Steve Jobs Understood Something About Emotions That The Green Movement Too Often Ignores


photo: Thierry Ehrmann/CC BY

Going through all the Steve Jobs commentary this morning I came across actor-comedian-proud technophile Stephen Fry's commentary on BBC News. Fry and Jobs have apparently been friends for a while and the whole thing is worth a listen.

But there's one passage that really jumps out at me as being something the environmental community, particularly those involved in politics and those trying to motivate people to become more environmentally aware, should pay close attention to.Fry says,

Steve Jobs has always understood that, as human beings, our first relationship with anything is an emotional one. ... A device isn't just a sum of its functions; it's something that should make you smile, you should cradle, you should love, you should have an emotional relationship with. If people think that's pretentious, then, in a sense, the success of Apple proves how wrong they are.

The environmental connection in that: From my perspective it all too often seems like the environmental community, when trying to convince people of the benefits of preserving this ecosystem or that, of switching to renewable energy, of the urgent need to combat climate change, of reducing resource consumption, ignores the truth that Fry points out Jobs understands so well.

First and foremost we are emotional beings. Our connection to the world is emotional first, intellectual down the road someplace, and then probably emotional last as well.

But yet, when we talk about climate, energy, biodiversity, what have you, we too often try to appeal to reason, intellect and our inner accountant-cum-economist. And it doesn't work. That much should be obvious by even a cursory scan of TreeHugger's science, energy and politics reporting.

The earth, its ecosystems, its inhabitants both animal and vegetable, are surely not mere things in the sense that a new iPhone is, but the question we green campaigners need to be asking and answering more often is not 'how do we deploy more wind power?' or 'how do we conserve this endangered species?' But rather, 'how do we best encourage the development of love?'.

Love of each other, love of our neighboring people, our neighboring animals, our neighboring land, our planet as a whole, how do we conserve that or develop that?

How best do we encourage people to have that sort of loving emotional relationship with the world around them? One that brings a natural overwhelming smile to our lives; one that makes us want to cradle it, at least metaphorically, when literally isn't wise in terms of safety or even possible in the sense of not being able to get our arms around a forest or swamp or patch of ocean or herd of bison.

As Fry says, it may sound pretentious at first to suggest such a thing. Or, I'd add, it may sound too wishy-washy spiritually idealistic to hard headed engineering and economic types who focus first on solutions to problems, but I humbly submit that this is the best solution to our environmental problems. Even if, I readily admit, there isn't a blueprint reproducible for it, to put love and compassion together like a bridge or solar panel.

Cultivate love; cultivate compassion; cultivate that all important emotional connection which Jobs applied so well in the field of technology. Apply that to environmentalism, be it on a global or local scale, and the outward trappings of a low-carbon, eco-friendly, ecologically and social sustainable society will fall into place naturally.

Will this be possible quickly enough to avoid the worst of climate change or any of the environmental problems we currently face? I honestly don't know. The data says time is in many ways running out and this type of love does take time.

But I do know that the approach the environmental community has largely used heretofore is more not working than working and trying to focus much more on the emotional and spiritual aspects of the issue is worth a shot.

More on Steve Jobs
5 Noteworthy Green Moments in Steve Jobs' Time as Apple CEO
Steve Jobs: The Most Important Patron of Design Of This Century

Tags: Biodiversity | Ecology | Global Climate Change | longreads

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