Several years ago I invited John "Plasma Boy" Wayland onto my Sirius Satellite Radio show "The Lazy Environmentalist" to talk about eco-friendly cars. I had heard that he was having tremendous success drag racing an electric car called the White Zombie. John is quite animated and soon he was talking enthusiastically about blowing the doors off of gasoline-powered corvettes and mustangs in nothing but a modified 1972 Datsun running on battery-operated electric power. He described the thrill of creating eight hundred pounds of torque and roaring down the quarter-mile track in record time. He mentioned how much fun he had teasing his competitors about the fact that he'd just trounced them in a car running on American-made energy instead of imported oil. He described exactly the kinds of things millions of American men care about - fast speeds, raw power, and American self-reliance.
Sure enough our phones began to light up with callers from around the country. Many were commercial truck drivers calling from inside their rigs and wanting to know how they could get that electric power for their own personal pickup trucks.
Did I care whether they believed in global warming? Nope. Not one bit. Because I realized in that moment that I didn't have to convince these guys that global warming is real in order to get them fired up about the solutions that solve it. It was a hugely important lesson for me and one that I believe is essential for the environmental movement.
As a green retailer, blogger, author, spokesperson, and radio and television host, I've learned that I'm most effective as a green communicator when I first take the time to understand what really matters to people and then demonstrate how environmental alternatives directly satisfy those needs. If that means talking about how eco-friendly electric cars deliver on speed, power, and independence from oil dictatorships then that's what I'm selling. Words like "should", "must", and "sacrifice" don't enter into my environmental lexicon. I don't ask people to share my concerns about polar bears and other species that are getting a raw deal from climate change and I don't guilt-trip people by asking them to think about what future generations will think if we fail to act now. The reason is simple; those tactics fail to move most Americans to action. If they did, we wouldn't be sitting here scratching our heads and wondering why the talks in Copenhagen fell apart.
We become influential as green communicators when we emphasize how green choices enable people to achieve the things that matter to them. If green choices help us save money, look cool, get more dates or improve our children's chances of getting into a great college, then people are far more likely to embrace them. It makes no difference whether we're selling a green product, raising money for an environmental campaign, or pushing climate change legislation; our success depends upon our ability to convince Americans that supporting the environmental option directly serves their own interests, not based on what we may value as environmentalists, but rather on what Americans value in their personal lives and collectively as a nation.