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Friday, March 28, 2008

Go Planet! (44 Days Remaining...)

This post was actually inspired by Mr. Henshaw's recent Earth Hour post. I'd originally intended to comment on his blog but I soon realized that the comment was steadily growing and showed no signs of stopping.

Guess I got on a bit of a tear...

One of the major points that Mr. Henshaw makes is that "...our current crop of environmentalists seem less interested in actual change than creating "consciousness raising" events that don't really change anything. From "Live 8" to all the copycat films coat-tailing Al Gore's movie, it seems the process is more about branding yourself environmentally friendly than actually doing something concrete."

And to a point, I agree with him. "Green is the new Black" after all (yes, that saying makes me cringe).

It just makes sense that any corporation with a borderline competent PR team is going to jump on the bandwagon. They're going to pile on and wave that 'me too' flag with as much gusto as necessary to make them appear Human and/or caring.

And that's all well and good, I say go for it. These corporations are doing what no army of pimply, long-haired, tree-huggers ever could (no offense to my fellow tree-huggers): Make the environment - and ergo environmentalism - "Sexy".

I mean, you can say what you want about motives and the like but the simple fact is that Corporations have money and they have it to burn. They have money and PR teams and ad agencies and... they've been coerced into doing the work that environmentalists have been struggling to do on their own since, what, the '60's?

Yeah, sure, slap a Coke symbol on that DC/AC converter or windmill. Go nuts. But make sure you sell it. Make sexy, slick advertisements, make us want it. Save the planet, make a few bucks. Why not?

Quick question: How many of you have ever heard of a show called Captain Planet?

I'm guessing that most of you haven't. But I was raised as a kid of the '80s and '90s, I watched shows like Captain Planet and The Smoggies. Essentially, I grew up watching Environmentalists trying to connect with people, trying to connect with me. Looking back, I can see why most adults scoffed at these efforts - Captain Planet is nigh-unwatchable now and The Smoggies was barely watchable for me at my age (if I remember correctly it was on just before Ewoks and Droids...).

And yet they stuck with me. I still have fond, silly memories of "Earth, Fire, Wind, Water... HEART! GOOO PLANET!" Yes, it's cheesy as hell to watch now, almost painful with the 90's synth riffs but it was still a fun and engaging show for me during the formative years of my childhood. It was a bright and shiny, happy half-hour of TV with a message. If nothing else it got me to start recycling - and thinking about recycling - as a kid.

Though not all 'environmental education' efforts were so cute and cuddly. I remember a commercial that would often play in between those shows and it was decidedly less fun.

The commercial depicted a smog-covered city street with people walking and wearing gas masks, all the trees are in these weird containers and a guy walks up, drops a coin into a slot and picks up some sort of inhaler. He tries to get a dose of the tree's air but there's nothing coming out, he walks away and the inhaler is left hanging. I don't remember the actual text, but to this day that imagery is seared into my mind. I've looked all over the web for this commercial but I'm not even sure what to start looking for.

Anyways, my point is that environmentalists have been trying for a long time, in many different ways and mediums, to connect with people. The messages have all been well-intentioned and informed - telling them about things like recycling, about not wasting water, about walking more, driving less. And, well, the population reacted but with what can only be called a glacial sense of urgency.

Now we have entire cities, people, turning off their lights for an hour all over the world. Yes, we've got corporations standing there going 'look at me' but the truth is that other people, regular people, are being influenced too. They're waking up.

And the trick is to not let them go back to sleep.

We've got to let people know that the technology to go clean is coming - we've got ultra-efficient LED tech, 80% efficient solar panels that even work at night, Room-temperature super-conductive material that will cut power usage in everything from Cellphones to Refrigerators - it, and more, is all on its way down the pipe.

The rub lies in the fact that we've gotta get people to actually BUY and USE it. Unfortunately, you can only do that by making people aware, by making them care. So if some corporation wants to make a good bit of coin off of promoting things like that, then I say good on them. And if other corporations want to stand in the way, well, use the system. Make elements like the stock market and consumer demand remove those roadblocks for you.

If your government is fighting you selling power back to the grid, co-ordinate with other people who're trying to do the same thing, organize. I know I make it sound simple - here I am saying "Just do this", but the truth is that even 5 years ago the very concept that you could sell power back to the grid was utter blasphemy. That's now changed. It's not easy - they're fighting it with everything they have - but it's possible. And as more people attempt, as more people sort out the system and figure out how to navigate it, more people will join. The system is the problem, not the will. The tech is out there.

Heck, they've even got small urban windmills figured out for city dwellers who want to get in on the act.

As far as Earth Hour goes, I say let it do what it's meant to: connect. Connect with the average person, to whom Global Warming is an overwhelming problem, and allow them to feel like they can actually do something to help. Is it the only thing? Of course not, but that's where the people in the know - now that they have all these wonderful people's attentions - can say "Oh, hey, while you're here have a look at this!"

We can show them that strides are being made, that the tech exists and all they have to do - all you have to do - is WANT it. It's that simple. You have to want it enough that you're willing to put your money where your mouth is.

And people are. Solar panels and windmills are constantly growing in efficiency and lowering in cost because people who believe are standing there and being the first to invest in their, and by extension, our future. They're investing their cash so that little start-up wind and solar farms can thrive, so that we don't have to mine for and burn coal. They're building companies that are creating things like Nano Paint.

The movement is working, people are caring - the problem is that we're overwhelmed. The problem is too big to comprehend - or too much of a bother - for people who have to contend with mortgages and kids and bills and putting food on the table and being to bed before 10. And so that's why alot of the movement has shifted to the younger generation - to those who will inherit this place. They're building the groundwork and change is coming.

Right now, they're making it simple: go to a concert, turn off a light. Trying to get people into the thought process and have it running in the back of their heads. The bigger stuff: use CFL or LED lighting, stop buying bottled water, eat locally grown food, use renewable energy, that will come.

Will these efforts change things overnight? Obviously no. But with things like Earth Hour and Live 8 you will change a few.

And hey, if a cheesy kids show like Captain Planet can reach me and set me on the path, well, I can only imagine what's possible now with all that we're capable of.

If nothing else, at the very least, it's another step in the right direction.


1 comment:

jimhenshaw said...

Great to know that "Captain Planet" inspired you. I think what first resonated with me was "Bambi" and those Disney wildlife specials.

I agree with virtually everything you have to say. Problem is that like so many things in our society, the population is way ahead of our leaders. I'd be willing to bet any grade one class in this country would know more about environmental issues than your average MP or CEO.

The point I was trying to make is that the ability to green our planet isn't coming, it's here. And we could be using the PR muscle behind Earth Hour to accomplish real change as opposed to continuing an educational process that's already been a success.