The environmental community has a communication problem.
The problem lies neither with the validity of their facts and figures nor with the caliber of their experts. The problem is a failure to convey to the American people the relevance of the environment to their everyday lives.
In a Gallup poll from earlier this year asking Americans to rank the most imminent national issues, concern for the state of the environment came in staggeringly low. It ranked below concern for the economy, healthcare, affordable energy and even hunger and homelessness.
Additionally climate change came in second-to-last on the list only above race relations.
What environmentalists have failed to communicate effectively is that the vitality of our planet and resources directly influences the health of our society, economy and even us. Our planet's survival is our survival.
Yet herein lies the challenge--while this concept is simple enough, communicating it to a nation where environmentalism has become a partisan movement falls on many deaf ears.
Americans will tune out environmentalists merely because their messages are seen as complex and their spokespeople as belonging to only one political party. This is further exacerbated by policies championed by environmentalists that people view as overreach.
An example is the recent upswing of plastic bag bans across America.
While plastic bags constitute only a very small percentage of the waste we generate, their ban in numerous cities and in the most populous state in the union, California, has been heralded as an environmental victory.
In reality this will accomplish very little to reduce waste and will instead further erode the view people hold of environmentalists as a group wanting to dictate to others how to live their lives.
A better approach by the environmental community to reduce overall plastic waste would be to collaborate with major retailers and brand-owners to minimize packaging of goods sold. This collaboration was successful to advocate for energy-efficient electronics and appliances and could also build a convincing narrative around the positive ramifications of sustainable packaging.
Success for overcoming the immense challenges posed to our environment can be solved in the most meaningful way at the hands of our politicians. What drives their decision-making is political will and what drives political will are what people perceive to be relevant and imminent issues.
"Environmentalist" is a highly politicized term in the country yet general empathy for the environment can be more devoid of such connotations. Expanding the base of empathy for the environment amongst all Americans is critical to solving not only environmental problems but also a multitude of ones that rank more highly on Gallup's list.
Expanding this base of empathy is no small task. Yet if Americans hear enough relevant messages that help them connect the dots between the state of the environment and their lives this sets the foundation for change.
It would be a shame for the environmental community to lose relevancy in this country due to an inability to communicate effectively.
If apathy over empathy were allowed to prevail it would mean a very dangerous predicament for this planet.