Here at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, we recently celebrated Earth Week with a host of events celebrating sustainability initiatives throughout the university and the state of Wisconsin. One of the Earth Week events that I attended was a talk by Nate Hagens. Hagens spoke about the human dependence on oil and the failure of the economy to incorporate ecological considerations in the pricing of this key energy source. He painted a rather bleak picture based on his estimations of the inevitability of the impact of climate change and the tight link of climate change to global economics based on our long-standing dependence on oil.
Everyone in the room left the talk looking depressed, just as Hagens predicted. It’s not as though this event was the first time we’ve heard the message about our negative impact on the planet and the necessity of finding new resources. Instead, we’ve all heard these urgent messages asking for action for quite some time. Part of our human nature, as he explained, is to get distracted by short-term concerns, and to focus on the positive because we have difficulty coping with negative thoughts. As a result, he explained that messages that declare somewhat “off-in-the-future” conditions of impending doom are hard to carry around within ourselves for any length of time. Perhaps the depressed mood was that we were hoping someone had already done something to change our course away from that dreary picture of the future.
After a few days of deep reflection, specifically when I recalled the EDRA43Seattle keynote speaker, Denis Hayes, I was reunited with hope and a sense of purpose. Hayes coordinated the first Earth Day in 1970. What gave me a bit of solace was that both Hayes’ and Hagens’ talks called attention to the power of the individual, even in the midst of inevitability, institutionalization, and the momentum of things we cannot control.
Humans are inventive, and we have the ability to rally behind things we believe are worthwhile and through those communal efforts we can effect change. And, we, as Environment-Behavior researchers and practitioners, are poised to take meaningful action to better prepare for, understand, and learn from the changes that we are about to participate in, even if unwittingly. I appeal to each of you as members of the Environmental-Behavior community to take a few moments this month to think about how your work is linked toward steering humanity in a direction of sustainable, earth-friendly living. If you find that you’re not currently engaging with this area, please consider ways you can tweak your research or your practice to give more attention to sustainability concerns, which could be as simple as supporting those that already do.
How will new energy sources affect human activities? How can we make energy usage more visible to users? How can we encourage socially and environmentally responsible behavior through design? How can we use what we know about environment-behavior to encourage people to use less with the net effect of enhancing quality of life?
Let us take this opportunity to rally together and share the evidence, develop the ideas, and teach the lessons that will assist efforts to realize sustainable living proactively.