Keep Shouting

by Aaron Hersum

My takeaway from Tuesday’s Boston Area Sustainability Group (BASG) event, Invite to Ignite, can be summed up in one word: passion. The Venture Café here in Cambridge, MA, was packed full of people whose passion was palpable as one great organization after another spoke about its mission and the role it plays in the broad spectrum of sustainability initiatives. I am always amazed at how many different groups in the Boston area are working towards a common goal of fighting climate change and mitigating its effects.

Living in a place such as Boston, I am grateful to be surrounded by so many like-minded people with such energy. If you were to look at Boston in the context of all of America, you might be shocked at how little progress is happening regarding climate change, and that we are even in danger of regressing over the next 4 years. The event illustrates a recurring question for sustainability activists: how to get this passion to spread to people who don’t attend groups such as BASG?

Thinking about this question brings me to a humbling realization: like the presidential polls last fall, I am severely out of touch with a large portion of the American population. Would a group in my teenage home of Atlanta, GA (sorry about the Superbowl by the way) receive the same level of acceptance from the general public as we do here? Tilly Pick, one of the organizers of BASG, posed a similar question to me on Tuesday regarding his wife’s home of Ohio.

The point of highlighting such differences is not to create an us-versus-them scenario – politics does a fine job of that already. The point is to signify the non-alternative fact that different people in different regions have different ways of seeing the world. And that is a good thing. Most importantly, different does not equal mutually exclusive. Perhaps a failure of sustainability activists such as myself has been to dismiss disagreement as ridiculous – how could someone not see the severity of the environmental crisis we are facing. How could someone ignore the overwhelming science behind climate change?

The question posed earlier in the piece was how we get the passion felt at BASG to spread to more people. And while a variety of answers exist, rebranding “sustainability” seems a must. It cannot be a “leftist,” or “liberal,” or “hippie, tree-hugger” ideology. It must become mainstream, and not just in big coastal cities. It needs to become part of the conversation that every election boils down to: livelihood. Jobs, the economy, and family- these political buzzwords must come to include sustainability among their ranks. It needs to become part of common culture.

The term “post-fact world” has been tossed around after the election, but the truth is that we have always lived in a post-fact world. Or to be more precise, we have always lived in a world in which “fact” is simply a matter of perspective. When a company rebrands a product, they don’t change the product, they change its image. The facts of the product remain, what changes is consumers’ perception. The facts of climate change are scientifically proven, but the brand is lagging in its efficacy. Standing against sustainability must be branded as politically and culturally unpalatable. Denying sustainability must become a denial of your right to prosper.

I’m looking forward to March’s BASG event with Nathaniel Stinnett of the Environmental Voter Project, because our vote is one of the most powerful rebranding tools we have. Keeping voters engaged in sustainability policy- in every local, state and national election- inherently means entrenching sustainability in the mainstream American psyche. Last month’s event on shareholder activism is another example of a forceful way to entrench sustainability. If corporations feel a squeeze on their wallets, they will change poor environmental practices to appeal to consumers. Make 2017 a year of action by making sustainability about our livelihood- liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans. Some may find sustainability activism polemic, but I say- keep shouting.

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