Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Take one step, then another

I'm spending my entire week consumed with thinking about global climate change as I help to host our Prindle Institute symposium, "Cool Talk about a Hot Topic: The Ethics of Communicating about Climate Change." Of course, this is an enormously depressing way to spend a week, as global climate change is, in the view of all of our speakers, by far the most urgent environmental, economic, political, and social problem ever faced (and caused) by humankind. As readers of this blog know, I prefer to occupy myself with happy thoughts about beloved children's books, covered bridges in rural Indiana, hot chocolate at the Blue Door Cafe, and other favorite things. But I remain a citizen of this country and denizen of this planet, and so occasionally I have to leave what one friend calls my "Betsy-Tacy bubble" (referring to my obsessive fandom for this series of children's books by Maud Hart Lovelace) and engage with the crucial issues of our world at this time.

The opening keynote yesterday was a stunning talk by Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. In the Q & A period, he was entertaining a question about action that individuals can take to reduce their carbon impact (although individual actions at best can amount to only about 10 percent of the reductions needed; still, 10 percent is not a negligible reduction). He said that researchers are investigating the question of whether individuals who take some small step toward living a more sustainable life tend to say something like, "Look at me! I changed all my light bulbs to compact fluorescent light bulbs, so now I've done my bit to stall global warming!" or if instead they say, "Changing my light bulbs wasn't so hard! So now I can start biking on short errands rather than driving! And I can start drying my clothes on a clothes line!"  He said that the empirical evidence favors the latter. The important thing is just to get started. Then one small step can lead to another.

Of course, as the author of a blog called "An Hour a Day," I was delighted to hear this and to be vindicated in my general life approach that one small step, one hour spent writing, one page written, can lead to another, and another, and another. I thought about all the changes I want to make in my life - related to work productivity, financial security, enhanced physical health and emotional well-being - and how the most important thing I can do on all fronts is just to take that one first step.

Now, when it comes to global climate change, as I just said, individual steps by all of us are not going to be nearly enough.  We need to take collective action to make massive shifts away from our reliance on fossil fuels in a way that none of us can do on our own. Still, I can take my own small steps toward individual carbon reduction, as well as my own small steps toward becoming more politically engaged and activist on this issue

So leaving my Betsy-Tacy bubble for a while yesterday provided me with inspiration to start changing out those light bulbs, writing to my congressional representatives, and marching on Washington the next time that the opportunity presents itself - as well as lovely confirmation of my core time management principle.

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