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Why the green movement needs to switch on

At the risk of being thrown off these pages for trying to blacken an otherwise green issue, I have a question – doesn’t switching off all lights for an hour to observe a war against global warming make as much sense as trying to solve world hunger by starving for a day?

The well meaning folks behind the various green movements have been sawing off the branch they are sitting on by inferring through their campaigns that the solution to climate change lays only in turning back the clock on civilization and living in sacrifice and self-denial.

Of course waste in all manners and form is to be discouraged and probably no one needs to be convinced about that anymore. But the current obsession with green has gone beyond railing against waste and has now taken the form of a crusade against civilization itself. Going green now seems to imply that we should only consume food grown locally, that we should cut down on our driving, fly less, go totally organic, drink less, wash less, and basically do less of everything.

Of course no one is asking these green heroes to talk less, though that may be one solution that could reduce global warming by bringing down the hot air quotient. These luddite solutions are going to be counter productive and you are very soon going to run up against public fatigue when green increasingly starts being associated with renouncement.

The worst way to market an idea is to associate it exclusively and extensively with a problem and that is unfortunately what the green movement has done so far. It is not surprising then that polls across the world show that when it comes to the crunch, environmental issues sit at the bottom of people’s concerns and the green movement should be blaming itself for this rather than jot it down to public apathy.

Of course we need to be fully committed to going green, but we must do it in a way that will be for keeps, and in a way that can be sold. And this can be done by sticking to one golden rule – do not deny the product or service to the consumer, but ask him to pay to have it delivered in a less wasteful way.

Don’t ask a consumer to eat only food grown in her backyard, but harness technology to get it from the farm to the backyard using transportation technologies that are green. Don’t ask them to sit in the dark and play shadow puppets, but get them to replace all their old bulbs with CFLs.

Don’t ask a consumer to bathe under a trickle of water but employ aerator and flow limiter technologies to give her a shower that she can enjoy while reducing water consumption by half.

We can’t expect people to turn off their air conditioners at work, but we can get them to demand that we stop the stupidity of constructing glass edifices in a tropical country.

Don’t ask people to prepare to live with less water, but invest in reducing the cost and increasing the scale of desalination technologies.

This approach too will require commitment and hard work. Hard work to develop the technologies that will be required, and hard work to educate consumers to adopt and support new solutions through their stabilization period. But it surely will be a lot more doable than converting the whole world to self denying mendicants.

And this approach is already being proven with success stories like the Prius where American consumers have happily embraced a more expensive alternative because the story they were told was not about how you need to stop driving your truck to the store to pick up a breath mint, but about how you could save the world by spending a little more money on a technology that would allow them to drive as much as they want without leaving a trail of destruction behind them.

The next time someone has the bright idea to celebrate an earth hour or earth day, I hope they come up with something like getting consumers to buy one new green product on that day, or donate a day’s salary to institutions working on developing the next-generation technologies that will increase food production, conserve water or limit fossil fuel dependence.

That will be a campaign that will be easier to sell, will drive people to action and surely give us more sustainable results than switching off your lights, stumbling in the dark and cracking your head open on the mantelpiece. After all, people rally behind solutions, not problems.

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