Thursday, December 1, 2011

How to cure Affluenza

This was part of my presentation at a green initiative undertaken by a media house in association with a leading beauty products brand. For a background, you may want to check out The Greening of our Inner Environment over at Subho's Jejune Diet.

I was pleased to learn that my entry for your green initiative was among the 10 finalists from over 4500 ideas submitted.  The entry I had submitted was a post that Ihad written on my personal blog on fuel efficiency for drivers.  It lists out simple tips on driving, filling gas, tire pressure, car pooling, etc., that can result in saving fuel and money.  I get about a thousand hits on that page in a good month, and an average of about 2 minutes spent on the page.  This is with no promotion, no search engine optimization, and with no significant backlinks outside of my own writing.  The purpose of my submitting that article as a green idea was to test and strengthen my assumption that information and knowledge shared by ordinary citizens can be essential to the future of the planet.

My green idea, however, is not restricted to transport management or pollution abatement under which my entry was categorized.  My purpose behind coming here today is to share my vision of how we can use tools of social media and public awareness that are available to us today to drive real change in our way of living and way of looking at life, thereby impacting all aspects of environmental degradation.  You will notice in my presentation that it is not focused on any particular aspect of environmental activism but on using the collective strength of community to foster behavioral change.

My proposal for your green initiative is to invest our time and resource in greening our social ecosystems.  There is a huge movement, and we today are part of it, to manage the crisis that we have put the external environment in.  My proposal is to complement this movement by encouraging and being agents of change in the primary area that has led to this crisis - our selves, our internal ecosystems.

Looking at the key themes that your initiative is trying to address, it is easy to agree that at the root of this crisis is growing urbanization and consumerism driven by aspirations for what is commonly perceived as a better life - having a bigger, better car, newer gadgets, and acquiring objects of utility only because they are promoted as must haves by the advertising and marketing industry.  Though not publicly broadcast, all will agree that these “pursuits of happiness” typically result in stress and anxiety, waste of time, energy and money, debt and financial strain, and poor quality of life and relationships.

My proposal is to start where such campaigns inevitably end, by tapping the momentum of awareness that has already been created, to generate a mass movement to reverse the very cause of overconsumption, the overriding compulsion of wanting more than one needs.  The 20,000 likes on facebook for this campaign is an indicator of the size of the population that is seeking ways to live greener lives. 

There are challenges.  Nobody wants to adopt a simpler and greener lifestyle when all around them there is a blatant display of materialism.  Nobody wants to trade the pleasures of today for the promise of a future for the coming generations.  Nobody wants to answer their kids’ question of why he doesn’t have the shiny plastic game console that his friends have.  Nobody wants to reduce consumption when it is perceived as a lifestyle of the have-nots.  Nobody wants to question the percentage of promotion cost built into everyday products that they use or the ecofriendliness of the ingredients in them.  The list is endless.

Given the universality, and the magical persistence, of the great consumeristic dream of having bigger and better material possessions, it is difficult, if not impossible,  to persuade people to reduce their carbon footprint today in return for a greener tomorrow.  How can all these dilemmas of social psychology be addressed?

I propose setting up an initiative that will encourage people to write about and publicly promote steps that can be taken by every individual in their daily lives to reduce their carbon footprint, to reduce consumption, and to lead simpler and greener lives. 

This is in the form of an online forum (a social network with a web portal) backed by electronic and print media, run by an editorial team with an understanding of environmental issues and the art of persuasion.  Good persuaders will be able to come up with a good persuasive name, but for the moment, we can call it the Green Network.  The good news is that the 20,000 followers on Facebook and the 2000 submissions prove that the network is already in place and waiting to be tapped into.

Informative articles will be invited from the general public through the media highlighting everyday heroes and the methods they use to battle the environmental crisis.  This can range from the simple blog post on fuel efficiency for drivers that brought me here, to recycling and upcycling tips, apartment gardening, energy conservation, etc.  These articles will be reviewed and reworked by the editorial team and published on the website, and promoted through print and electronic media.  Social networking applications will be developed that allow the contributors to promote both their individual contribution as well as the collective objectives of the Green Network on other social networks.  (Facebook badges, apps, etc.)

Contests can be organized inviting ideas that can be adopted by people easily in their everyday lives.  Top rated content can be syndicated to other media.  News and information about governmental and organizational efforts and support can be disseminated.   Links to useful websites can be provided, such as the commuteeasy vehicle sharing initiative in Bangalore, or online carbon footprint calculators.

The driving force behind this proposal is that of If you cant lick them, join them.  The Green Network will use the very principle of desire and social aspiration to create greater acceptance of environment friendly lifestyles.  Everyone craves recognition and acceptance, everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame, everyone want to be part of the success story of our times, and everyone wants to benefit in tangible material terms.  We can use the cause of affluenza to cure it through this initiative. 

To illustrate, we can promote frugality and simplicity as something that results in material benefit in the present.  Savings is an easily understood concept, whether you are contemplating buying detergent or a luxury car.  So green tips can be positioned as a money saving alternative.  Car pooling can be positioned as a way of reducing your gas bill by sharing it with the pool.  Contests like this one can be held periodically to encourage and reward proactive green warriors.  Getting celebrities and intellectuals to share their green efforts will result in role modeling.  Reading about young people who are making downshifting choices in their careers and lifestyles will encourage the coming generation to feel assured that they are part of a larger and accepted movement.  Highlighting the ill effects that overconsumption has on all areas of one’s personal life (relationship, finances, health, psychology, etc.) will reinforce what most people already know but never talk about.

The countless small ways in which unknown citizens are actually taking green steps can be promoted through this network, and applications will allow them to promote their ideas on other social networks leading to greater dissemination not just of their personal moment of glory but also the greater cause.  The outcome of this effort will be in generating motivation to seek happiness and contentment, to lead more meaningful lives, and to impart the values of sustainable lifestyles to the future generation.

I am not an entrepreneur. nor have I come here with a product or a project that has a cost benefit ratio or an implementation budget or timeline.  I am a writer and an artist, and I came here to share with you my vision of how a writer can contribute to save the world.  I have come with a begging bowl, not for funds or sponsorship but for the organizational support and endorsement by initiatives such as yours and green initiatives undertaken by the media, to help create a social movement that will result in the reversal of the root cause of the greatest crisis mankind has ever faced and one that he himself has created- that of an unhappy environment.

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