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How to Persuade Your Friends to Live Sustainably

Go from frustrated environmentalist to environmental influencer

This one is for all the frustrated environmentalists who can’t seem to get their friends on board.
There is only one way to ensure the future is an environmentally sustainable one. You can recycle all you want, you can sell your car, you can cook all your food over a fire, you can even go vegan, but none of these will mean anything if we can’t ensure these green practices continue into the future. The only real way to ensure that the future is sustainable is by making sustainability the cultural norm.
My own journey of becoming an environmental nut has taken place throughout my entire life.
I grew up being exposed to nature from a very early age. Every summer, from 1 year old until I graduated from college, I went camping with my family. In the fall, my parents took me to cute little farmsteads where I learned to idealize the pastoral relationship between animals and humans. I got to pet goats, feed fish, and walk around all day under the warm sun. My parents went hiking with me through woods and creeks, and they took me to the zoo constantly. Nature was such an integral part of my upbringing, that I can’t possibly imagine a life in which I’m indifferent to the environment.

Now, when I say that I learned to appreciate nature, I don’t mean I appreciated how it put chicken on my plate and grew wood for my house, I mean that I appreciated it on an intrinsic level. I appreciated nature simply because it was nature. I learned to appreciate chickens not because they were food, but because they were chickens. I liked them for the sole reason they were living beings (though dumb ones) with lives and interests all their own. I learned to appreciate trees not because they provided wood, but because they were trees. They were beautiful to look at, they were comfortable to sit under, and they housed and fed all sorts of animals.
Later in life, when I learned that my actions had a direct impact on the well-being of nature, I had no choice but to change my lifestyle. I couldn’t harm the things that I cared so much about! I couldn’t contribute to the viability of factory-farmed chicken operations. I couldn’t allow forests to be cut down to make room for urban expansion and suburban neighborhoods. I couldn’t hurt nature in the same way that I couldn’t punch my own mother in the face. So, of course, I had no choice to become an environmentalist.
But one environmentalist doesn’t make much of an impact.

The future can’t be green unless everyone is on board, so it’s great when environmentalists want to convince others about the benefits of vegetarianism, or electric cars, or reusable bags, but they often forget the reason they care about these things in the first place.
Just because you’re spouting about the benefits of vegetarianism and a zero-waste lifestyle doesn’t mean that people are going to listen. Even if you do happen to convince someone to try Meatless Mondays with you, if they don’t care about the reasoning behind it, the practice will quickly die out.
You don’t want to give people answers to a question they’re not asking.

First, you have to get them asking. You get people asking by showing them the intrinsic value that the environment has. You show them the beauty of the trees, introduce them to your animal friends, and show them how fun and relaxing (or exhilarating) a hike can be. Then, once they appreciate nature just as much as you do, once they want to protect it like they want to protect their own family, they’ll be asking the question that you have answers for.
Then they’ll be asking, “How can I protect the thing I care about? How can I live more sustainably?”

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