Researchers Say Hippy Reasons for Living Sustainably Beat Out "Hope for Future"


Photo via David Masters

For many of us, we try to live in sustainable ways because we hope to avert a global climate disaster, because we hope to give our kids a future on a clean earth, and because we hope that what we do will make a positive impact on others' habits.

Turns out that hope is counter-productive. Instead, two researchers say more people will want to live sustainably if given reasons more immediate than "hope." John Vucetich, assistant professor of animal ecology at Michigan Technological University, and Michael Nelson, associate professor of environmental ethics at Michigan State University say that trying to get people to live sustainably by giving them hope for a better future doesn't really work. We're told to stay hopeful, that what we do each day will make our future bright...but what people need to be told is that living sustainably is just plain old the right thing to do.

Hope may actually be counter-productive, Vucetich and Nelson suggest. "I have little reason to live sustainably if the only reason to do so is to hope for a sustainable future, because every other message I receive suggests that disaster is guaranteed," they explain.

The researchers argue that getting people to focus on the positive human qualities that living sustainably highlight - love, sharing, caring for others - will get more people interested in living sustainably. That's because even climate change nay-sayers are interested in doing the right thing. Essentially, make the most of the time we've got here on Mother Earth and spread peace and love, man.

"Instead of hope, we need to provide young people with reasons to live sustainably that are rational and effective," they say. "We need to lift up examples of sustainable living motivated by virtue more than by a dubious belief that such actions will avert environmental disaster."

That might be as idealistic as any other approach taken to get people to live sustainably, but it's certainly one more tool we can use when we argue for the importance of living with a small footprint - and it undoubtedly inspires a lot of deep thinking about ethics and actions.

Really, getting someone to shift their thinking requires understanding what is most important to them and showing them how living sustainably helps that - it might be wanting to save a local ecosystem, it might be wanting to be virtuous, it might be wanting to maintain the health of their community members, it might be wanting to simplify their own lives, or any other unique reason.

Telling someone to live sustainably because it's the right thing to do makes an argument short, but it just might be the tip of the iceberg in a debate on the virtues of green.

Via The Ecologist via Physorg
More on the Ethics of Living Sustainably
Why to Go Green
We Need a "New Operating System" for the Modern World! Yale Univ's Dean of Environmental Studies Says
Who Cares If It Is Green, Is It Ethical?
Guardian: Can our way of living really save the planet?

Tags: Carbon Footprint | Environmental Footprint | Ethical | One Planet Living