying strongly on the effectiveness of offset programs. Some say they’ve cut back as much as possible, but still must make that trip once/year, but others talk about buying GHG offsets in the same way people in the Middle Ages purchased indulgences, possibly to equal effect.

• This discussion on behavior change is not occurring in most Friends Meetings yet (I hope this statement is not correct, that in a future post I will be able to say that lots of Friends have taken the call from the Friends General Conference epistle to heart).

One Response to “Changing Our Behavior”

  1. Forrest Curo says:

    It’s good to be introducing a proposal for a token reduction in the damage we contribute to.

    The actual problem, however, will probably require a radical restructuring of how people live. Quakers might help start this, though we ourselves aren’t even close yet to realizing the actual need . “A 10% reduction!” Hah! Like dealing with industrial pollution by “disposing of our McDonalds wrappers ‘properly.’ ”

    But it’s good to see a start; we’d just better not let it be mistaken for an end.