How do we motivate a nation to take up environmental causes when so very few are listening?
There are many barriers we must overcome that prevent us from reaching someone's heart - what I believe is the essential ingredient to success. To do this, we must redefine the environmental conversation in the U.S. If we don't, we may not succeed. Our well-intended efforts could become futile.
We live in a society that has become increasingly polarized, where political ideology trumps common sense, where neighbors cannot see eye-to-eye on important issues because of their stubborn subscription to a particular set of views.
Environmental organizations, like mine, Rock the Earth, must also contend with trying to convey an honest message about the importance of protecting awe-inspiring places to an audience distracted by a tornado of lies, deeply funded spin machines churning out mountains of disinformation, a cacophony of noise designed to distract and confuse.
There is no question that we can fight back with facts. Scientists have published innumerable studies detailing the tragedies of toxic air and water on our health, the loss of pristine land because of haphazard development, and poorly planned resource extraction. Let us not forget the well-documented specter of climate change.
We can cite numerous studies to support our positions. But this approach often falls on deaf ears.
Why? Science and facts can be too dispassionate, not enough to excite a mass movement for change, an awakening to the reality of the dangers confronting our planet.
For example, in the media, stories focused on a two-degree rise in the global temperature average has a way of making eyes glaze over, rather than forming a deep impact on our hearts and our emotions -- the motivators that make us want to do great things. It is too abstract, devoid of touch and feeling. Surely, it must be part of our message, but, we can't afford to hang our hats completely on that approach much longer.
The doom and gloom headlines create another barrier. Now we have to overcome a mountain of hopelessness, a narrative of futility where maybe we should just throw up our hands and surrender.
Facts and science do have a place. In court, Rock the Earth cites well thought out studies to outwit corporations and governments. We have prevailed in several cases - such as protecting the Roan Plateau in Colorado - because of bone-dry science.
But, this is a courtroom. In the court of public opinion, this approach will have limited success to energize more people to take action for our causes.
We need to reinvent the public environmental conversation so that we can open eyes to the realities of today's challenges. We must reach, teach and influence a larger audience - or we fail.
We have to develop approaches that profoundly appeal to the heart, one of my motivations in forming Rock the Earth in 2002, a Denver-based nonprofit.
I realized that one of the best forums to reach common ground with anyone, no matter your political bent, is at a concert where ideologies recede into the shadows, where we can form a common bond among each other under the enchantment of a night of great music.
The drum beat or a wild guitar riff, has a way of breaking down barriers, freeing our minds, and letting ourselves go - even just for a few hours. The heart takes over. We leave our roles, leave behind our preconceived notions, and take part in a profoundly human experience, together.
In 2013, Rock the Earth volunteers conducted environmental education, outreach, and citizen activation at 250 U.S. concert dates. Over the years, we have been able to reach millions of music fans and talk to them about environmental issues that they may never heard of and often inspired them to take action.
We have no barriers here, no cacophony of disinformation to battle against. We can more easily reach their hearts, turning people onto environmentalism that never lent it any credence perhaps because of preconceived notions or political brainwashing.
And, we are able to make that connection with the help of music, which has a way of inciting the higher ideals in all of us.
We have partnered with musicians like The Dave Matthews Band, Wilco, Bonnie Raitt, The Allman Brothers Band, Jack Johnson, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
Musicians have a long history of aligning themselves to progressive causes. They are not just actors on a stage playing music. They are real people with real views, often allied with our causes. They espouse their thoughts to their fans - numbering in the millions. When they share our message, we all win.
The bottom line is that we must get more people to at least listen. To do this, we must invent creative approaches that appeal to both the heart and mind. And, we have to search for venues that promote a sense of common ground.
We need to be more daring and find our own drum beat for change. We must develop new approaches to break through the mountain of hopelessness. I challenge us to do so.