Talking to people about the environment is like talking to addicts about people they hurt.

February 8, 2024 by Joshua
in Addiction

I notice people rarely talk about themselves and the environment. They’ll express outrage, recount facts, and say what other people should do, but not about themselves. So I’m thinking more about why.

Seeing the overlap between behavioral addictions like social media, binge-watching TV, and gambling, and behavior that requires polluting reveals the overlap with why talking to addicts about their addiction goes nowhere.

thinking man

Addicted people resist acknowledging hurting people and themselves. Polluting and depleting hurt other people and themselves. It follows that people don’t like acknowledging how they’re hurting people, violating their own values.

Eugene, who hosts a sister This Sustainable Life podcast and the Verdant Growth blog, recently asked people who want to talk about sustainability and the environment why they don’t. I never thought to ask outright. He got candid answers. They describe how much people feel defensive. It looks like no matter how one brings up the topic, people feel attacked. I think that feeling comes from their consciences, but that they assign it to the person starting the topic.

What do you think?

From Eugene’s blog post Method Initiative (Round 4) – Exercise 5: 5 People Who Feel The Problem – Verdant Growth

EW: There’s difficulty to it. “Stigma” doesn’t capture it fully. I feel like I have to be super careful to avoid making people feel overly attacked. It’s so easy to trigger defensiveness, which I feel is not helpful. It CAN be helpful if they’ve been defensive many times, but THIS conversation helps. I don’t like to be in a position where others feel like I’m attacking them. It makes me avoid saying a lot of things that can make people feel defensive. Even then, people still seem defensive. People definitely expect judgment. The judgment is such an ingrained part of how society works, they already expect it. They default to defensive no matter what you do. Even working in a clean tech company, but even coworkers are similarly defensive to admit to their own shortcomings. Another way to summarize: it’s hard to engage people in a way where they’re receptive, rather than defensive.

EW: I definitely struggle with talking about sustainability with people. I feel like it’s because I’m new and not qualified. I have my own internal issues and boundaries I impose on myself. Even when I have the confidence to talk about the subject, as soon as living sustainably gets mentioned, people respond defensively (why it won’t work for them), or they tell me that I can do whatever I want as long as you don’t preach. People give advice I’m not even asking for. I feel like there’s a lot of resistance to talking about behavioral change towards sustainability. Others seem to feel like they’re being judged.

JS: I don’t try to have conversations on environment with people, but I can see that it is a problem. I agree, people don’t like to have that conversation. It gets political with things like global warming. I like outdoor activities, but when it comes to volunteer events and things like that, I don’t find an issue inviting people to doing things like that. But when it comes to the ideas behind it, like why we remove invasive species, why we clean the beaches…it’s difficult to talk about.

ES: The line of work I’m in with energy efficiency, with the goal of getting to 100% clean energy in Hawaii. It can be a sensitive topic for people who feel strongly, especially when the people jump to conclusions on what your intentions are. I usually have to frame it in a way that speaks to other people’s values. Outside of work I don’t like to have those conversations because I don’t like to have controversial conversations. I get stressed out when people get argumentative because I don’t have the same values or beliefs. I also want to be sensitive to not get people angry. I feel like I’m not good at bringing the conversation to a place where everyone leaves it feeling OK.

HB: It’s hard to talk about it. Like with veganism…or even alcoholism! I once talked with a friend about alcoholism. When he tells others he doesn’t drink, others immediately tell why they DO drink to try to justify/avoid the judgment, even if he doesn’t intend judgment. Same goes for me and veganism. I understood the feeling, when others say they eat meat I felt like I had to say “I don’t.” I feel anxiety that someone might get confrontational about it. Others will get heated. People will try to justify why they are right. I know what’s right for me, but others want to try to use “facts” to tell why I’m wrong or why it’s OK why they do what they do. I don’t want to have to deal with disproving everyone’s false “facts.”


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