October 20, 2010

Finding Common Ground in the Heartland: Why More Kansans Now Give a Shite About Energy.

A Lesson in Persuading, Not Preaching.

Here in Boulder, people are pretty laid back. Unless, of course, they witness you forgetting to compost that apple core—or, heaven forbid, leaving a light on unnecessarily. I’ve found the commitment to “green” here a hodgepodge of vibrant innovation, soulful devotion, and bratty self-righteousness.

I’ve got a lot to learn when it comes to leading a simpler, more eco-friendly life, and I love getting advice from people about how to accomplish this. Yet I think we’ve all experienced how off-putting it can be when advice is given in a preachy or condescending way: the wrong tone obscures or irreparably warps even the best message.

So I’m completely inspired by this recent New York Times article.

A small nonprofit has helped some Kansans reduce energy usage a whopping 5% (which is huuuuge, believe it or not).

All this in a place where, for the most part, people don’t “believe in” climate change, hate Al Gore, and resent green liberals telling them what to do.

(Well I can’t blame ‘em for that last one.)

Instead of getting caught up by the impossible task of convincing small town Kansans that climate change is real, Nancy Jackson, chairwoman of the Climate and Energy Project, decided to speak to her audience and strip conservation of its usual political and cultural trappings.

She focused on values that do matter to conservative Kansans: thrift, independence, patriotism, and sacred stewardship.

From the New York Times article:

Ms. Jackson settled on a three-pronged strategy. Invoking the notion of thrift, she set out to persuade towns to compete with one another to become more energy-efficient. She worked with civic leaders to embrace green jobs as a way of shoring up or rescuing their communities. And she spoke with local ministers about “creation care,” the obligation of Christians to act as stewards of the world that God gave them.

And, as I’ve said, Ms. Jackson and her team have been incredibly successful.

I’m so inspired by this story.

As someone who cares about the earth, I’m thrilled by this success. Even more importantly, though, as someone very conscious of the multitude of perspectives around me, I’m inspired by the skillful use of communication and commitment to the desired ends over values-driven means.

There’s a diverse, vibrant world outside the “Boulder bubble,” and an “us vs. them” approach simply isn’t effective in producing meaningful transformation. This story’s a phenomenal example of both finding our commonality (Red State conservatives and damn hippie liberals alike want to reduce dependency on foreign oil) while respecting our differences (our reasons for wanting this may be quite different).

I hope this kind of shrewd, sophisticated strategizing spreads. Let’s all strive to emphasize our common goals while respecting our significant differences—in intelligent, constructive ways.

Read the rest of the story here.

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